On Instagram, I follow a bunch of millennials—to wit, they refer to themselves as “influencers” or “lifestyle bloggers”—but let’s be clear that I am firmly entrenched in my Gen X view of the world.
These tech-savvy and on-point young women who pop up in my Instagram feed baffle as much as they impress me. They post dazzling photographs of their hairstyles, outfits, living rooms and children—and they link to the companies and products that make everything look so shiny and beautiful. Essentially, their lives are one big sponsorship opportunity.
Although I follow these ladies to get practical ideas on things like what shoes to wear with skinny jeans, I figure half the stuff they post must be staged or fabricated because I personally don’t anyone who moves through the world with such sustained magnificence. Frankly, I prefer a grittier approach: give me the gray hairs you haven’t had time to color, the dog eating scraps of food from your dirty dishwasher, or the acerbic teenagers who don’t want to be touched. These vignettes are my version of reality, although they aren’t nearly as pretty to look at. Which is why I follow the godforsaken millennials in the first place.
It’s a mixed-bag, for sure—but it’s just Instagram. I have a good head on my shoulders, and I don’t get emotionally caught up in any of this nonsense.
Well, that’s kind of a lie. There is one thing I’ve been struggling with.
Since mid-August, moms have been posting photo after photo of their cute kids all lined up in a row on the first day of school. They smile broadly while sporting fresh haircuts and new backpacks, and one of them is always holding a letterboard. What is a letterboard? you ask. Ah, Instagram rookie, this is a letterboard:
This is when I start feeling like a failure.
Not only do I not own a letterboard, I can't even get my kids to pose for a decent photo. Last week on our first day of school, my sixth-grade son refused to let me take his picture. I had to physically maneuver his body onto our front step, where he grimaced until I threatened to ground him from Fortnite if he didn't cooperate. To compound matters, later I realized that my twin freshman girls had actually snuck out of the house in order to avoid me and my camera. I dashed outside and followed them down the driveway like paparazzi as they rode off on their bikes. I was able to get a few wonky side shots, but their faces were overshadowed by their helmets and you couldn't even see their (clean) hair.
After they were gone, I took a few moments to appreciate my house, which was dead silent for the first time since June. Then I texted my good friend Liz to tell her about my morning, comparing myself to the Instagram moms who, unlike me, appear to have their sh** together. She made me feel instantly better when she responded, "I can't wait to watch the teenage years unfold for all these millennial Instagrammers and bloggers who pose their preschoolers all day long. There will be a reckoning."
There’s a dad I follow on Instagram who is a world apart from the letterboard generation. He is clever and witty and doesn’t care about making himself look flawless. The wackier the better, I suspect. From his posts, I have gathered that he lives somewhere in Utah and has four or five kids and a spouse with a terrific sense of humor. This is one of his recent photos:
Oh, did I Like this. This nerdy dad, this middle-aged guy in baggy blue slacks, he gets it. To express my relief and gratitude, I sent him a message through Instagram and wrote something to the effect of, “Thank you for being a bright jewel sparkling in an endless line of otherwise predictable posts.” But maybe I came on too strong because he didn’t really get back to me?
Anyhow. From my time spent staring at photographs taken by people I don’t know, I’ve concluded that you must have super-thick skin while dabbling in social media. And continue to rail against the pervasive letterboard standard of perfection. And not let your self-esteem take a massive beating just because you don’t get one good picture of any of your kids on their first day of school.