Happy Tee Boutique, Etsy


The rise of “verbal Instagram” and why it’s time to turn off the filters in real life, too

It's time to stop pretending, both online and IRL, says Lucy Dunn

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By Lucy Dunn on

Much has been written about the links between social media and what it is doing to our self-esteem, confidence and mental health, and most of it hasn’t been good. So, in the last few months, it has been heartening to see that a new, more positive trend is gathering momentum online: honesty.

Truthfulness has become a trending topic for bloggers and the social-media community. It is the hashtag fuelling the thousands of no-make-up and body-positivity selfies, along with the postnatal-depression and mental-health confessionals.

I am glad of this trend. Anything that redresses the dishonesty on social media can only be a positive thing. However, it is important to note that, while most may only be little white lies – your deserted beach shot is actually just an opportunistic gap in the crowd; your rosé wine on a balcony shot doesn’t show the fact your hotel is actually a shit-hole – there are different degrees of deception. 

In this switched-on age – where we are so used to projecting ourselves in a certain way – has self-censoring ourselves IRL become second-nature, too?

The odd little white lie is fine, because everyone is in on the joke (and also, no one wants to hear about your crap hotel). It gets more serious when these lies are hiding something bigger, like depression. Or when they turn into an avalanche of dishonesty that flattens you in its path – there’s a reason why social media becomes an unbearable place during August, when everyone’s on holiday but you’re not.

Telling the truth feels so much more freeing than glossing over reality. And, donning my rose-tinted spectacles, I hope this trend becomes more mainstream over time. However, I’d also question whether we also need to look in the other direction and acknowledge that we could be in danger of neglecting the truth in real life, too. In this switched-on age – where we are so used to projecting ourselves in a certain way  has self-censoring ourselves IRL become second nature? Are we guilty of using these deceptive filters on our everyday lives?

I am beginning to suspect so.

A couple of months ago, my husband and I met up with a group of friends whom we hadn’t seen in ages. It was a lovely evening and we chatted for hours, but I came home feeling flat and slightly depressed, mainly because all of them seemed so sorted in life – unlike me, they all had better-paid jobs, academically successful children, big houses, swanky new extensions, pensions and investments, and, while all this shouldn’t bother me, it did. I felt second-rate – not successful enough, not rich enough, not *enough* enough. It was exactly the same feeling I get if I spend too much time on social media.

A few weeks later came the bombshell news that one of the couples had split up. Over the next few days, a fuller story emerged, one of money, work and house problems – precisely the things they seemed to have nailed so effortlessly a few months before.

I feel terrible for them, of course, and shocked that we’d not seen any signs that evening – they are my oldest friends; how could I not have picked up on anything? It was only then I realised that the conversation that evening hadn’t been “proper” chat; it had simply been “verbal Instagram” – this couple had put a glossy filter on their lives and fooled everyone.

Since then, I have noticed how many people use these metaphorical filters. There’s Clarendon – all bright and artificial and colourpop-y – used by an ex-colleague I met for lunch a few weeks ago, who insisted “everything was going brilliantly with her new job”, but who I caught sobbing down the phone to her mum as she left the cafe. There's Sierra – a little bit rose-tinted – used by a friend doing a part-time master's and spending hours burning the midnight oil, studying after work. And finally there's Nashville – soft-focused and sepia – used by a mum friend, whose “academically promising” teen is suddenly not getting the expected grades at school.

I’ve even used them myself – mentally deciding which one to use before meeting friends. Should I be optimistic, cheerful or philosophical today? Decisions… It’s rare I go without any filter – mainly out of the basic fear that if I tell people how I am really feeling, it won’t be what people want to hear.

Yet, it’s good to talk. Openness and honesty are contagious. If you share in real life, others will share back. Tell people your new job isn’t all you hoped it to be. Admit you’re finding late-night study so hard you are thinking of giving it up. Ask for a shoulder to cry on if your relationship is on the rocks. If you are honest with others and with yourself – if you stop papering over cracks – you will thrive.

Real life is sunny and cloudy; fun and boring; an exhilarating ride and an exhausting slog – and no one, absolutely no one, is perfect. There’s something so brilliantly empowering and comforting in telling yourself and other people this, every single day.


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Happy Tee Boutique, Etsy
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