In this age of the endless selfie, who are we really?

Cao Xinyu
Are you the same person online as you are in real life?
Cao Xinyu

Too often, too many of us confuse our real life and our online life — whether deliberately or accidentally. Are we losing ourselves in our quest for the perfect “me”?

Are you the same person online as you are in real life?

Every once in a while, a friend of mine would post elaborate photos of food, holiday or herself in the WeChat Moments, often coupled with a nicely worded description or a philosophical quote.

I’ve seen selfies of her glamorously dressed with charming smiles. I’ve seen photos of her standing by a cliff, set off by the sunset in some heavenly spot. I’ve also seen her marking her anniversary with her better half.

I didn’t know her much, but it seemed that she was enjoying a perfect life. Even her cat looked so perfect. It appeared to be such a fluffy, heart-melting creature.

Why is that she’s having the time of her life while I’m slaving away at my job? I couldn’t help feeling envy, until a mutual friend of us who knew her better unveiled the other side of the coin.

She told me this person did not actually look like her gorgeous self in the photo. She ran through photoshop apps to erase blemishes and make her teeth fluorescent. She worked overtime a lot to repay her credit card and complained about her drudgery and nagging superior.

Her adorable kitten turned out to be an irascible little tyrant who ripped through bags of cat food and left scratches on the couch.

I felt deceived.

Her flawless image was, in fact, a false one meticulously crafted by her to impress others. The self that she so tirelessly broadcast on social media was almost like an online persona, a mask to delude others — herself included — into believing that she had a perfect life.

Did she ever fear the risk of turning schizo, because of the constant stress of having to juggle with two personas? Did she ever worry that her cultivated virtual persona might collapse one day when people confront her in real life and find her less than her image in the cyberspace?

However, odd as it may sound, I believe many of us are similarly tempted to project an alter ego.

There are several reasons for this. Such is our life that it can be chaotic or miserable sometime. But most of us tend to publish the best moments and leave the rest to ourselves.

In a time when our friends are exposing their lives on social media, we tend to do the same, on the assumption that our lives will likely be assessed by our social media images. Just because someone never posts romantic photos with his or her better half, he or she risks being subject to speculation that their relationship might be in trouble. In this overconnected age, it’s almost impossible not to care about what others think of us.

And this has been much facilitated by the use of image-enhancing apps, born of a culture that values external beauty. As such, few can resist the temptation of making themselves look better than they actually are.

In our pursuit of a perfect “me,” many of us become adept at making ourselves aesthetically pleasing by exploiting these apps. We are prone to exaggerate our good parts. Who of us are not flattered by the harvest of likes and compliments in our Moments? My friend who created a perfect online persona was just one of those who went too far.

I remember there was a time that I myself was a bit obsessed with “enhancing” my pictures before posting them. Looking back, this might have resulted from a kind of insecurity that my photos failed to do me justice, or my descriptions were not witty enough. What would others think of me?

Therefore I took a great deal of time editing my pictures and texts so as to make them more “presentable.” But after a while, I had to give that up — not just because it was so exhausting, but more because that seemingly impeccable version of me was simply non-existent.

I become resigned to what I am.

I’m multi–faceted. I can be cheered up by a good book and grumpy about spilling coffee on my new shirt.

I will not post that in my social account, for sure, but neither will I go to great length to show a carefully manicured version of me.

Nowadays we are so preoccupied with editing and publishing our images online that we have little time for real life.

For instance, some friends gather at the table for a chat. A selfie of all the participants was taken, and then photoshoped by each of them by turns.

And, voila, evidence of their good time will pop up online. It almost seems like people meet just for the sake of taking a good picture.

Perhaps we could all allow ourselves to be more than what could fit into a phone screen, frankly accepting the many contradictions and flaws inherent in us, and heeding the observation that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

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