In the isolation of modern times we often cling to the world through the digital images in our social feed. Grasping for connections in food selfies and/or make-up tutorials we navigate the human experience online through “likes” and “following” trends. Hoping if -for just an instant- it will give us a glimpse of relevancy in a world moving so fast it’s hard not to feel our existence is but an inconsequential blip. Subsequently, we reduce ourselves to mere holograms of our inner lives.
We shed all but perfection in 280 characters or less, and release it to the universe in hopes for much needed validation: I am seen. I am heard. You think of me, or what I do and say matters. Through the obligatory likes and smiling emojis, we have found an unending resource of affirmation. However, the superficial veil we present may damage more than our authenticity-it jeopardizes our self-love, and the more we lean to external feedback for validation the less we rely on ourselves for self-acceptance.
We all seek approval. It’s a fundamental need: to gain the acceptance of the tribe. However, in our polarized and trolling world to post anything can often feel like leading a lamb to slaughter. There are two approaches to this scenario. First, masterfully curate the image of ourselves we put out to the world, erasing our faults, shortcomings, and -God forbid- cellulite.
Hoping against all odds that our flawless version will make the cut. Second, we can carefully prune our orb of influences to include only people who look, think, and feel the same way we do- to minimalize negative critiques. Both solutions leave us wanting.
When we hinge our self-worth on superficial layers of ourselves, we lose sight of the substance and complexity that makes us who we are. In the last few years, the importance and need for body positive messaging in advertising and media, has taken center stage.
Dozens of musicians, athletes, and celebrities embrace this issue head on, encouraging their followers to embrace imperfections. Lizzo, Serena Williams, and Kristen Bell are known for challenging society’s manufactured ideals of beauty and perfection. All with messages, that validation begins with self-acceptance. When it is sought exclusively from outside sources, we lessen the depth of understanding and compassion for we have for ourselves.
Alternatively, when we limit our influences to only those who echo our own story and points of view, we hide in a homogenous blind. It’s a gentle illusion; cushioning ourselves with validating reflections. This is not reality. Without conflict we are never forced to reconcile our convictions against the grain, and we can become short-sighted in our understanding of others, let alone ourselves.
Validation of our stories does not require the removal of all other experiential points of view. It is so easy to take for granted that there is a beautifully diverse world outside our personal spheres and online communities.
A several years ago, I took a trip to the Amazon. It was a daunting adventure to contemplate, in that I would be so removed from society I felt I could literally vanish from the planet without a trace. In the beginning of the journey, I landed in Manaus, Brazil. It is a big industrious city. Although my Portuguese was sparce, the mechanics of impatient taxis and boisterous shopping centers were familiar. It was when a float plane took me hundreds of miles into the jungle that my journey really began.
Under the wings of the plane I saw cities fade, then neighborhoods, and homes. The roads ended into water ways, and then everything I knew about civilization vanished into the canopy. On this trip, my senses feasted on the unknown, curious, and bold. A wildly unfamiliar place with new people stripped my cultural expectations. The life I live is exponentially different from the indigenous tribesmen and women that hosted me.
Even if language could allow, it would be impossible to convey or comprehend the depth of these differences. Yet, I learn so much about who I am when in these far reaches of the world. My need for validation is swallowed up by my hunger to understand. I see people more clearly, I listen more attentively. The human experience is vast and varied, though it is orienting to know where we fit- it’s important to acknowledge that authentic validation comes within. So regardless of how many followers you have on Instagram, or how many retweets you get- you do you. You are the only one who can.