I recently traveled to Europe for a conference and somehow in the midst of attending my brother and sister-in-law’s beautiful week-long Hindu/Jewish wedding, planning my daughter’s second birthday party, and preparing for the trip itself, I managed to get everything ready, packed, and zipped-up one hour before I had to leave for the airport. That is, everything besides having clean underwear.
I planned on grabbing some out of the laundry basket, which I could have sworn was full of wrinkled clothes that I had taken out of the dryer a week ago, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I was mistaken. The clothes in the basket were indeed dirty, and I had just enough time to throw some in the wash and get them 80% dry before we had to leave. I put my damp undies into a big Ziplock bag and tossed them into my carry-on so I could open it on the plane allowing them to dry in the friendly skies. I then had to periodically fluff them in the bag to ensure maximum air flow and at one point the guy in 31B side-eyed me when he caught me sniffing the bag to confirm that they were not mildewing in the plastic. I halfway expected to be arrested after disembarking the aircraft for public display of a fetish or something.
This whole scenario totally felt like my life in a nutshell and so I posted a picture of my sack-o-undergarments on Instagram.
I admit, I almost didn’t do it because you could see the size of my underwear. Right there. In print. 8 XL. I even tried to crop it out to no avail. I reconciled that everyone seeing that photo has also seen ME in real life. They know what I look like and thus are aware that I’m not a size 2, so who or what exactly was I trying to protect or hide?
In the end, I decided that the absurdity of the post outweighed my hesitation to broadcast the size of my derriere on social media, and so I pushed that little blue ‘Share’ button.
I love Instagram. I really do. There is something strangely satisfying about seeing those little orange and white hearts pop up that not only makes me feel loved, but also makes me feel like I am part of a shared community. However, as I was desperately trying to remove the letters X and L, I realized how misleading it can be.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make Instagram a depressing place. I love the all-white rooms without a single smudge or stain and the strategically placed forks next to freshly baked scones. I revel in the sunsets and dream of my own sandy feet on a beach. And of course, the babies. I will never get enough of the babies. I am totally a part of it, but at the risk of biting the hand that feeds I can’t help but wonder, where are the photos of people crying in a closet? Or the pictures of the kids in front of the the TV for a couple hours so you an have some time to yourself? Where are the photos of your jeans that won’t button or (and I am speaking to myself here) the dirty dishes that are piled in the sink – just out of frame of that pristine cup of freshly-brewed coffee you posted. Can’t Valencia do to our dirty dishes what it can do to our selfies?
Maybe we need this though. A little snapshot of the ‘good life’. A memory of how delightful a moment can be, even if that moment is somewhat contrived. Confession:: I have on more than one occasion asked my son to redo something, so I could capture it in a photo, or told him to “Stop crying and stand over there!” so I can get the perfect shot before heading off to school. All you see is a sweet, albeit somewhat brooding, boy but not the wailing tears that took place twenty minutes before and after the brief interlude.
I understand the urge to harness and appreciate the beauty as it can be fleeting and we want to hold it close. It’s when we actively try to hide our imperfections that I think we enter into a dangerous territory. We need to remember that behind the Sierra, the Nashville, and the Lo-Fi there is a real life, an unfiltered one, and that is equally beautiful if we allow it to be.
Disguises come in many forms. It’s not only the filter on our photos, but it’s the smile when all we want to do is sob. It’s the comforting “Everything will be fine” when we can’t really know for certain that it will be. Sometimes it’s as simple as the dress we are wearing when we would rather be in sweats or layers upon layers of under-eye concealer after weeks of sleepless nights. Disguises are protective and necessary and as a dear friend recently told me, to give them up sometimes comes with a hefty price tag.
As days turn into weeks which blur into months and then years, at every turn I find myself saying “How is it already _______?!?” With this feeling of life being on a rapid fast-forward, I sense an increasing importance to strive to live authentically through the good and the bad.
Maybe airing out my clean laundry was a start for me. As much as disguises are about survival, a lot of solidarity can be found when we take them off, and I think I may even be willing to pay the price.
Marissa B. Niranjan has been (slightly) misrepresenting her life on Instagram since 2011.