You can create your image on social media sites, but you can't create your identity on Facebook and Instagram.

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.

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. Scoff away, but it’s true. Anyone posting selfies of red puffy eyes after an emotional meltdown? Or that first picture of their kid/dog/cat/husband? More likely they’re taking 20 shots, applying 6 different filters, cropping out the pile of dirty laundry 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, we all do it, this is a judgment-free zone. I’m only pointing out that it’s not much different than hiring a stylist and photographer to take photos of you sipping coffee outside a cute little bistro. If anything, the latter may be MORE authentic because at least 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 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 that has become so divisive, especially among women.  And even more so among those who choose to maintain an active public profile, either for personal or business reasons. One groups says 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.

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 their online presence.

Wait, whaaaaaat?!?  You mean get to know a real live person? 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 far too much power if this is our expectation. They’re already collecting enough personal data, and here we are, getting offended that people aren’t posting MORE of their lives and identities online for the social media companies to do with as they please.  I say fuck it, throw their algorithms off as much as possible by posting a bunch of fake, filtered bullshit whenever possible.

Or at least call them out in a public forum so they know we’re on to their tricks.

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. The way I see is that if we choose to put any portion of our lives 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 else that does. Stop trolling and keep scrolling. I call that a small step towards world peace.

About the Author

Amanda Russo

Amanda Russo

I founded The Renegade Group in 2017 after retiring from a career in the wacky world of finance. I had a good run, but corporate culture was never a good fit for my tattoos, eff bombs, and general distaste for conformity. So after 12 years of helping the rich get richer, I decided to take my bag of tricks over to the small business world. Why should the big dogs have all the fun, and hoard all the resources? The Renegade Group provides strategy and support to career transitioners, entrepreneurs, and creatives who share the same mission: defiantly thrive.

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