Had you looked at her Instagram account, you would have seen a happy, well-adjusted, thoughtful young woman who lived life to the fullest.
Madison Holleran was a 19-year old student-athlete at the University of Pennsylvania and seemed to have it all. Beautiful, talented, athletically gifted, “Ivy League” smart, popular, loving family, tons of friends.
Matter of fact, you probably would have envied her picture-perfect life.
But things aren’t always what they seem, are they?
You know this to be true. If you have an Instagram account, or Facebook or Twitter, you likely have an image you want to project for all your followers too. Does it match up with reality, or like your Instagram photos, is it first run through a filter?
Madison Holleran’s life wasn’t what it appeared to be. She proved that on January 17, 2014, when she took a running leap off the 9th level of a parking garage and ended her life.
Madison hadn’t been the same since she started college. Her parents, siblings, and closest friends noticed a change. Her infectious smile and “joie de vivre” had all but disappeared. Meanwhile, everyone outside her inner circle thought this straight-A student/track star beauty was kicking ass and taking names in her first year at Penn.
But in reality, Madison was deeply troubled.
The Dangers of Social Media and the ‘Perfect Persona’
In our recent blog post from the holidays, we discussed the simulacrum, or that perceived reality we all have that doesn’t match up to “real” reality. We related it to coming home for the holidays, where the ideal picture is that everyone gets along and everything is magical and perfect. In reality, parents still nag, siblings still fight, and you feel more dread over this time than joy and love and peace.
Based on Madison Holleran’s Instagram account, you would have quickly and confidently determined that she was having a fabulous time in her first year at Penn. The problem is, what people display on social media often does not reflect what is truly going on in their innermost being. Or at least it is only part of the story.
According to Fagan, author of the ESPN piece on Madison Holleran:
Everyone presents an edited version of life on social media. People share moments that reflect an ideal life, an ideal self. Hundreds of years ago, we sent letters by horseback, containing only what we wanted the recipient to read. Fifty years ago, we spoke via the telephone, sharing only the details that constructed the self we wanted reflected.
With Instagram, one thing has changed: the amount we consume of one another’s edited lives. Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others’ filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered.
I see this all the time in my office. Women come in, troubled, unhappy, disappointed with the state of their lives and relationships – and they compare themselves to others whose lives are great and happy and perfect. What they are actually comparing their lives to, however, is the socially presentable “mask” or Persona that others allow them to see. They don’t take the time to consider that they don’t actually know what is going on beneath the surface – that maybe their marriages are falling apart; that maybe their kids are hellions at home; that maybe it took 20 selfies and 10 filters to finally get that perfect angle that makes their body look so great.
No one has a perfect life. No one.
No one has perfect skin/hair/teeth/breasts/legs/butt/abs/you name it, a perfect marriage, perfect kids, perfect parents, a perfect job, a perfect home life – no one.
Social media is not real life. Just like the cover models on any magazine in the supermarket checkout lines are not real. Everyone, everything, on social media has been filtered and airbrushed. You are seeing only a snapshot – and an edited one at that.
Live Life, Unfiltered
Since Madison’s tragic and untimely death, there has been a movement encouraging people to live life “unfiltered”. To be who they are, warts and all, and to have the courage to authentically and shamelessly display it to others, giving them permission to do the same.
This is an admirable goal. If we would put down our masks, we would see that we are all beautifully and wonderfully imperfect. We could reach out in our time of need and lend a helping hand in someone else’s. Rather than suffering alone and shouldering the burden of presenting a perfect (read: false) image to everyone around us, we could come through our adversity with a village of love and support behind us, and a renewed sense of self.
But at the same time, for society to function, the individual has always maintained a Persona – the part of ourselves that we deem socially acceptable and that we decide to present to others. In the daily, waking, personal interactions of real life, there are always blips in the Persona – moments when our underlying not-so-pretty feelings unexpectedly pop out. These moments of vulnerability and truth help forge relationships and bond us to others.
Unfortunately, the filtered life presented on social media is a hyperbolic version of this Persona and because it is so carefully curated, there are few – if any – blips, errors, or slips.
Just as we have learned to teach our children that the magazine cover models are not real, so we need to find a way to teach our daughters and sons that the lives of their friends and heroes portrayed on social media need to be critically consumed rather than swallowed as total truth.