It’s time we had a talk about fakebooking.
We’ve all done it. Perhaps it’s in the form of a Vaseline-filtered photo that takes a decade off our age and removes a double chin (or two). Or it might be constant updates about how busy work is, or links to articles that show how humanitarian and politically switched on we are.
We fakebook about our kids too. We share the clean-faced, well-behaved, amenable versions of our kids and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But for some people – perhaps the people who need help the most – the steady stream of perfect Facebook posts can be tough to deal with.
“It got to the point where I wanted to close my account,” says mum Cassandra* about her experience on the social media site. She started to feel the Facebook status-update pressure when her friends became mothers too, but things became worse as the kids grew older. “It got to a point where I didn’t want to interact,” she says, “or if I did, I felt annoyed that people weren’t telling the whole truth. Surely no kid is perfect all the time?”
Instead of feeling like she was being supported, Cassandra felt increasingly anxious. While she still visits the site, she doesn’t interact as often as she once did. Cassandra isn’t alone.
You are more than your Facebook profile
Several studies conducted over the last few years have uncovered that our online persona is inextricably linked to our desired true self. The pictures you post, the status updates you like, the groups you join and the comments you make become digital extensions of who you want the world to think you are. The more you use Facebook, the stronger this connection will be.
Using social media involves a level of curation and quantification. We trim, discard and shape our feelings so that they fit neatly within the boundaries of our true selves. From the moment we log on to Facebook we are asked, “What’s on your mind?” and I suspect a great many of us – parents or not – don’t write what we are really feeling. We present idealised versions of ourselves because that is what we’ve been taught to do (how many times have you been asked, “How are you?” and answered anything other than, “Good”?) but is it doing a disservice to our relationships with other parents?
Jill Smokler, founder of online parenting community Scary Mommy, answers with a resounding yes. “I've heard from so many women who feel like failures because they can't compete with their friends on Facebook who love every second of motherhood,” she says. “They feel like sub-standard parents because their kitchens are a mess or their kids are unshowered or they haven't done laundry in days, while their friends are only sharing happy children and immaculate homes. What they can't see is that behind the smiling child in their friend's kitchen is a sink full of dirty dishes and a screaming baby.”
We’ve also been conditioned to post “good” things; smiling kids equal more praise-heaping comments and likes. Offer some profound parenting advice and you’ll be shared from Sydney to Saskatoon. We humans crave recompense.
“The desire to be seen positively has taught us to silence our troubles and we now have no idea how to express inner turmoil without feeling like we’re accepting social defeat,” says writer Kelsey Sunstrum.
“For obvious reasons, people do not advertise their negative traits on their social profiles, nor do they post unflattering pictures. Because of this strict control of the way we are viewed, we are often fooled into believing other people’s lives are much better than our own. What is essential to remember is they too wear masks, the way I do, the way everyone does.”
We fear judgement
We all want to belong – it’s one of our most primal needs. But the Internet – which is, by its very nature, a haven for the nameless/faceless/merciless objector – has left us open to judgement on anything that we share publicly. According to Smokler, this is partially the reason for perfect Facebook posts. “I definitely
think fear of judgment has something to do with it,” she says. “I also think it's a desire to one-up each other – my house is cleaner, my kids are happier ... But motherhood isn't a competition – at least with anyone but ourselves.”
It’s a thought echoed by mother of two Casey. “I don’t feel pressure,” she says. “It’s more that I don't want people to judge me or assume that I am unhappy with my life, my children or my choices. I think most people in both real life and in virtual life only share a certain side of their lives. Some things are best kept private, some things are best shared. If someone were to ask me on Facebook what it's really like being a stay-at-home mum, or a mother of two, I would probably send them a private Facemail and tell them the dirty truth, but on my own page I like to show the smiles and the happy times.”
It is a win for everyone when we are honest about motherhood. Smokler says this means sharing the good and the bad. “It's better for other women to realise they aren't alone, but if you look at social media as a sort of modern photo album, why would we only want to remember the rare, perfect moments? Life is messy, but isn't that how it should be remembered?”
*Name has been changed