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If you scrolled quickly past the above picture in Facebook, you might be convinced that I’m lifting some pretty hefty weights. You might feel intimidated by yet another picture of a person seemingly able to do all the things. You might feel in some way inferior because you don’t have a picture in your Facebook feed showing you lifting a righteous amount of weights over your head in triumph.
But if you look closer, you might notice that what I’m actually lifting is made of PVC pipe and painted Styrofoam. It’s a photo prop from a company called Maxx Bench that I ran across at the IDEA conference yesterday. If you look at the picture below, you can see that I’m actually lifting the “weight” with ease. (Not surprising as I estimate that the whole thing weighed less than 3 pounds.)
On the one hand this exercise was a lot of fun. I mean how often do you get to do that? I felt pretty fierce. And I’m glad to promote a really cool new product called MAXX Bench that takes the danger and fear out of the bench press. But it also got me thinking. How often do we scroll through somebody’s feed and think, “Wow that person’s life is really cool! I wish my life was that cool.” And I wondered if my totally pretend picture might inspire that same reaction in somebody else. I know it happens to me. I see somebody’s feed and I think that they are so much cooler than me and that I could never possibly reach their level of awesomeness and bad assery. In fact this feeling happens often enough to launch scientific studies and create a new phrase “Facebook envy”. But our digital lives are really a construct. Even if we aren’t digitally manipulating the pictures or pulling off complete hoaxes (like my bit of “weight lifting” fun above) we are editing. We are choosing which bits of ourselves to share online. And although some of us tend to share some deep and not entirely flattering bits about ourselves from time to time, it’s pretty clear that most of us, most of the time, tend to share the cool stuff.
This disconnect is all the greater for the celebrities we admire. Many of them have handlers and PR specialists and people who airbrush all their photos and painstakingly edit every frame of their appearance in a particular film. I am not blaming these folks. Their careers in many cases depend on giving the illusion of being consistently and constantly flawless. And the game has gotten so sophisticated that one might fear simply going to Starbucks without a team of makeup artists, photographers, digital ret-ouchers, and extra, extra strong turbo Spanx. We are all caught in a deadly game of visual perfection one-upsmanship. We make friends and fall in love based on our ability to create a compelling avatar–a perfect profile.
But I think where we really get messed up, is when we begin to believe that this stuff is real–that this is a level to which we should realistically aspire. Because most of it is giant steaming piles of male cow poo. We aren’t seeing what these folks look like when they roll out of bed in the morning. We aren’t seeing blemishes or smelling morning breath or seeing PMS bloat from the celebrities or even from the Facebook feeds of mere mortals. We’re mostly seeing the carefully selected cool bits.
So maybe the next time you start wondering if your life could possibly be as cool as that person you see on Facebook, you should really be wondering if anybody’s life could possibly be that cool. Maybe it’s time to stop comparing yourself to stuff that is carefully edited and not so much really real.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. Want to share your real stories as a plus-sized exerciser? We’ve extended the date for the call for submissions for our new anthology “Throwing our Weight Around–Real Stories of Fat People in the Fitness World”. You can contribute a scholarly article or a poem or a personal story or whatever! Click HERE for the CFP. oxoxoxo