Performative Honesty on Social Media

Humans have always tried to improve the way things seem. A wealthy Englishman had Sham Castle built so he could have a better view from his home in Bath. Now, we craft our social media presence to make our lives appear perfect.

Humans have always tried to improve the way things seem. A wealthy Englishman had Sham Castle built so he could have a better view from his home in Bath. Now, we craft our social media presence to make our lives appear perfect.

There’s a trend I’ve been noticing on social media for awhile now. I call it: performative honesty

You may have seen it too. An influencer, a blogger, or even a friend of yours shares something thoughtful, vulnerable, and reflective… paired with an ultra-curated photo of their perfect life. Something doesn’t quite match up. They’re sharing about their anxiety and pairing it with a professionally taken photo, makeup done, hair looking fly, cute outfit. They’re projecting perfection, and writing a caption that says “no no, I’m not perfect, I’m just like you.” It often leaves you questioning if the content in the caption is real, or fake like the photo.

This genre of social media post has been on my mind a lot lately. It raises some interesting questions that I’ll discuss in this post: What does it mean to be real on social media? What should we be sharing? How much should we share? Is it true that what we post in our feed has to be perfect, and your imperfections should only be shared in Stories?

Be Authentic

I often tell my clients, “social media users crave authenticity. They don’t want carefully crafted photos or an on-point, aspirational aesthetic 100% of the time. Show them the behind-the-scenes of your brand. Share your personality! Show what you’re really like.”

But simply “be authentic” is difficult advice to follow. What does authenticity look like for you? What if you want to keep some aspects of your business or your personal life private? Do you have to sacrifice privacy in order to be genuine on the internet? Just so you can sell stuff for your brand?

Authenticity is great in theory. But it’s also starting to become commodified. There’s money to be made in the self-care, health, and wellness space. More and more people are opening up and being vulnerable about their mental health—which is fantastic—but when it’s done in a calculated way, with a sponsored product featured, I become skeptical of the so-called authenticity. Influencers are performing honesty and getting paid.

One positive example of an influencer (of sorts) being honest is Kate Speer, CEO of The Dogist. She does a great job of sharing her ongoing struggles with mental health. She was told for years by doctors that she’d live the rest of her life in a ward, but she’s now proving them wrong. And along the way, she’s sharing on social media what her real life looks like, including dorky dancing, sweaty workouts, telling her husband when she’s having a rough day and asking him for help, and more. Kate is unapologetically herself, living joyfully and battling PTSD and other complicated issues. Her selfies show you the real Kate, tired and taking time to rest. 

It’s Okay to be Private

Nobody’s life is perfect. We all know that social media is a highlight reel, but it’s easy to forget that sometimes. It’s easy to compare yourself to others. It’s easy to keep sharing the good stuff and not talk about the bad stuff.

I’ve seen a movement on social media encouraging people to tell the truth, to be genuine, to share their struggles.

But frankly, not everyone is comfortable with that. We can’t all be Kate Speer! We all have struggles, yes. Should we all be required to share them online? No. 

It’s good to keep in mind that everyone has their own struggles, but we shouldn’t be expected to share them publicly if we’re not comfortable with that. Nor should we feel like we need to fabricate struggles to project an image of vulnerability and truthfulness on social media.

Be Authentic, Your Way

Living your life online is a fine line in so many different ways. What I post on Instagram is definitely a rose-colored glasses perspective on my life. What I share on Twitter is a little less curated, and a bit more candid. I’ve always loved Twitter for that reason—it feels like a place where people can be themselves.

I think we can all find our own ways to be authentic online. Without performing for an audience and without feeling like we need to share private aspects of our lives that we’re not comfortable sharing. I love what business owner Ilana Griffo shared about this topic on her Instagram recently: “Do what feels good—share what feels good—and stop worrying about the rest.”

If it doesn’t feel good to share what you’re sharing—if it feels fake or forced—then why are you sharing it?

That’s my game plan moving forward. No more worrying that my Instagram life is too rosy or that I’m not “being vulnerable enough.” No more worrying that my tweets are too all over the place or not business-oriented enough. I’m going to try to be myself online in ways that feel good to me. 

Will you join me?