Over the past few days, I have seen countless Facebook posts of smiling children wearing backpacks as they leave the house on the first day of the school year. So I thought that this morning, on my son’s first day of ninth grade, I would take a photo of him as he left the house and post it on my Facebook wall.
While he agreed to pose for the photo, my son did not agree to smile. He was not exactly celebrating the exciting dawn of a new school year filled with endless possibilities for intellectual and emotional growth. Definitely not at 6:30 in the morning, if ever. And so, I did not have one of those perfect photos of a smiling child with his backpack. To make matters worse, given my pajama situation, I didn’t take the photo outside in the natural morning light with grass, trees, and flowers as the background. I took it in my kitchen, with clearly visible empty pizza boxes from my daughter’s impromptu party last night. In other words, all things considered, between the scowling 14 year old and the somewhat messy kitchen scene behind him, my photo wasn’t what I would consider “Facebook worthy”. It was too real.
Honestly, I can’t imagine life without Facebook. As someone who lives 6,000 miles away from my childhood friends and my family, it allows me to keep in touch, even peripherally, with the people that I rarely see, and it somehow bridges the physical gap created by the oceans that divide us. Facebook gives me a glimpse into the lives of people who I care about and allows me to somehow share in their special moments even when I am far away. I can watch my friends’ children grow up, get married, and have children of their own. When I do get to see them in person, they feel more familiar.
My favorite Facebook friend is someone who I have known for 30 years. She is probably the only one of my 270 Facebook friends who tells things as they really are. She is on Facebook as she is in person — warped, flawed, imperfect, brutally honest, and unapologetically real. And I love her for it, because she is an anomaly.
Let’s face it, we all misrepresent ourselves on Facebook to one degree or another. We only post our most perfect moments; and as such, we tell lies of omission. I know that this is human nature, but it creates an impossible standard of perfection and a skewed perception of reality.
Real life isn’t perfect. There are ugly things in life like eating disorders and mental illness. For the most part, no one touches these on Facebook or anywhere else where a person’s public persona is represented. Of course, I understand the reasons why; however, the undeniable end result is the perpetuation of stigma and the lowering of awareness, both of which can potentially prevent others from getting the help that they need. The ironic thing is that while people think that the imperfections in their lives make them weaker in the eyes of others, in effect, I have found the opposite to be true. If anything, people respect the strength of those who struggle with adversity.
About a year ago, one of my new event-planning clients sent me a friend request on Facebook and I wasn’t sure whether to accept it. I tried to keep my professional life separated from my personal life, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted my clients seeing my status updates linking to this blog about my daughter’s eating disorder. In the end, I realized that I can’t compartmentalize myself like that, nor do I particularly want to do so. I am not just a mom, not just a mom of a daughter with an eating disorder, not just a friend, not just an event planner, and not just an eating disorder treatment advocate — if you friend me on Facebook, then you get the package deal, because that is who I am.
My life, on Facebook or otherwise, is not perfect, and I accept that without any grudges. Through my own life experiences, I have learned to recognize the tremendous power and beauty of the imperfect. Imperfection has value, depth, character, honesty, and profundity.
I have been re-thinking that less-than-enthusiastic first day of school photo of my son that I took this morning before he left for school. When he gets home, I am going to ask him for permission to post it on my Facebook wall. Somehow, it’s the imperfection of it that makes it so incredibly perfect. More than anything, it’s authentic and legitimate, and I wouldn’t want my life any other way.