The backlash against curated Insta-perfection has been a hot topic for quite some time now. It would seem that authenticity is the new currency among influencers. But when people start being ‘real’ because they feel they have to, is it really real? Or is it just doing more damage?
Let’s look at some examples of what “authenticity” translates to in the social media age.
1. An appropriate response to tragedy.
It has become almost compulsory to post on social media in the wake of tragedy. And there’s been a lot of tragedy of late. I caught myself after the Manchester attacks thinking about what the right thing to post would be. I eventually didn’t post at all – I had no words that wouldn’t seem thin and empty in the face of such horror. I had the luxury of my silence going unnoticed but I know others with large social followings who’ve been criticised for staying quiet, accused of not caring. So if you’re that person, what can you do except force out something that in no way comes close to reflecting what you’re feeling or what you want to say – a hashtag, a broken heart emoji, a photo of a sunset with some generic quote plastered across it.
2. A demonstration of body positivity.
It has become the done thing in the fitness industry to post bad lighting / bad angle / just eaten selfies – initially with the good intention of “keeping it real”, but increasingly as a way to generate likes and follows. Whilst the positive intent may still be there for some, in other cases it seems to be publicity-driven rather than about promoting any real message. And I suspect in many cases, there’s the fear of what message it sends if you don’t jump on the bandwagon. It’s also very important that you love your body – though bonus points if you used to struggle with body image and have come out the other side. A nice balance of relatability and aspiration. You can, very carefully, discuss a recent knock in body confidence if you ensure your post ends on just the right note of positivity. I know people who genuinely have incredible body confidence – but I know more people who don’t and who worry about the backlash from their audience if they say as much. Not loving your body sends the wrong message.
3. Careful reference to mental health.
I am very passionate that there should be more open discussion about mental health – but whilst progress has been made, it seems that there are still only select ‘approved’ conditions that can be referenced on social media. If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, these are now totally ok to talk about, up to a point (i.e. social and physical debilitation is fine but suicidal thoughts are not). It’s also ok if you used to have an eating disorder but it’s important that you don’t have one anymore. Within these select ‘safe zones’, honesty and authenticity around mental health are rewarded by social media. Authenticity is not so accepted if you any other type of condition. Something that requires lifelong daily medication is definitely too uncomfortable for Instagram. And if you’re male, even the safe zones above are largely out of bounds – unless you have a predominantly female following.
4. Political campaigning or political silence.
It’s important that you fall into one of these camps and you’ll quickly discover which one is right for you, depending on your viewpoint. If you have the correct social-media approved viewpoint, option 1, being extremely vocal, is a great way to show your audience how ‘woke’ you are. Right now this is probably the pinnacle of authenticity. If you don’t share the correct viewpoint, or perhaps just don’t feel it extremely enough to voice, the best bet is either to, option 2, stay completely silent and hope your audience doesn’t raise it, or, option 3, maintain that whilst you have strong views, you don’t want to influence anyone to feel a certain way and so will be keeping your views to yourself. Whilst not quite as authentic as option 1, option 3 is probably your best bet here if you want to keep your political leanings under wraps.
In summary, it seems we can’t actually be authentic. We need to be a pleasing type of authentic. The type of authentic that gets likes and follows, that keeps our audience on side. And I can’t help but think this is setting us back even further than something we all knew was a carefully curated fake world.