Being a Critical Consumer of Social Media: my imperfect birth story
My daughter is sleeping, one of her sporadic 2-3 hour breaks between diapers, feeding, crying, rocking and snuggling. I became a mother three weeks ago and I must say it has not been what I expected. I wanted to write a little about some things I have learned, or more accurately re-learned, during the last three weeks of her life. This post is not about body image or eating disorders but rather about self-criticism, toxic comparison, unrealistic expectations and the potentially devastating impact of social media- all active ingredients in body image and eating disordered issues.
Prior to her birth I admired and coveted all of the beautiful, smiling, blissful pictures my friends posted on Facebook, statuses that read “parenting is the best thing I’ve ever done,” or “the day my child was born was the best day of my life,” or “I never knew love until I held my baby,” etc. I was so excited to have this experience and knew that it was coming soon…soon I will have reached the ultimate experience. The prevailing message was that natural birth, and in particular vaginal birth, is the ultimate in accomplishment for a woman- what we are designed to do. Mommy blogs glorify home births, water births, midwife assisted, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar types of births. I was taken with all of these messages- this was the height of what it means to be a successful mommy- brining your child into the world as nature, your friends and social-media-mommy-hero’s intended. No pressure.
Needless to say my birth experience deviated from every expectation I had, ending after 3 hours of pushing a baby in the wrong position, with a less than uncomplicated C-section. I could not enjoy my daughter but rather only focus on what I perceived as my failure- my first job as a mom and I had failed miserably, worse than that I was ashamed. I was aberrant, abnormal, less than, I did not live up to what I saw on social media and what my friends, and what at the time felt like “everyone else” had experienced. It was not a day full of beauty, love and excitement but rather fear, emotional pain and guilt.
Recently in Oprah magazine there was an article that talked about FOMO (think YOLO- i.e. “you only live once”). FOMO stands for Feelings Of Missing Out, and describes the common experience of jealousy, negative comparison, and depression that comes from seeing the lives of others on social media and having the sense that your life is abnormally complicated and disappointing- you must be missing out on the good things of life. Others are more beautiful, thinner, more successful, date more, have better weddings, boyfriends, friends, get better grades, have better bodies, or even are better mothers than you. What we need to realize is that in actual fact- similarly to the airbrushing that occurs in magazines, social media propagates the fallacy that the absolute best parts of peoples lives are their “norm.” People don’t typically post bad pictures of themselves, or about the times when their partners forgot to buy a valentines gift. People don’t post when they get fired or a colleague gets the promotion over them. People don’t post when they have gained weight, or if a picture shows love handles or a double chin. Just as we must develop a critical eye for media in order to preserve our body image and self-image we need to apply this same skill to social media. It is normative to have ups and downs, and any forum that does not reflect this should be considered suspicious.
I have begun coming to a place of acceptance that my story is my story. My daughter arrived safe and healthy and I am not a failure for not achieving an ideal that when push came to shove (no pun intended) was outside of my control. If I do not let go of pressures and unrealistic expectations placed on me about what is right and good, then I won’t be able to enjoy my beautiful new baby. Plus in order to be the best mommy possible now I owe it to my daughter to be kind to myself and practice radical self-acceptance!
I hope you all will apply this message in your own way. When viewing social media realize that the posts and pictures have been carefully chosen to reflect the illusion that life is wonderful and perfect, rather than complicated and hard but sometimes beautiful.