The other day a food blog I follow led me to a YouTube vlogger. I got swept up watching her videos and learning about her life, then found myself on her website and her instagram, trying to make sense of her product and her brand. Her instagram was probably the most fun. I admired each perfect image, and wondered at the way her presentation of herself makes her life seem absolutely perfect, blissful. Both her pictures and videos are full of light and there are vivid colours from stunning flowers and landscapes. The vlogger herself is tall and svelte, with long, dark wavy hair. Even now that’s she’s eight or nine months pregnant, her physique has stayed the same with the exception of her round belly, and she still wears high heels, mini-skirts and dresses, and body-conforming clothes. She’s positioned herself as a fashion and lifestyle guru it seems. With all this curated content, I wondered at what goes on behind the scenes of her life. Surely there is sorrow, surely she has arguments with her husband, though in every vlog scene I saw him in they were dreamily sharing elegantly plated, perfectly portioned, healthy (albeit bland looking) meals, which never failed to start with a kiss.
It would be so easy to slide down a slope of dissatisfaction and envy from viewing all this enchanting content. I thanked God that, for whatever reason, I felt more curious about her life than envious of it. Maybe it was the absolute rightness of everything and the knowledge that this couldn’t be true that saved me. That and the fact that she doesn’t know Jesus, who I wouldn’t trade for her world. Still, I realised that it would be so easy to put her life on a pedestal, to worship the amazing combination of peacefulness, accomplishment, beauty and freedom from want that appears therein. Not long after having that thought I read a comment from another instagram viewer – she confessed that her vision board, the images she meditates on each morning and wishes will come true, are of this vlogger’s life with her husband. I was amazed. This person has fallen into the very trap I had imagined, and I feel sorry for her. How can we ever desire another person’s life so much? How can we, knowing that every human is fallible and no one’s life is perfect, yearn so deeply to be someone else? Even if her vision board comes true, it’s built on an illusion and there will be no lasting contentment for her there.
I continued to think about the vlogger’s life, and how far she’s separated from the chaos of war and the stress of poverty. I’m separated from those things too, so I wasn’t feeling self-righteous about that; I was wondering how the time we (I) spend admiring the lives of the rich distracts us from the harsh realities of the poor and marginalised that need our attention and compassion. It’s not that I think it’s bad for us to see how wealthy people are living, just that too much time in that world not only breeds dissatisfaction with ourselves, it makes us more selfish, or at the very least nurtures a tunnel vision so that we cannot see the needs of others. It’s crazy that there are so many wealthy and mega-wealthy people, and at the same time there are many more who walk miles for water, risk their physical and mental health in oppressive factories for unthinkable “wages”, and cannot walk the streets of their home for fear of warfare and political retribution. We cannot ignore them. We cannot drool over lives that look supremely comfortable and happy and forget how comfortable (if not necessarily happy) our lives are.
Then what do you know, later that day, I listened to last week’s episode of This American Life. It’s a heartache-inducing piece on refugees in Greece. They are stuck in limbo, their children are traumatised and have missed endless days of school, their days stretch out long and uncertain before them as the already-crippled Greek state struggles to shelter them and provide them with services. Their reality, and the realities of refugees all over the world, is exactly the kind of thing we, or I, am in danger of forgetting about by feeding my desire for personal success and accomplishment by falling down these instagram and other social media and celeb-news rabbit holes.
It’s fun to see how the other half lives, and sometimes it inspires me to work hard and persevere, but it can be dangerous too. It’s difficult enough to be committed to serving other people and caring for their needs while battling my own selfishness. I don’t need any outside help to make me more callous, self-centred and dissatisfied. What’s that saying, comparison is the thief of joy? Well, it’s true. And if I’m not content with my own life, how can I look around me to give freely to and empathise with others who need my help? So a warning to myself, then, to watch out for following too closely the lives of others that seem wonderful and complete compared to mine. A reminder that focusing on all I have to be thankful for is what will keep me contented, and equip me to think more of others and less of myself.