Instagram vs. Reality: a seasonal reminder there’s no such thing as picture perfect

Instagram vs. Reality: a seasonal reminder that there's is no such thing as picture perfect
Getty Images

Instagram vs. Reality: there’s no such thing as picture perfect

I will never forget the time I cried over an elf. 

No, I was not so green with envy over someone’s shockingly creative Elf on the Shelf setup that I tossed my phone into a burning yule log in frustration. I’d simply forgotten to move the damn thing. After a long, mid-December weeknight full of doing ALL THE THINGS, I had lugged my tired bones up to bed to drift off while scrolling through funny holiday memes and reels of dogs in Santa suits. Unfortunately, the minute I opened Instagram I was hit with an elf-staging worthy of a wall at MoMa, and reminded of my own failure to move my family’s elf, Lollipop. In that moment, I just felt so exhausted, so cozy in my warm bed, that the mere thought of getting up for anything — a creepy elf with imaginary powers no less — brought me to actual, literal tears. 

I’m not entirely blaming Instagram for my little episode. But let’s face it, no one would even care about that darn elf so much if it weren’t for social media. Generally, elves don’t brush their teeth, or steal Christmas lights, or drive Tonka trucks, or get into any of the hijinx that overzealous parents like to post pictures of throughout the season. In those homes, the elf (or elves!) goes on nightly, well-documented adventures. But in my house, he usually just moves from one boring spot to another. 

PsstThe Holidays and Body Image: How to Talk About Food

There is a good chance you are someone who moves their family’s elf as arbitrarily as I do. Many of us — the ones who got suckered into getting one in the first place — aren’t putting much thought into where he’s going every night.

A good handful of us won’t remember to move him at all! We will fall asleep without ever thinking of magical stuffed toys whose whereabouts have the power to ruin an entire morning. And after that morning ends, the afternoon brings news that your child’s classmate’s elf starred in their own Nutcracker ballet the night before. You check their mom’s insta and yup, there it is – complete with dancing sugar plum fairies, wooden soldiers and all. Suddenly you feel awful that your elf just spent his third night collecting dust on top of the kitchen cabinets. 

Raising children has always been a difficult job. But it seems every new generation of parents is faced with a new set of challenges their predecessors could never even imagine. Today, it’s undoubtedly social media. 

Every year, on the evening of December 24, I brace myself for the endless scroll of wrapped packages as far as the eye can see, moms and dads boastfully posting the array of gifts their kids will tear into the next morning. The parents mean well; they’re proud of themselves for giving their children another wonderful Christmas. And they should be, of course. But no matter how hard you worked to make your own family’s Christmas – or Hanukkah – perfect, that barrage of photos will likely get to you, at least a little. Someone always does a better job. More gifts, a fuller tree, lovelier decorations, prettier wrapping paper, more toys, whatever.

We need to remember that things are not always what they seem on the surface, or in this case, on an Instagram page. 

I have a photo on my own Instagram from a few Decembers ago of my daughter ripping open a package on Christmas morning. I think it was an LOL Doll of some sort, the toy at the very tippy top of her wish list. She looks adorable in the photo – candy cane pajamas, high pigtails, her mouth agape with shock and pure joy as she peeled open her gift. But I hate that picture. 

In the background of the photo, her dad is perched on the steps, sitting as far from me as possible. We had just made the tough decision to split up the week before, and every time I see her happy face in that picture I am reminded of the many sad faces that followed in the coming months as our family processed the divorce.

The truth is, every picture you see plastered on someone’s social media page has a story behind it – one that the poster would probably never want the world to see. 

This holiday season, instead of allowing Instagram to fuel your frustration, try to let it roll off your back. That mom who shared the most perfect batch of rainbow cookies you’ve ever seen? She burned the chocolate twice because she sipped her way through an entire bottle of wine while she baked. That perfect-looking family posing by their perfect-looking tree? Their trip to the tree farm could have rivaled that of Chevy Chase’s in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. 

There’s already enough pressure to make your family’s holiday perfect without holding yourself to the impossible standards other parents portray online. So don’t do it! This season, put away your phone, ignore what everyone else is doing, and live in the moment. Remind yourself that those moments – unlike the pictures that might accompany them – are just as imperfect as the next family’s.