My Life Isn’t Really This Pretty

alison perry

A couple of days ago, I added the line “My life isn’t really this pretty” to my Instagram profile, and something similar to my Twitter bio. It might go without saying, but this is something I think about a lot – how we filter our lives online, only showing what we choose and only sharing certain snippets of information.

You’re bound to remember Australian teenager Essena O’Neill, who hit the headlines last year, when she quit Instagram, deleted her account (which was followed by over half a million people, no biggie) and filmed a video where she spoke about how fake it all was.

And it is. All of my social channels are carefully curated but none more so than my Instagram profile. For me, Instagram is all about escapism and feelgood. It’s the social media equivalent of ignoring your impending work deadline by having a friend over for wine, Pringles and back to back episodes of The Good Wife. Some of my favourite people to follow, on Instagram, post images of their homes, their outfits, gorgeous flatlays (that’s arranging things on a flat surface and shooting from above, to you and me), the beautiful breakfasts they’re eating (mmmm avocado and eggs) and the exciting places they travel to. When I scroll through my feed, it makes me happy.

I don’t want to see photos of ‘real’ life on Instagram and I don’t particularly want to share photos of my ‘real’ life (no one needs to see the yoghurt stains on my black sofa, and my rug with the squished-in peas and fish finger crumbs.) We LIVE in real life, it’s all around us, we know what it looks like. I rather like how another Australian Instagrammer, Chloe and Beans, put it when she said that she doesn’t photograph any mess in her house but it’s just in the same way that she wouldn’t invite friends over without tidying up first. She has a point. We’ve long presented the better version of ourselves to the outside world, this isn’t something that has emerged with the launch of Instagram.

But honestly? Even though I try to make my Instagram as pretty as possible (and I do go to some ridiculous lengths to do this), sometimes, I feel like a massive dick. I look at my profile, and it bears no actual resemblance to my life. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it kind of does, in that yes, I did eat that granola and fruit for breakfast and yes, that vase of flowers is on my kitchen table, but it concerns me a bit that some people might actually think that my life is as pretty as my Instagram pics. Someone said to me recently: “Oh I was chatting to my friend and she told me she loves your Instagram and loves how you’ve got the best life, doing such exciting things!” It left me feeling a bit embarrassed and a bit of a fraud.

Because as well as the yogurt stains and the clutter that are just out of shot, and the dirty plates piled up by the dishwasher because I’m too lazy to empty the dishwasher and re-fill it (ugh, does anyone else hate this task?), the last year has been filled with emotional ups and downs, that you won’t see from my Instagram photos. They only tell part of the story.

Listening to Woman’s Hour, this morning, I heard Sarah who blogs at The Unmumsy Mum talking about the risks attached to only showing the nice side of life on social media. She’s a big fan – as I’m sure you already know – of showing her life as a mum, warts and all (I don’t think she actually has any warts, though, thankfully). As many do, Sarah believes that only presenting one polished side of life can lead to other people feeling inadequate.

And what about the fact that our kids are growing up in a world where they’ll be surrounded by these images – will they have unrealistic expectations of how their own lives should look?

I’m hoping that we’re at a point now where we can read between the social media lines a bit. No one’s life is perfect, is it? We know that, right? And when we see endless photos from someone which paint a picture of perfection, most of us realise that just out of shot there’s a pile of dirty laundry or that the person taking the photo is having a really crap day.

What do you think? Do you take Instagram photos with a pinch of salt, or assume that it’s a good representation of a person’s entire life?

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47 Comments

  1. January 7, 2016 / 12:46 pm

    I take them with a pinch of salt but do enjoy Instagram for the same reasons as you.
    With the warts and all approach you still face the same problems as I am quite sure some of these posts are also staged to make life look worse-purposefully make your child splat the paint in their face-that type of thing.
    Either way, Instagram is just a snapshot of that moment on not necessarily linked to any of our real lives.
    Apart from the mud in my pics. That unfortunately is real 🙂

    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:44 am

      That had never occurred to me, that people might be ‘styling’ their warts and all pics!

  2. January 7, 2016 / 1:12 pm

    Ah now I’ve been in trouble for this with people who disagree with me. Mostly around disgusting-looking plates of food labelled #foodporn (mind you I hate that tag too). My Instagram feed isn’t as pretty as yours, because I can’t be bothered, but I do try to only post things that look nice, or that have an interesting story to it. But I have definitely been told off for that view, because I know lots of people follow each other and engage on pictures of ‘real life,’ and are happy to do so. But like you, if I’m looking at a picture, I want it to be colourful, or funny, or enigmatic, or mood-evoking. As you say, I’ve got enough chocolate wrappers on my post-it-note-littered desk, I don’t need to see anyone else’s 😉

    • January 8, 2016 / 7:03 am

      I had to reply and totally agree with you Helen – #foodporn is the most banal hashtag! I like looking at pictures of people’s food, but that hashtag makes me scroll on by. It’s the same with #foodie. If you hashtag yourself that, you’re probably not one. Ditto #yummymummy or #milf !
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      • Alison Perry
        January 8, 2016 / 11:46 am

        Yes! Some of the hashtags are daft. I think I’ve been guilty of posting an #eggporn hashtag a couple of times (but come ON, an oozing poached egg? Amazing….)

  3. January 7, 2016 / 1:13 pm

    This is a beautiful post and so true. I struggle to blog sometimes when I feel low but I always feel I can put a beautiful Instagram picture on my feed. I love the beautiful feeds, they’re the ones I follow. Mine used to just capture our ordinary moments but then I realised that although that’s fine for Facebook and for my own feed if I wasn’t a blogger. This is part of my ‘brand’ not that I have much of one yet, I don’t follow or if I do I’m not a fan of looking at the messy pictures, so it would be silly to have that then be what I put out there. Great thought provoking piece. Xxx

    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:47 am

      Thanks Alexandra. Sounds like you use instagram in a similar way to me 🙂

  4. January 7, 2016 / 1:14 pm

    I just take photos of things I’d like to remember, or that I’d like to see. I admire how beautiful other people’s feeds are though. And I take it all as inspiration. I go on Instagram with the knowledge that I’m not going to see exact reality. But I follow a mix of people who snap randomly, and snap in a curated way. I’m a big fan of balance. I’ll show you my fat pictures, and celebrate my weight loss. I’ll share a bump pic, but I’m not bothered that I have stretchmarks. I will take a selfie, but I don’t necessarily have makeup. I like the middle ground. But I also like the two extremes too. xx

    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:48 am

      I love your Instagram photos Charlotte, and I think you’ve a good example of someone who does a bit of everything – but it’s definitely your real life, and we can see that.

  5. January 7, 2016 / 2:07 pm

    I follow lots of people on Instagram so my timeline is often a mix of carefully curated photos and those that are more warts and all. You’ve made me think about the photos that I post now and there is definitely too much food but I’d guess that I’m somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Instagram for me is for sharing moments but actually mostly about finding the beauty in the smallest of everyday things. It is definitely my happy place and if people find my photos ‘too polished’ then I’m sorry but that’s their problem!
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    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:50 am

      I post WAY too much food and coffee and tea, but do you know what, I eat and drink a lot! Ha! Love the idea of finding beauty in every day things. I don’t think your feed is too [polished at all – it’s one of my faves.

  6. January 7, 2016 / 3:21 pm

    One thing I love about Instagram is how pretty it is – I don’t expect it to look like real life (I have real life for that, thanks!) I know everyone uses it differently – which is part of the beauty – but I don’t see it as a reflection of how things actually look, more like interesting, creative and different captures of everyday things x
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    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:51 am

      I think YOU do this really well. I’ve told you before how much I love your pics. I think you are one of Instagram’s undiscovered gems!

  7. January 7, 2016 / 3:56 pm

    It’s such an interesting debate, and I can totally understand both sides of the divide. I think, for me, the way I react to others’ snapshots is very often a reflection of how I’m feeling myself. If i’m having a bad day, for example, it’s easy to fall into the ‘life is perfect for everyone else’ mindset. But that’s more about my own insecurities than anything. I’m trying to be more mindful of that! After facing some criticism about my own IG last year, my confidence was knocked somewhat and I questioned everything i posted. But my feed is 100% me, and us, and our life and I guess that’s all i can show really. It might be a little bit curated and edited, but that’s all part of my personality too. I’m just that person who feels more comfortable sharing the highlights! Such a thought provoking post lovely. Xx ps. I adore your IG!
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    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:52 am

      Yes, that’s a really good point Emma, about our own mood affecting how we react to others’ photos. I think your feed falls into that same category as Katie Ellison’s, where you can tell it’s your real life, and you choose to share the nice photos of the nice days.

  8. January 7, 2016 / 6:43 pm

    I agree with Chloe and Beans – I like a nice, tidy, clutter free house when my friends come over and I certainly like this too on my social media. I do however wonder if my own life is portrayed as ‘too nice’ – because I never show the crap photo’s, but I think that’s OK. People must know that I have bad days and that my hair is often a mess! I see IG similar to my wedding album – I want to keep it and look back, and nothing awful made it into that album so why would I want it on my IG? I do like the fact that many, many diverse blogs exist though – that is what is so cool about blogging…you can find literally anything you want and can relate to it. And sometimes that is when you feel down, or when you are in a happy place. There’s something for everyone. Great post. Jess x
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    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:53 am

      Quite a few people have said they want to look back on their IG gallery and it hadn’t even occurred to me that this could be a thing – I assume IG will disappear one day (along with all our photos!)

  9. January 7, 2016 / 7:24 pm

    I completely enjoyed this post Alison. I am big enough and grown up enough to take ridiculously curated and styled instagram shots with a pinch of salt and I personally love the styled and gorgeous ones, they inspire me. Yet I also like the warts and all ones as well. There is something for everyone. Personally I try and put gorgeous pictures on, but I never style them, I may move a toy out the way in a photo but my house genuinely is that tidy. However I will never put grainy or rubbish images on and I always put the nice colourful ones where my girls are smiley- so in a way I guess I am curating our family instead of our things! 😉

    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:54 am

      I’m pleased you ‘completely’ enjoyed it, rather than ‘partially’ enjoying it 😉

  10. January 7, 2016 / 8:36 pm

    Hmmm, I guess I like different peoples posts for different reasons. I have my ‘beautifully styled’ favourites, as well as my ‘warts and all favourites’, but I know that not everything is always as it seems, and as long as I remember that then me and IG will continue to get along just fine! I do worry about the impact on children though as they grown up, and the unrealistic expectations on unworldly eyes. It’s a conversation that I will have with the kids when they’re old enough to start showing an interest in social media. x
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    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:55 am

      Yep, this is something I think about – but like others have said, it’s kind of the same as reading a magazine and making sure your kids know that photo shoots aren’t real life.

  11. January 7, 2016 / 9:15 pm

    Love this post. I also take them with a pinch of salt. Just like if I see someone in real life happy and smiling, I don’t assume their whole life is fun and games. Never assume anything unless you see the whole picture. Your feed is so pretty and you have to do it your way. Mine is a mish mash (don’t look! 😉 ) and a nightmare for people with OCD. I post some things because I want to remember them, some things that look good and if I’m honest random things when I’m bored and have the time to take a photo and post it! I love the mix of “perfect”, “middle of the ground” and realistic posts out there. x

  12. January 7, 2016 / 9:23 pm

    I like the real life bit of IG to be in the words. I like it when people reveal more in their captions, but I want to pictures to be mindful and look nice. I’m finding with my own feed that this is how I like to do it and I also find a nice picture coupled with an honest caption gets the most likes and sparks the most conversation.
    I get fed up with the critique that it’s not real life and found the round austrailian girls flounce away from social media as contrived and fake as her IG feed.

  13. January 7, 2016 / 9:57 pm

    It’s like reading a glossy magazine. We all know it’s photoshopped, posed, edited to high heaven. But it doesn’t stop people dreaming, wishing hoping that their life could be like that. The difference is that Instagram etc is real people, and so seemingly real life. I’m trying to post “real” images, in an attempt to show that real life is still fun, and it’s the things that go wrong, and our reactions to those, that make our lives what they are… if everything was perfect, that’d be no fun (though I’d be willing to give it a try for a week or two!)

  14. January 7, 2016 / 10:18 pm

    Great post – I love Instagram for the beautiful photos, for that snapshot of time that really lifts me. I wouldn’t ever expect that to be true for every second of real life. I mostly don’t follow the warts and all accounts although I know a lot of people love them, (anything too obviously styled does puts me off too – unless it’s really gorgeous), it’s like my escape from real life for a few seconds. My own feed has lots of beaches and travel shots – it doesn’t mean my life is always like that but frankly who wouldn’t rather look at that than the very ordinary bits of ordinary life?
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  15. January 7, 2016 / 10:57 pm

    I’d like to think I am savvy enough I understand that life can’t just be presented through a few frames… That said, sometimes it can be easy to think that everyone else has a prettier and more fulfilling life than I do, just because I only see the best parts of theirs. It is a tricky one – in one way that is everyday life, but just the highlights but when that’s all you see, it can be a bit too much.

    I still do rather see and hear about the nice and pretty things in life – if nothing else, they can be really inspirational!

  16. January 8, 2016 / 2:38 am

    Horses for courses. People who have quite styled Instagram feeds have a style, as do ‘real life’ peeps. I follow because I have an interest, either in seeing more of the same beautiful shots or for seeing more of someone’s real life. There’s no harm in setting something up to be visually appealing and if you snap and share a lot yourself, you realise the reality behind the shots. It’s good to be surrounding by beautiful things as long as you don’t get into a comparison game and feel like you’re losing out.

    I love a good photo, no matter what that is, over the overly styled feeds as I can see a more personal element. If you want to use Instagram as an escape, there’s people for that and if you want it to stay connected to people who share similar interests, then there’s plenty for that too.

    You raise a really interesting point about what our children will see, interpret and take away from this. Really,how different is it to the whole airbrushing models in magazines debate?

  17. January 8, 2016 / 7:42 am

    I take Instagram with a large pinch of salt, but whereas you said it makes you happy, I find Instagram often has the opposite effect on me. Curated feeds are lovely, but I do get bored of them eventually. I like stories, emotion, and getting a feel for the person behind the photos. So instead of endless still lifes and flowers, I follow accounts that get that balance right for me. I will always share an image of a happy memory, even if the quality is not great. But I get seriously frustrated that the more curated (and boring) my feed is, the more likes and new follows I get, whereas those happy memories that make me smile when I look back do not always fit the Instagram aesthetic as much. Instagram can be a very shallow place.
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  18. January 8, 2016 / 7:45 am

    What a great read this was. It took me a while but I now take everything i see on social media with a pinch of salt because I now know that all the pretty pictures is definitely not that person’s real life. Like you Instagram is a platform I use for escapism and inspiration. Those pretty pictures can temporarily take my mind off what is disturbing me. Those pretty pictures can motivate me to fix what I don’t like. No ones like is perfect regardless of how its portrayed online there is always a background story.
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  19. January 8, 2016 / 9:48 am

    Loved reading this. I agree with Joy and Chloe that you have to take everything you see on social media with a pinch of salt. I do like instagrams that are pretty because real life isn’t always so pretty so it is nice to have that escapism from what can be a scary world. I think of instagram like a magazine, something that I can flick through quickly for a bit of inspiration and a lift.

    Em xx
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  20. January 8, 2016 / 10:58 am

    I think there is a difference between pretty photos and styled photos. I try to share good photography and I follow others that do the same, but I personally got quite bored with overly styled images very quickly, they seem too sterile to me. So in conclusion I think you can still share real life in good photos

    • Alison Perry
      January 8, 2016 / 11:27 am

      Clare, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for me. I think my feed is at its best when it’s a nice mix of real life that looks pretty. Like you, I’m not as keen on the overly styled images, but that said, I do rearrange my table in a cafe before I take a photo. That is styling, in its loosest form, but not going OTT with it and creating something that looks a bit fake.

  21. January 8, 2016 / 11:30 am

    I find this really interesting – I’m the kind of person who likes to look back and remember the nice things and moments that made me smile, so my instagram feed leans more towards the ‘lovely’ side of things, as does my blog. I find that if I’m down then looking through other people’s lovely images cheers me up. Having discussed this with my husband though, he is exactly the opposite and if he’s feeling down (or sometimes even if he’s perfectly happy), then looking through other people’s lovely lives gets him feeling down. I think it probably just comes down to knowing what kind of person you are, and how you like to use social media.
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  22. January 8, 2016 / 1:12 pm

    WHAAAAT? You don’t want to see the porridge that’s currently adhered to my table and won’t come off?

    I like a mix, I think. I like to look at beautiful things (interiors in particular) but then I also like to see people keeping it real. I don’t want to see piles of washing up of course – I have that enough in my own house 😉 – but just real lives. Like I said about the woman who goes to my gym who is blatantly photoshopping herself on Instagram, I don’t like that at all. But I do like to see what you wear on the school run, or what Katrina has for breakfast (haha!).

    Ax

  23. January 8, 2016 / 9:07 pm

    Instagram is a bit of escapism for me, like putting my feet up with a cup of tea and reading a magazine. We all know at the back of our minds that the people shown aren’t really that gorgeous, that poised, that perfect, I mean no one is perfect 🙂

  24. January 9, 2016 / 3:46 pm

    Personally, I prefer the Instagram shots that have had a bit of thought and energy put into them. In the olden days, we wouldn’t want to sit through hours of a friend’s blurry, nondescript holiday photos. But if they had an eye for a good shot, and had filtered out the duds, then it would make for an entertaining half hour. That’s how I feel about Instagram. It’s a picture, which captures one particular moment – and if that moment’s happy and/or uplifting in some way, then yes, I want to see it. As for the people who feel bad after looking at nice, pretty pictures, to them I’d say: just don’t look.
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  25. January 9, 2016 / 4:32 pm

    I’m with you on this one. It’s not a new thing either. Look at your parents old photo albums…I’m sure they chose the favourite photos and not the one where the dog was doing a poo in the background. I think it’s a very personal thing. Everyone has their own style and idea of what perfect is. I don’t need to see unfolded laundry on the sofa to the left of the shot….I can just open my eyes for that!
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  26. January 9, 2016 / 4:36 pm

    I enjoyed reading this 🙂 I do prefer pictures that “tell it like it is” but I don’t feel inadequate when I look at “styled” photos. I think I just feel a bit jealous that they had the time to shift all of their crap out of the way before they took the photo!! I do like looking at “pretty” photos sometimes but mainly I just like people’s smiley faces and real lives 🙂
    It’s a weird one isn’t it – we can all tweak social media and present what we want people to see. I am just what you see is exactly what you get and this has plus and negative points. I just sort of go with a live and let live attitude with it all, and I suppose I do take it with a pinch of salt. xxx
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  27. January 9, 2016 / 4:51 pm

    I know just what you mean, I also think the same about my photos sometimes but as you say it makes me happy to look at a stream of lovely photos rather than the messy kitchen or ironing basket. It’s just like reading a magazine though isn’t it, it’s not always perfect but then who wants to look at someone else’s messy house all the time, really? I love instagram too, definitely my favourite social media (maybe after Facebook!).

  28. January 9, 2016 / 11:18 pm

    I love this Alison all so true, my instagram is very much like my life in terms of I strive for pretty and organised but live in a state of chaos, and I am happy with that, its me. But I love looking at pretty, organised and perfect it makes me smile. I listened to a fashion blogger speaking about the work that goes into her instagram recently she was so honest about what is behind those gorgeous shots, changing in public loos and pop up tents, she was fab and so frank, I think since then I have seen it as an art form that some people work so very hard at. It has sort of made me appreciate them even more x
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  29. January 9, 2016 / 11:19 pm

    Great post. As a blogger I can see that line between ‘social media life’ and real life quite easily but I am unsure whether ‘normal’ people would know that it’s not real, that you’ve cleared that corner to take a photo and you’ve laid your table especially to take a photo of a meal. I like to see IG feeds with occasional real in them and not 100% staged but that’s just me. I don’t mind the 100% pretty ones though, I just know that life is never THAT rosy x
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  30. January 10, 2016 / 1:42 pm

    Love this post alison. I find that instagram is a gallery that I go to for pretty lovely things and amazing moments of people’s life to put me in a good mood on a really bad day or to see pretty things and feel inspired whether that be clothes home decor or baking something yummy and amazing. No I don’t put my dirty kids bedrooms or the dark grainy photos that are hard to see what the photo is of only because like you said you would tidy up before you had guest over you wouldn’t leave your panties on the radiator while you were hosting afternoon tea or coffee hour would you. I love the real life photos of baby spamming and kids smiling happy moments those shouldn’t be style I find nothing wrong with styling food or shelf or flat lays to showcase lovely things together. I am not good at it but I attend you have an amazing colorful beautiful feed I go to it and it puts a smile on my face that’s what’s lovely about ig but some people might not rely on ig to make them happy or smile like I do I think it’s all down to an individual perspective. Everyone is always going to have an opinion on it. 🙂

  31. January 10, 2016 / 9:07 pm

    What a great subject for a post and so interesting to read your thoughts Alison. I can’t say I curate my pictures on Instagram, they’re all pretty random but like you I do only post pictures that look pretty, joyful and above all NEVER MESSY!! I agree with your friend who said she wouldn’t invite family or friends over without tidying up, we do this for a reason, to create the illusion of being in control.

    I love Instagram and like you enjoy looking at beautiful images that inspire me and make me happy.

  32. January 13, 2016 / 6:01 am

    Sarah (Taming Twins) and I row about this all the time! Ha ha ha! She LOVES the perfect shots and the cleverly placed flower on a shabby chic table mat. And so do I to a certain extent. I am from the school of do what makes you happy but I also believe that these photos aren’t that great for young kinds who don’t get that life’s not like that yet or even the Mum’s who are lonely scrolling at home not in the right headspace to understand that this is only one side to a person. But the great thing about instagram is you get to choose what you follow. So just follow what you like and post what you like. In the words of Amy Phoehler (have you read her book AMAZING) “good for you but not for me”. Tis my new mantra xxx
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  33. January 13, 2016 / 9:34 pm

    Well said Alison, as always. I’m pretty much with you in that I like Instagram for the ‘pretty’ – if I want real life online, I’ll look at my personal Facebook profile, or I’d watch Jeremy Kyle or something of that ilk (and who wants to?) I personally think Instagram is more of an art, it’s about having an eye for photography and capturing something that makes people feel a certain way, it’s not about displaying your life as it is (stains on the sofas and messy kitchens). Nobody needs to see that. As you say though, hopefully we can read between the social media lines now and appreciate each platform for what it is.

  34. January 24, 2016 / 8:18 pm

    Good point with your post. I’m not sure that everyone is able to take things with a pinch of salt, just like in real life people take everything they see or hear as truth. I think bloggers are a lot more aware of this when it comes to Instagram.

    I like a mix on my feed. I find all the perfect styled feeds a bit samey and boring after a while, so I follow a mix of feeds. However I also want to see pretty, colourful and well taken photos, not dark snaps. Mine are real life but I obviously do choose the photos I put up. I guess if I was more creative or could be bothered to decorate and declutter our house properly then maybe I’d do more stylised photos…or not because it’s too much effort and I’d get bored of it.
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  35. January 26, 2016 / 3:03 pm

    Love this! I love Instagram and I keep my feed filled with “nice” pictures. If something quirky happened to me, I’d share it on Twitter, not Instagram. I’m with you – I think everyone knows Instagram isn’t real life and when my daughter is old enough I’ll show her what people do to their pictures! I find fashion pictures the hardest to swallow mind and find the whole “nonchalant / “is someone taking my picture” the hardest to take in my feed! I’ve always found it hard to share selfies, and yet when I do, THOSE are the pictures that get the most likes?! Great post x

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