Image Isn’t Everything. But Identity Is.

Image isn’t everything. Although try telling that to one of the Kardashians who has built an empire on image alone. I’m sure KKW would argue that there’s a certain creative talent and skill to crafting such an image, which would make it more of an art (subjective) than a science (objective). And to an artist, their craft IS everything. I see that passion every day in my clients, and it’s part of what drives my mission to help them defiantly thrive.

OMG. I think I just convinced myself that the Kardashians are artists. And relevant. Excuse me while I go cower in a corner and question everything I thought I knew about the world.

OK, I’m back. Here’s how I reconcile myself with the first paragraph. Image isn’t everything…but identity is. Your image is something that can be crafted to support your identity, and it absolutely should; but it doesn’t work in reverse. Identity cannot be manufactured. Identity is collective. Identity is the sum of the parts. Identity is the recording artist, while image is just one of the tracks on its album. The sound of each album changes over time to reflect the evolution of the artist, which is something that happens naturally, without manmade interference. Image is an art; identity is a science.

Musical analogies are the best, aren’t they?

I’m getting to a point here, I promise.

So if image is an art, it’s easy to see how the world of influencers has emerged, with the help of predominantly visual social media platforms like Instagram. I admit, I was not the biggest fan of Instagram in the beginning. As a Gen X-er who grew up with MySpace, and eventually Facebook, I was accustomed to lots of WORDS and EXPLANATION in my friends’ profiles. Explain to me who you are so that I won’t misjudge you. And then show me all the awkwardly posed, grainy photos of your kids and dogs, or car selfies taken on the way to work. I trusted these images due to their obvious lack of professional quality and editing.

But as we’ve all come to find out, they’re no more authentic than the celebrity Instagram feeds. I see you scoffing at that, but it’s true. Anyone posting selfies of red puffy eyes after an emotional meltdown? Anyone posting the first picture of their kid/dog/cat/husband, or are they taking 20 shots, applying 6 different filters, cropping out the pile of dirty laundy on the floor, and THEN finally posting it with the caption, “Look at my adorable kid/dog/cat/husband, I’m so lucky to be doing life with them.” It’s ok, I do it too, this is a judgment-free zone. I’m only pointing out that it happens, and it’s not much different than hiring a professional photographer and hair/makeup team to take photos of you sipping coffee outside a cute little bistro. If anything, I’ve come to think of the latter as MORE authentic because all the professional help is being credited in the caption. We see “#sponsored” and “#ad” and are like, DUH. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that an image is professionally crafted, rather than having to guess as to what is really going down behind the scenes.

If we can accept “image-crafting” as an art that we all practice on some level, maybe we can stop all the finger-pointing, trolling, and glam-shaming (I swear that’s a real term, google it) that has become very divisive, especially among women (it’s still March, so we’re still focused on HERstory). And even more especially, among those who choose to maintain an active public profile, either for personal reasons or business purposes. One of the warring factions will say that if you’re too pretty, no one will take you seriously. Another will say that if you have tattoos, no one will believe you’re professional. Yet another will say that if you aren’t concerned with hair and makeup, you’re not feminine. The newest one trending says that if you’re not routinely posting makeup-less, unfiltered images of yourself, that you’re not being “real”, which ridiculously suggests that we all need visual evidence in order to believe that no one actually rolls out of bed looking flawless and camera-ready. I promise, I already assume you wake up with zits and wrinkles just like the rest of us. I don’t need photographic proof; it’s not going to make me feel any better about my own issues.

I think we too often confuse image with identity, which is why we are so quick to attack each other for being “fake”. Maybe the way to tackle this problem is to…wait for it…stop assuming we know everything about someone based on social media presence alone.

Hold up, whaaaaaat?!? You mean get to know a real live person, like in the flesh?? I know, it’s a totally crazy idea. Very archaic….circa, 1991. But have we forgotten that social media profiles are NOT intended to be an online encyclopedia of a person’s life? We’re giving companies like Facebook waaaaaay too much power over society if this is our expectation. They’re already collecting too much of our personal data, and here we are, getting offended that people aren’t posting MORE of their personal lives and true identities online for the social media companies to do with what they will. I say fuck it, throw their algorithms off as much as possible by posting a bunch of fake, filtered b.s. whenever possible.

Or at least call them out in a blog post so they know you’re on to their tricks.  Here’s looking at you, MZ!

Anyway, I digress. (But no really, fight the power.)

The last thing we need to do is to battle each other over who’s creating what kind of online image and why. My POV, for what it’s worth, is that if we choose to put any portion of our life on blast for the world to see (and judge), then we SHOULD be taking the time to meticulously craft an image. One that supports our identity without compromising it. So that we are the ones who maintain creative control over how we are perceived. Everyone else should just assume that they are only seeing one piece of the puzzle…one portion of an identity…a single track on an album. If they don’t like it, or if it doesn’t speak to them, they can just move on to something (or someone) else that does.

Stop trolling and keep scrolling. I call that a small step towards world peace.

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