Feeling Inadequate On The Internet

Laura’s Team Pick:

The Internet is the first thing I do when I wake up. I grab my phone, check my emails, catch up on twitter and read through Google reader before I even get out of bed. The Cincinnati Enquirer doesn’t quite do it for me, so this is my way of catching up with what happened in the world while I was asleep.

Usually when I’m done I go eat breakfast and start my day, but sometimes the perfection of everything I’m taking in keeps me in bed. In the words of Wiksten, “looking at people’s blogs… can be intimidating at times, can’t it?…I’d say on a good day it’s inspiring and on a bad day it’s intimidating.”

It’s not right, but it’s hard to dispute that there’s some danger in saturating yourself with nothing but exquisitely curated images and words. Even the most well-adjusted among us will admit that it’s hard not to occasionally get down on yourself for having a life that’s less glamorous, organized, sexy, successful and busy-yet-balanced than the ones we see online every day.

Blogs occupy a peculiar space in our world. Unlike magazines, which for years we’ve  acknowledged to be airbrushed versions of an already-perfected reality, blogs are positioned as institutions of truth — alternative media that reflect how real people live. And so when we’re unable to overcome that human tendency to compare ourselves to other people, the Internet becomes the go-to place for self-evaluation. You can’t honestly beat yourself up for not looking like Sofia Vergara, but you can feel like you’re not trying hard enough when you’re eating another bowl of ramen while perusing Smitten Kitchen‘s lovingly photographed recipes.

It’s a seriously bougie concern, but I’m not the only one who’s suffered blog envy. After recognizing just how exhausting it can be trying to keep up with the blogger version of the Jones, Ez from Creature Comforts started talking about the things she usually keeps out of cyberspace. Enter: Things I’m Afraid to Tell You.

I like to think of myself as being transparent and genuine on my blog, but regardless, over the years I’ve struggled with how much of the behind the scenes nitty-gritty side of life I should share. I have walked outside of my comfort zone a few time, but the majority of the time I have always erred on the side of posting beauty and inspiration, instead of delving into the struggles or challenges I’ve faced for fear that negativity could quickly consume this space…

However as time has gone on, and with the ever-expanding roster of blogs that are out there showcasing pretty thing after pretty thing, I’ve come to realize that all this beauty can actually have the opposite effect. The always-nice that we see on constant display everywhere we look (from blogs to magazines, etc) becomes frustrating because it doesn’t really look like how our life looks, right? Instead of visiting a blog and feeling inspired, we quite often leave feeling less than, and like our life can never really match up to what we see…Please can I at least get a raised hand if you’re feeling me on this.

I’m feeling her. I have a whole in-case-of-emergency document saved on my computer called “Reason I’m qualified for life” that I break out when I need to remember that I’ve got it going on even though I’m not a PhD candidate with perfect hair who eats only vegan certified 100% organic permaculture fare.

After discussing the trend with some of her fellow bloggers on twitter, Ez invited 50 other writers to share the things they’re afraid to talk about. The responses range from silly and endearing:

I sometimes mix cake mix with water (just enough to moisten it) and eat it out of a mug. I never, however, put it in a bowl (???), and I rarely make a cake from a box. So yes, I buy cake mix just to eat it with water from a mug.”

To heart-breakingly honest:

My faith is the most important thing in my life.  Here’s a big one that I was afraid to share, because I was afraid of offending people. But why? My faith is my rock that keeps me grounded in everything I do in life. I love all people, those who have a spiritual faith those who don’t. I’m embarrassed of those who claim to believe in God and preach messages of hate. (Do I even need to give examples here?) I try to make sure that in everything I do there is an undercurrent of love, because I truly believe it’s what binds us together as the human race.

Ez wants everyone who wants in to join the discussion, so how about you give it a whirl? Does the Internet inspire you or weigh you down? How to you keep those feelings at bay? What are you afraid to tell the world?

Related:

Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 329 articles for us.

66 Comments

  1. “I sometimes mix cake mix with water (just enough to moisten it) and eat it out of a mug. I never, however, put it in a bowl (???), and I rarely make a cake from a box. So yes, I buy cake mix just to eat it with water from a mug.”

    why would somebody do that? isn’t it obvious that you have to use milk, not water!duh!

  2. A million times yes!

    Thought process on the way home from work: “I’ve had a terrible day, I want to get a chili dog from the crappy diner across the street – but I can’t post a picture of that on tumblr/twitter/facebook/instagram, I should be eating some goat cheesey quinoa crap, that looks good in pictures”

    So now I’m sitting here an hour later with no dinner at all…

  3. Sometimes, too often really, the pain, suffering, and violence I read about mostly online brings me to tears and heartbreak…and a place where I fear going out and living my life as a trans-woman in a fairly conservative part of rural Illinois.

    I cope by resolving as a simple act of will to just live my life and let what happens…well…happen.

    I don’t share this fear generally (ever) but in honor of the effort…sometimes the Internet does get me down.

    • So sad that the one thing that makes you feel connected can also expose you to such tragedies. But, I think your perspective comes from a much more meaningful place than my typical “I’m sad because everyone on tumblr has pretty tattoos and I don’t have any tattoos” superficial thinking.

      Thank you for making me remember that there are as many different Internets as there are people to select which pages they read…

  4. There was one blog I had to stop reading because it was so endlessly perky and this girl’s life just seemed so perfect and happy and full of pretty dresses and happy friends that it started to make me feel really crappy every time I read it!

    • If it makes you feel any better about the blogging world, mine is pretty much entirely either embarrassing stories about myself or insane things that happen to me on a daily basis.
      I’m not sure why I write it really… Haha x

  5. Autostraddle, do you have tiny lesbian cameras installed in my room? Did you post this because you knew I’ve spent the evening lying in bed contemplating how I read about other people’s lives on the internet but don’t actually have one of my own?? You did, didn’t you, I just know it ;)

  6. “when I need to remember that I’ve got it going on even though I’m not a PhD candidate with perfect hair who eats only vegan certified 100% organic permaculture fare.”

    This so much! I think it’s especially difficult as a queer person living in a notsoqueer area. It’s rather comforting seeing a strong community of online lesbians, while at the same time disappointing not having much access to gay bars, restaurants, stylists, etc. Overall I love the act of experiencing the world vicariously through blogs and such, but must remind myself that my life is equally (if not even more) awesome. This article was lovely.

  7. I pretty much constantly assume that everyone is leading a more worthy life than I am. The only solution I’ve got is to get off the internet for a while and tell myself “you do you” as often as I can remember to.

    • Me too. It’s exhausting, really. What we need to realize is that everyone’s path in life is different – not better or worse, just different – and that’s all there is to it. Our lives are all equally as valuable no matter how much more successful/talented/intelligent/etc. some people may seem to be than we are. And the truth is, those people probably aren’t as happy with their lives as they appear; many are likely struggling with the same feelings of inadequacy.

      But it’s hard to break out of that pattern of constantly comparing yourself to others once you’re in it, and simply acknowledging that it’s silly may not be enough. It hasn’t been for me. I wish I knew how to stop doing it. I guess it’s at least comforting to know that I’m not the only one.

  8. Yes. This.
    This is why I don’t have a tumblr, why facebook makes happy but mostly sad, and why I appreciate when writers (including here on Autostraddle) don’t shy away from the stories about times they’ve fuck up, or when their lives are less than perfect.
    Because I have to just, you know, do me.
    Even if I could somehow get my life to look like one of these perfect bloggers’, I’d still be failing to live up to all the others. It’s too exhausting.
    But mostly just impossible.

  9. *Slow Blink*

    Is this real? Am I the only one that interprets blogs/tumblr/fb/all the social networking sites to be similar to online *dating* profiles where the idea is to put the “best you” for all the internet world to see? I would hear some of my friends complain that they are not doing anything fabulous with their lives and I’m like, “get off the fucking computer and do something!?! Get a hobby sheesh!”

    However I can empathize with those who have internet access find themselves living vicariously through those more privileged than them. When it comes to queer/trans issues, those types of blogs serve a function in that they can help someone live for another day. There was a blog I use to go on that would help me cope and dream of a life where I can be out and proud. Because of that blog I was able to find the courage to come out despite the consequences that are a bit heartbreaking (for me) to share but with the upcoming events of my life, I could not be any happier!

    I figured blogs can create a life that one wishes they had or wishes to portray be it beautiful or ugly. I always take it with a grain of salt, all of these blogs are not telling the whole truth. I never feel inadequate maybe I am to cynical/pessimistic to believe that what I am seeing is the whole truth of this person’s life.

    But for real I also mix cake-mix with water or milk and eat it out of a cup!

  10. All of the incredible people also in terms of artwork and writing and creativity who create these absolutely amazing pieces and you’re sort of sitting there and thinking well, I’m good at breathing.

  11. I wish I could give this article a hug because it describes exactly how I feel about the internet in general. I love the internet for its ability to find me pictures of beautifully crafted food, diy projects that turn sticks into elegant furniture, and pictures of people that look as queer as I feel. I also hate the internet because it tricks me into thinking that I can have these things all the time. “Look at this rooftop dinner that I did at the last minute, I made all the decorations from recycled egg cartons and empty beer bottles, oh did I mention that the chicken is so free-range it owns a range rover?” Even on my best day I can only aspire to recreate parts of a perfect post. I could cook a great chicken, but I have no photography skills to make it shine. Even if I could take a great picture someone would balk (pun totally intended) at my use of paper plates over vintage china that has been hand painted by a small child on her journey to America that I picked up at the thrift store for a nickel (seriously, am I just not going to the right thrift stores?). In short, I love the internet for its ability to show me what can be accomplished on the best of days with the best of circumstances, but, I also hate the internet because it tempts my with perfection.

  12. I spend so much time on the interwebs with nothing to show for it that I sometimes think ‘hey maybe I could be cool/creative/make friends/take awesome pictures/talk about Fringe to people who actually care’ , but I know that wouldn’t happen. So I kinda live in this betwixt and between phase where I look into the wonderful world of the internet and wish I cold join in on all the fun but don’t coz ultimately I would either become so immersed in it that my RL would go to complete shit (more so than it already is) or I would feel shit for having failed at being good at the internet.

  13. The rise of “inspirational” blogs and Tumblrs that are all gorgeous photos– they’re like an overdose of sugar. I do have a sweet tooth, but I’ve more than had enough. I miss the popularity of online journals (like Livejournal, Diaryland, Open Diary) where people let out all their inner lives and scarcely showed the outside. We told the internet everything about our psyches, opened up to strangers who had no reason to care. And we found kinship: realised we were in this with other people. Life could be hell, heaven, that wide space in between, and others were going through it: looking fine or freakish, feeling just like you.

    I’m sure this kind of open-hearted oversharing (to hell with whoever coined that word) is going on somewhere, but where? Everyone is online: your mother, your boss, those assholes from school. We no longer have the illusion of privacy in public.

    • I wish I could + this, but I don’t have an account because I can’t think of a name. I still use lj, though!

      Frankly, I find most inspiration blogs vapid and oh-so-similar. I’m only really impressed by honest-to-goodness stellar writing, and that’s so very rare. I definitely don’t encounter it every day…or even every week. I don’t have any real desire to have a perfectly curated home, closet, or refrigerator — real journals and memoirs are so much more inspiring to me.

    • Sabrina – I wholeheartedly agree! I miss the early days of online journals, and the kind of sharing and support that was available before everyone started “marketing” themselves with their “online presence.” Back when we thought only strangers were reading! I have actually stopped reading blogs of several friends lately, because all they write about anymore is their achievements and esoteric strivings … But they never talk about how they FEEL about any of it, or what they think, or what their lives are really like. I feel even lonelier for them after reading – like when you run into an old friend you used to be very close to, and they want to shake hands instead of hugging. On the other hand, the Internet has grown so much that I suppose it makes sense now to be more guarded in what you put out there. Anyway, I’m glad I got to be part of the early days – gives me something sweet to remember, and supports my belief that connection is always – we just need to keep finding/creating new forms!

  14. YES. There’s this friend-of-a-friend who has a blog that I absolutely cannot read anymore. In real life, we’d probably have so much fun, but her blog makes me feel awful about myself (I realize that this is a me-issue, not a her-issue). I try to do yoga/exercise twice a month, she does it everyday. I try to cook a delicious and pretty vegan meal once a week, she does it everyday. And she’s in my professional field AND she’s super cute. Mentally reframing blogs as self-marketing helps me deal.

    That being said, Autostraddle is totally helping me get through finals right now!!

  15. First time poster, long time reader, and this post may have been the straw that broke my [silence]. In other words, thank you!

    I moved up to the Bay with 5 bags worth of stuff, none of it furniture or tools or appliances. In two months I found a cheap place with a quirky layout and lots of potential, but I had very little money (still do) to jazz it all up. So I visited Offbeat Home and other sites & blogs for DIY stuff (as in, no cost whatsoever), but after looking at a few crafts…and several home tours…I got super dejected that I could not replicate any of that in the near future. So! I’m borrowing the landlord’s foam mattress and laying my sleeping bag over it for covers, and at least I have my saxophone and yoga mat nearby. hurrah minimalism!

    I’ll probably keep this up for a year max, while I’m saving funds from my new job. This sure beats sf hostel living though! (never again if I can help it!)

  16. Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out how to launch a blog that tracks the projects without the overarching theme of being terrified that things are going well. Which they are, mostly. And 90% of Good Internet Photography is a strong light source and money for a used Canon s90/s95.

    Maybe the best way to avoid it is to just straight-up refuse to believe anything you read on the internet.

  17. I don’t really follow any inspirational blogs, my rss feed is mostly political news and feminist sites so my main fight is with not getting super depressed every morning when I see what new fuckery Republicans and/or Conservatives have been up to.

  18. I had to sign up for AS just to tell you that this article is great!
    How the internet inspires me or weighs me down all depends on what I interpret when I read it’s contents.

    I like to come up with my own movie scenes/lines. You know, the kind that would seal the deal for an Oscar or a razzie. Anyway, sometimes they’re cheesy, uplifting, depressing, funny, sad, yada yada yada. I’m not afraid to tell anyone but it’s just one of those things I do.

    Here’s a line I came up with while eating a poptart in my truck before work (I remember this one because I was having a really bad day):
    You’re beautiful. And when you can’t see how beautiful you are I feel ugly. What’s worse than me feeling ugly? You thinking that I could ever see you as anything but beautiful.

  19. Before the internet I would watch “Cops” on tv whenever I needed to feel better about myself. (“I don’t know how that crack ended up in my purse, Officer, I swear.”) There’s nothing like comparing yourself to a total derelict for improving your self esteem.
    Now I use the internet for that purpose. I relish the darker stories. So, I’m not a successful millionaire like John Edwards. He’s a complete creep surrounded by creeps and I admit I have enjoyed watching them fall from grace. And I feel better about my humble but honest paycheck.
    So stop looking at pretty pictures and go read about someone really debauched. You’ll feel better in no time.

  20. I deleted my facebook so many times, because I went trough some dark and heavy shit and while I was struggling ppl seemed so happy to me..
    Every thing I readed made me think “Oh, this one got his/her shit together.. My life is such a mess, I’ll never be good and happy again”

    I still feel this (in a lighter way now), but I’m guessing that everybody feels this way too

  21. I think in all these matters it’s important to remember that we live in an age where people have more control over the face they present to the world than ever before. And they HAVE to, thanks to asshole social networking sites that would sell the worst (if they could get their hands on it) to a potential employer in a second.

    Just remember that a lot of it isn’t real, and even more of it’s coerced.

  22. The thing about the Internet though is that you can find pretty much whatever you look for. Sure, there are lots of glossy überperfect blogs, but there are also things like PostSecret that let you see into the darker corners of people’s lives.

    And the support forums! Oh, the support forums. Nobody has to be alone anymore in suffering through whatever odd and twisted little ailment afflicts their body, soul or mind – there is guaranteed to be a support forum out there with other people who are oddly twisted in exactly the same way (I speak from personal experience here). Heck, there is probably even a support forum for people who feel overwhelmed and depressed by all the pretty pictures they’re exposed to on the Internet.

  23. Thank goodness my smartphone comes with such crap, limited abilities (browsing and otherwise) that I’ve only mistakenly dropped it in the above fashion once. ;)

    I live in an area which is, ahem, fairly well-known for people striving to display such perfectly well-edited/curated personas in public, in terms of appearance, career direction, etc. etc. Part of what helped me to adjust somewhat to living here was the reminder that they present a limited version of themselves to the world – because there can be a lot at stake, professionally and sometimes socially (and otherwise) speaking. Of course, most people do it to some extent – myself included. This was just the first time I’d been exposed to this amount of limitation/control over the projection of one’s image to the outside world.

    So in terms of my personal dealing with feelings of inadequacy online, as others have already said above, there’s definitely a parallel: more and more it’s really sunk in that a lot of blogs and other social media platforms are also fairly well-edited; an extension of the concepts I mentioned in the paragraph above. I limit the amount of social media platforms I’m on – the one I’m currently “active” on I rarely even log into, as I know I could fairly easily fall into the feelings-of-inadequacy trap if I acted otherwise.

    (The one that I think “gets me” the most are twitter feeds from people who seem to tweet something really funny/insightful/both every couple of seconds. But if I see they’ve been doing it for a good stretch on end, I then think “Well, you’re [maybe] a good writer, awesome with one-liners, a great individual, etc., but…how about getting out for a bit?”)

    And as others have said, for maybe every three or so well-curated presentations of a person through social media, there’s at least one or two that seem like a bit of a trainwreck.

    ************

    I think inspiration blogs do have their place. A healthy balance (at least for myself) probably includes viewing/visiting a limited amount of online “presentations/personas” that seem to be “perfect” as a potential source of ideas and inspiration. Most of us strive to better ourselves at the end of the day, after all, and most of us need just that – ideas and inspiration – in order to plan and achieve this. For most people, I believe this includes being exposed to the creative potential and ambition as represented by people, both IRL and on the web. Imposing limits on our exposure allows us a) time to process the info; b) figure out if and how we should incorporate what we’ve learned into the actions we take in our own lives; and c) actually take action.

  24. I feel like the internet plays a contradictory role in people’s need to compare themselves against other people. With blogs and social networking, people are able to present a heavily censored, polished version of themselves. Online, people can be constantly witty, always attractive, never in a bad mood, etc. At the same time, the internet also makes the darker aspects of society very visible and easily accessible.
    Essentially, it seems like the internet ultimately offers an intensified version of reality, where both the polished and secret sides of people’s lives are more apparent.

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