Firstly, apologies for being MIA recently. The biggest arch nemesis of virtual life is the little thing called real life, and my real life has been a whiny, needy child these days.
So as I mentioned earlier, we moved! To a bigger place. To the suburbs. To a 45 min drive (in rush hour) away from our work. Yup, I know I went on and on about the merits of downtown, condo living, but a bug bit us in the behind, and we decided to adopt the normal boring lifestyle of suburban parents. Secondly, I’ve been doing regular articles for CBC Parents, which means that the little time I do have when not working, sitting in 5 pm traffic, cleaning the house or pulling out weeds in the yard, is dedicated to my side hustle.
And so my blog has been growing its own weeds.
In any case, I am back and about to introduce you to the modern day mother-in-law. Brace yourself.
I was on Instagram and while mundanely swiping through enviable lives of strangers, I came across a picture that made me scoff.
It was a mommy blogger account and featured the breathtaking image of a beautiful blonde with curls to kill for, gleaming blue eyes filled with unfiltered joy, sitting under a swaying tree on a sunny day, on a red plaid spread, breastfeeding her cherubic babe.
I, to the best of my knowledge, looked like this during the breastfeeding phase:
NOBODY, I repeat NOBODY looks that effervescent and gag-reflex-provokingly beautiful when they are substituting for a cow.
I get it. People with online businesses have businesses to run. And no one wants to look at a sweaty orangutan breastfeeding. There is no filter in the world that’ll get you more followers if you do that.
But who are we kidding?
Back in the day, the only major source of harsh judgement bestowed upon a woman was her mother-in-law.
Now mother-in-laws have been dethroned by the likes of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest.
They scream at you: “Your house isn’t beautiful enough! Your contouring isn’t on point! Your fashion sense needs a major overhaul! Your closet organization is abysmal! Your party décor game is lame! You need to lose that pregnancy weight!”
In summary, the modern age version of, “You aren’t good enough for my son”.
This is what my Instagram and Pinterest screams at me every time I log on. My social media may have unresolved anger issues.
The problem is that we want to embody perfection, to wear it, to project it, all the while causing everyone else to feel smaller about their imperfections. And it’s a wicked, mutually-destructive cycle.
Recently, I was looking at my childhood pictures and came across some from my 8th birthday party. I first thought to myself, “Dang, my mom really didn’t give a F about these things”.
I noticed the haphazardly affixed balloons on the back wall, and a few limp streamers running around those balloons. The 4-5 food items. My cartoony, very not-fashion-forward outfit. The few select friends standing next to me as I cut an unremarkable, one-tiered cake.
Then I noticed the giddy smile on our faces. I remembered my mom made the cake, and the rest of the table spread too, which was delicious. I remember being silly with anticipation all day. There weren’t many planned games, but I remember laughing a lot. And my mom is dressed simply but looks happy as I blow out the candles.
I’ll tell you why she looks happy. Because there were no DIY backdrops, no tutus, no themed desserts with matching labelled water bottles, no favors, no photo booths, no pitch-perfect table settings, no fruits cut out in the shape of cartoon characters. Heck there wasn’t even a piñata in sight. She hadn’t killed herself for months planning all of the above, didn’t want to cut her husband for not helping her, didn’t run around the whole time, snapping away Insta-worthy pictures of the occasion, and finally didn’t have to file bankruptcy after her daughter’s 8th birthday.
She was present, she was there and she was happy in the simple celebration of her child’s existence.
I felt wistful. I wished I was born about two decades earlier than I was, and that instead of being one of those Neanderthals who doesn’t go the whole nine yards for her kid’s birthday parties, has non-existent makeup skills, a barely-there fashion sense, and hit-or-miss DIY project abilities, I just didn’t have to care.
I wish I was born in a time when social media didn’t make us feel sub-standard about every aspect of our lives and make us incapable of walking away from a brick wall without needing to take a photo in front of it.
I’ve had so many conversations with friends about this. People who decided to disconnect for a while because others’ much more happening lives made them discontented. People who felt left out because they weren’t invited to an event but were subjected to the never-ending images of the occasion. People who had an exciting media presence with frequent vacations, but the underlying reality of unemployment and debt. Someone who lost a parent to a long illness but was surprised to find most people had no clue because her online presence only displayed her intermittent happy outings.
I’ve thought many times about disconnecting myself. But I have serious FOMO (fear of missing out, for anyone over 40 years reading this). I don’t want to be irrelevant. It seems I need my Instagram to tell me how deficient I am.
So I get it, businesses need to get more business, and you won’t gain any fans by posting your disheveled home and hair. But if you are an Instagram star you also have a social responsibility. To send across the right messages, to make women understand that homes don’t have to look perfect, that no one wakes up with hair like that, that looking like a magical unicorn while breastfeeding is unnatural and should be punishable by law.
Instead as individuals, we need to change the game. Because perfection is desirable but imperfection is relatable. We need to start sharing the rustic, raw, candid moments of our imperfect, challenging lives that can be equal parts beautiful, hilarious, poignant and sad – but never, ever boring.
Because real life doesn’t have a filter. Much like your mother-in-law.