If you believe my Facebook timeline, I have my ducks in a row, always find the bright side of life, and I smile more than I cry. I have a confession: That's mostly bull shit.
I'm a story teller and Facebook is a story telling tool. I don't purposely try to tell a fictional account of my life, but when I look through my timeline, I often wish I lived that portrayal every day. I feel confident in saying that most people feel this way about their digital image. I would guess that we put our best selves forward on social media, showing a very limited side of our selves. We show what paints us in the most positive light, our most impressive selves.
This is nothing new. Even before Instagram gave us the opportunity to showcase the gourmet meals we cook all the time, we have been chasing our ideal selves and presenting them as truth. Our fear of what others think keeps us from showcasing ourselves as we most truly are. As a writer, this becomes detrimental when we develop characters because we can miss their dark sides in our effort to make the reader like them. That darkness is what makes them authentic.
The best characters are flawed, as are the most interesting humans. They have bad days, and think mean thoughts for no reason. We do the same, yet our public images don't show that. When we are brave enough to post that side of our selves, we often cushion it with jokes or quotes to soften the blow.
When we develop characters, it's easiest to make them joyful, lovable, popular, moral, intelligent, talented and revered. After all, they are our star. We created them and we're proud of them. We want our readers to love them as much as we do. But, that isn't a real picture of the human experience. Pretending it is the norm cheats our readers of a genuine connection with our characters. How is a moody thirteen year-old reader supposed to relate to a character who lives and breathes sunshine 24/7? Why would a sad teen cheer for a protagonist who has everything handed to him, and always comes out ahead? Who wants to read about main characters who easily save the day all the time?
Just as we face challenges and find ways to overcome them, so must our characters. We have to put them in situations that make us uncomfortable. We have to show their vulnerability, their disdains and misgivings. This is what shows our reader what our characters are really made of, and in essence, what they too are capable of. When a character can still be loved with all their flaws and imperfections, we tell the reader that they can be loved as well, even though they are not perfect. This is so vital to young readers, particularly girls.
Raising a daughter with healthy self-esteem is difficult. They are constantly being told that they aren't pretty, thin, blonde, or white enough. Media tells them that their worth is in their appearance, and that it is better to be cute, than brave or smart. I consider myself to be a progressive mom, a mom who exposes her daughter to strong female role models who excel in various areas, yet my daughter constantly worries about her looks, her clothes and what her peers think of her. I can only imagine her struggle if I were not the kind of mom who goes out of her way to introduce her to experiences that bring out her strength and talents. But, with that exploration comes failure, disappointment, and getting back up when you want to give up. These are vital parts of life that we need to know how to overcome. Where does that fit in our Facebook personas? Who tells that story? When will we celebrate the fact that we learn from our mistakes and stop expecting perfection from the start? Maybe we can begin by showing more of our true selves every day on social media and beyond, and stop worrying about creating a facade that looks good on a mobile apparatus. Being honest and bold is the best example we can be to the impressionable youth looking at us for guidance on how to navigate their own lives.