Instagram Authenticity: The Unicorn You Should Be Chasing

Every fall, my husband and I take our kids to a pumpkin patch. We have been taking them to the same little farm for the past three years. It’s nestled on a long dirt road, with a gorgeous pick-your-own blueberry patch, live music and plenty of craft beer.

 When we decided to take our kids there this past fall, we expected the same sort of easy, breezy experience we’ve had at the farm in the past. I dressed the kids with visions of the autumns of my childhood in Chicago clear in my mind. They wore flannel and boots and jean jackets.

That day, we couldn’t help by notice there were a lot more cars there than in years past. We opened the car doors and were instantly hit in the face by the 100 degree October air that Florida is so well known for, and I quickly became the parents of two children literally stripping their fall gear off as they walked the long dirt road from our car to the pumpkin patch.

When we got there, I fought with my girls to get their clothes back on. I licked the palm of my hand and slid it down their heads to try and combat their humidity-fueled frizzy hair. I gritted my teeth and with my best Batman voice I commanded them to take one goddamn picture. I smashed the picture button on my phone like every picture gave me a dollar. One minute and approximately 5000 directions to my kids later (STOP TOUCHING YOUR SISTER. SMILE. PARKIE LOOK HERE.), I gave them a thumbs-up, and as quick as lightening, my naked children ran off towards the playground.

I looked over to my husband with a face that said “Please for the love of Christ get me a beer.” He nodded, (We’ve had the Jedi mind-reading ability for a while now) and off he went. I would not see him until an hour later.

While I waited for him to return, I scrolled through the pictures I had just forced my kids to take. I found one I liked in a sea of nonsense, slapped a filter on it and posted it to my Instagram.

Riding the high of a successful Instagram posting, I took a look around me. Immediately in front of me, I saw a mom yelling the same commands I just did to her young boys. “Just one picture for mommy, please!” 

To my right, there was what can only be described as an Instagram model climbing on a pile of pumpkins. She threw hay into the air as a friend fanned her face and someone else snapped a picture on their phone.

With a glance behind me, I saw a dad set up a tripod at the entrance to the orchard. He clicked it and ran, yanking his pants up as he grabbed the hand of his wife and kiddos and the four of them took long Wizard of Oz steps towards the camera shuttering away.  

There were people posing and posting for Instagram photos in every single direction. There were lines to stand in front of a reclaimed wood wall. People were placing their infants in a pile of pumpkins and snapping a pic. It was like watching ants swarm on a dropped crumb and I was smack dab in the middle of it.

By the time I saw Justin heading my way looking mad as hell, sunburned and holding two warm beers, I was dripping sweat. My naked kids were screaming in the blistering sun and everyone around us was pretending this wasn’t the most miserable experience in the world.

There were people taking Instagram photos everywhere. The lines for the bathroom were wrapped around the building twice. The lone beverage truck had run out of water. There was no shade. 

“This sucks” he said. And he was right.

We chugged our beers, grabbed a pumpkin, scooped up our naked kiddos and “nope-d” right out of there. On the car ride home, I scrolled through the hashtag our little farm used for their pumpkin patch. HUNDREDS of photos from that day. No one looks sweaty. No one mentions that it was littered with people, that it was thousands of degrees out, that the bathrooms were mobbed or the water was BYOB. All we saw were perfect Instagram pics.  

I looked back at the post I put up. The caption said, “We had some fall fun this weekend at (Farm Name Here)! We got pumpkins, had some pumpkin beer and celebrated my favorite season.”  

I hit the edit button. Not today sister. I was to hot and sweaty and miserable to partake in this nonsense. I edited it to read: “We had some fall fun this weekend at (Farm Name Here)! We got pumpkins, had some pumpkin beer and pretended it was fall outside when it’s actually 1000 degrees.”

The Problem

We live in this Insta-Perfect society. When we log into Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat, we’re being bombarded by a multitude of pictures portraying perfection. Being surrounded by all those perfect meals and homes and outfits and families and experience makes us examine our own lives. We take a good, hard look in a mirror and we don’t like what we see. We see rough edges and imperfections. 

Even though we may not know a thing about the people behind the Instagram handles we idolize, we want to be them. We want to put out a vibe that we actually have our shit together, regardless of how miserable we may be feeling.  

We start to post our idea of perfection and influence someone else who follows us to hold up a mirror to their life. Together, we’re all trapped in this cycle striving for perfection, failing at reaching it (because perfection is unobtainable), and faking it anyway.

What is Instagram Authenticity?

In a world where everyone’s life is perfect, we need to be the ones who strive to be authentic about our human experience.

When we say “authentic,” we’re really just saying honest. We need to be real and share our true feelings and failures. We need to acknowledge our hard feelings  - things like anger, jealousy, sadness and pride. We need to be honest when we’re struggling and truthful about the work that goes into our personas of perfection.

How do we do that?

 The easiest way to be truly authentic on Instagram is to share your story; your real story. Accept the fact that in saying something honestly may mean you say something that people will judge you for. Push yourself to say the hard things, share the embarrassing stories. Welcome people into your vulnerabilities. 

Authenticity isn’t just about complaining. It’s not just about sharing your hardships naturally, it’s about being honest about the good stuff too. Share your human accomplishments.

Did you almost bail on that picture-perfect girls night in favor of binging on Netflix? Tell your followers. Did your kid rip one right before taking that gorgeous grinning picture? Tell your followers.  

Your posts should feel like something you’d tell your mom on the phone. It should feel like it’s really coming from you, it should feel transparent, it should feel alive.

Visually, we know Instagram is all about aesthetics. In our struggle to be authentic, we may have a hard time deviating from posting those perfect pictures. The good news is you don’t necessarily have to. You can share what happened behind the scenes to get to that one perfect pic. Let your followers know about the bribes and pleading and tears required to get that pic so Insta-worthy.

What do I get if I do this?  

If you start being more authentic on Instagram, we’ll start the process of building a community. That community will rally around you no matter what. They’ll be there to celebrate your successes, and support you through your failures.

You’ll find your tribe.

People don’t follow brands, they follow people. The more you show yourself as a person experiencing the same things as those in your community, the bigger and stronger your community will be.

Here’s my challenge for you:

1.)   Evaluate your Instagram Captions.

Read through recent Instagram posts and if you feel a moment of “I’m not being honest with myself or others” edit them. Add that line you’re missing.

2.)   Share your #BehindTheGram pics.

Attach that one perfect Instagram photo and then the others you hoped would never see the light of day. (And just for fun, here’s some outtakes from our Pumpkin Patch shoot.) 

Go catch that unicorn!