I came across a TODAY Show spot from earlier in the summer about photographers who are “raising the bar” on graduation photos for high school seniors. Using “Hollywood” special effects, lighting, green screens, and digital manipulation to create images right out of a movie or glossy marketing campaign. Meant to elevate the high school quarterback’s image to that of a Tom Brady or the average, pretty girl glammed up in a Vanity Fair inspired editorial shoot. One of the photographers featured said, “It’s [sort of] where their talents lie-finding a way to show their authentic self to the world in a way they haven’t had a chance to do before.”
But is this an image of authentic self when the reflection you see far exceeds reality’s ability to deliver on these illusions of grandeur? And oh how we are lining these naive graduates up for the slaughter at the starting gate of life’s struggles and hardship if we are sending them out into the world with such unachievable expectations of themselves. Is it any wonder that in a few short weeks these graduates will find themselves deposited on college campuses rife with a growing epidemic of alcohol and drug abuse and with more than 1,000 suicides reported on college campuses each year?
This feels all too familiar to me.
Around the time of my first wedding, those glossy Hollywood wedding films had just hit the scene and in spite of the obvious dysfunction in our relationship, I was going to make damn sure our 2 minute wedding video trailer reflected the fairy tale I was fooling myself into believing. Just in time for our first anniversary, a box of a dozen beautifully packaged DVDs arrived with the sweeping shots of the breathtaking setting of our ceremony and reception, taken by helicopter no less (mind you, this was in a day before drones), and the climactic moment of our first married kiss as we then dashed up the aisle hand-in-hand in slow motion to a dramatic movie inspired score. I watched the video alone as The Former had moved out weeks prior and every one of those DVDs ended up in the trash when I finally accepted that our narrative was never able to be what that footage reflected the day our divorce papers were served.
These carefully crafted personas that we manipulate around ourselves are uploaded to our social media pages and checked every few minutes for likes, comments, and shares. This serves as a means of the validation we are seeking in our inability to find our own truth when we look within ourselves. The trouble is that, when we believe this is who we can become through some magical portal of a camera lens, it is a far distance to fall into despair. And this isn’t just an epidemic of the young and naive.
A friend texted me recently to say that Sarah Cantrell’s story of Grief made an impact as they were battling with some re-emerging trauma and personal challenges. My response was that their Instagram account certainly wasn’t reflecting these struggles and the reply I received was “Yea, I don’t post about that part of my life.”
Well why the hell not? Because I’m over here looking at your Instagram feed that is full of glossy images of your (what I know is far from) perfect life thinking that I am lesser for my 5th day of dirty hair, in my uncurated, non-designer kitchen where I am not whipping up an organic roasted veggie frittata but toasting up a frozen waffle for my kid, who is wearing a dirty Paw Patrol t-shirt and not an adorably coordinated outfit.
I would be far more inspired to live in the freedom of my own honesty if I observed you living in yours.
You will find your freedom in the Practice of Honesty; in accepting where your life is and not where you wish, and falsely project, it to be. I have lived that nightmare where everyone I knew was aware that my life was a sham, despite my efforts in manipulating the experience we were projecting. There is no shame in saying I am not where I hoped I would be; there is empowerment in boldly projecting your courage in facing your adversity and struggle with faith and hopefulness. You can find contentment and peace in the midst of the imperfection you are allowing yourself to suffer through.
Instead of raising the bar on your son’s graduation photo and his unachievable expectations of life, fine, let him take a photo in his football uniform but have it project “I may not be Tom Brady, but I sure love playing football and I am grateful for the lessons it’s teaching me.” Before you spend 30 minutes on hair and makeup just for an Instagram post, take that time to Practice Honesty and get in touch with what your reality truly is and project that honestly when you hit SHARE; commit to be truthful in what you are sharing.
This is Living Hope.