I post quite a few selfies—nothing crazy, but usually one every couple of weeks. I’ll post and say something like, “Got a nice pump during my shoulder workout at the gym, here’s the workout I did” or “Here’s me drinking wine, which I believe is OK on your diet because x, y, z.” In other words, if I post a selfie, it’s usually to educate or share some insight.
However the selfie below, which I posted to Instagram last April, is an exception. My reason? I just liked the way I looked. After I took it, I thought, “Gee, I look pretty in this one. I like my hair and my eyes are popping. Let me put this up.”
I thought about what I could say so that it wouldn’t just be a blatant selfie, but nothing came to mind, so I just posted it as is. I think I just...(ready for this revelation?)...wanted other people to say that I looked pretty, too.
Still, it didn't fully sit right with me, but it was late at night so I stopped questioning and went to sleep.
Sleep and Selfie Shame Don't Mix
I woke up at 3 a.m. with my mind racing: "Will people think I’m self-centered? Is it so obvious that I was just blatantly fishing for compliments?" After all, of course that’s exactly what it was.
I opened Instagram with the intention of deleting my selfie (for the record, I’ve never done that before. I usually just own that sh!t), however there were already almost 100 “likes.” I left it up, but I felt serious selfie shame.
I told myself that it’s important for my business, JillFit, that I’m seen as “in shape” and not always hiding behind a computer. Any fitness pro can understand the pressure of feeling like you have to stay lean and fit, otherwise who are you to be doling out advice?
I’ve gotten over most of that pressure—and I’m happier and more confident in my body than I’ve ever been. But if I’m going to advise moderation and relaxing the reins a little when it comes to nutrition (i.e. touting wine and bacon), then I need to show it actually works, don’t I? Yes, I believe I do.
It's Just a Selfie. Or Is It?
I’ll admit that during this whole episode, I definitely stopped to think about how arrogant it may seem of me to write so much about something as tiny and irrelevant as a selfie. But the truth is that although this is just a small blip in the grand scheme, it’s an important discussion to have. Because it’s bigger than a selfie.
This is a discussion about affirmation. The good, the bad, and the ugly of wanting approval, love, and praise.
Consider this: How many people do you know who post photos with a million filters? I love this post in which my girl Liz DiAlto gives an honest glimpse into how many photos it actually takes to get the perfect selfie. It seems crazy, yet we all do it to some extent. I do it all the time! Part of me hates it and wonders WTF is wrong with me. But I also feel compelled to participate.
Why do we do this?
Seeking Affirmation Is Normal
You wouldn’t be human if, on some level, you didn’t want affirmation for something. It might be for your work ethic, your business savvy, the beautiful and intelligent children you’ve raised, or the amazing article you wrote. Maybe it's for your intellect, your ability to be a good friend, or the fact that you just crushed a challenging workout. The bottom line is that once in a while, we all want someone to tell us we’re good enough.
This is normal and totally fine! Except when all that praise still isn’t enough.
The problem with seeking external affirmation is that it’s usually impossible to get enough. No amount of compliments or praise will ever make us feel worthy if we don’t feel like we deserve it. True affirmation is an inside job.
Still, it’s a normal human drive to seek out approval from others. It starts at a young age—we take a test in grade school and get immediate feedback in the form of a letter grade. Are we smart (A)? Or do we suck (F)? When we get positive feedback, we want to keep it going, so we find ways to develop our talents and skills to continue getting the proud-parent or doting-teacher response.
Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but what about what we think? Do we really need a grade (or person) to tell us that we’re smart? And what if we get bad grades (or feedback)? Does it affirm that we are indeed not intelligent and should just give up? Of course not. So what should we do instead?
I won’t pretend like I know the perfect answer, but I can tell you what works for me: I look inward and ask, “Is this true? Is the outside feedback I’m getting true for me?”
This is hard to do, but it’s important to be aware of how outside affirmation—the good and the bad—can affect your actions.
I know this is going a little deep, but stay with me. In The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Miguel Ruiz writes, “Don’t take anything personally.” When it comes to negative feedback, most adults are pretty good at this. With people who challenge us, we say, “It’s on them,” and wipe our hands of it. But isn’t it just as valid to say that we shouldn’t take praise personally either?
When we’re fully comfortable in our skin, praise and compliments are nice, but we don’t need them to feel affirmed and loved.
Don't Ever Change—Unless You Want to
Your M.O. is perfect as it is right now. Mine is, too. It’s perfectly fine for me to continue posting selfies to garner the praise and affirmation that I do indeed look good. But the question we all need to ask is why? Why do I need this? Once I can answer that (because I want someone to tell me that I'm good enough), I can start figuring out how to feel good enough without any outside feedback.
That’s what this process and journey is really about. How do we feel good enough? How can we be OK without the constant “likes,” shares, and comments that social media so conveniently primes us to now need?
For me, it’s all about mindset. I use the following three tools to keep my head in the right place for self-acceptance, regardless of the feedback I’m getting (good or bad):
- Gratitude. I try to find at least one thing inside myself that I am grateful for. Something that I don’t need anyone to tell me I’m good at—I just know it, own it, and kill it.
- Benefit of the doubt. I try to remember that I’m human and I’m just doing my best. Do I have days when I feel less-than? Sure, but it doesn’t mean I’m not worth anything and might as well just give up now. I try to think about the big picture and show myself compassion. All I can do is my best, because what else is there?
- The alternative. This is one of my favorites, and it’s super simple. Just ask, “What’s the alternative?” You’ll likely find that deciding to be OK and love yourself is always better. For example:
Negative thought: I’m not lean enough.
Choice No. 1: Decide to be OK with it and focus on progress.
Choice No. 2 (the alternative): Tell myself I suck, which leads to feeling miserable and unmotivated.
Negative thought: I’m not having any success in business.
Choice No. 1: Keep striving, even when it seems like I’m not doing so well.
Choice No. 2 (the alternative): Tell myself I’m just not good at business, which makes me feel even less motivated and more helpless.
Guess what? The alternative is almost always misery. Not feeling good enough is miserable. And I am done with that emotion!
Choose to Own That Sh!t
We’re all hard on ourselves sometimes—it’s normal. And this discussion only serves to bring awareness to it, to have the insight, and to learn from all of it. There’s nothing “wrong” with any of it. It’s just a discussion to continue.
Finally, something my husband told me: “Look, if you’re going to post a selfie, just post a selfie. Get the likes and comments you’re looking for and own it. But don’t pretend like it’s something else.”
I have to agree. Just own that sh!t. #awarenessFTW
This post originally appeared on JillFit.com and was edited and reposted here with permission of the author, Jill Coleman. Coleman is the co-founder of Metabolic Effect, Inc. and the owner of JillFit Physiques, a health and wellness brand with a unique focus on mindset. To learn more about the awesome work she does, check out Coleman's website or follow her on Twitter @JillFit.