The ugly truth behind perfection on Instagram: 4 tips for keeping it real on social media

Have you ever felt pressure to be perfect on Instagram?

The pressure to…

… create a perfectly curated feed full of picture-perfect images?

… write perfectly interesting and inspiring captions over and over again?

… have the perfect bio, the perfect hashtags, the perfect amount of engaged followers?

Everyone’s telling you to try this, hashtag that, use these apps, beat the algorithm, and frankly your lighting is ALL wrong.

Meanwhile, you’re ready to pull a Britney Spears and drastically shave Instagram off your to-do list. If ya know what I mean ;)

I’ve been writing about the pressure of perfect and the problem of perfectionism for a while now and the question I get asked the MOST is how to deal with the pressure of perfection on social media in general and Instagram in particular.

And it get it.

There’s just something about looking at highlights and stories and pretty pictures to brighten up your day.

But… I’m guessing you’re also familiar with feelings of comparisonitis, FOMO, and insecurity as a result of looking at all of those pretty pictures. Amiright?!

That’s why we need to have an honest conversation around this topic (take a seat and grab a LaCroix, girlfriend!) and reframe the way you feel about using Instagram… without feeling the need to sacrifice your luscious locks.

Oops… I did it again. Sorry, Britney! ;)

 The ugly truth behind perfection on Instagram: click through for 4 tips for keeping it real on social media. Plus, there's a FREE workbook! Be real on Instagram / overcoming perfectionism / recovering perfectionist / perfectionism quotes / perfectionism inspiration / progress not perfection / perfectionist / perfectionism definition / let go of perfectionism / stop being a perfectionist



Ahh… Instagram. If you’re anything like me, you probably have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. Part of you daydreams about deleting your account and be done with #allthatstress altogether.

Having said that, there’s also a lot to love about Instagram. It’s a quick and easy way to stay in touch with friends and family, meet like-minded people who share your interests, and learn new things.

No matter where you fall on the love/hate spectrum, when you reframe the way you look at Instagram and see it for what it is - nothing more than a tool for you to use - you can start to make an intentional choice about the role it plays in your life.

These are a few thoughts and tips to help you on your way.


Self-validation instead of outside approval


How many times in your life have you surrendered your power to other people or even things?

Based on my own experience, probably too many times.

When you determine your self-worth based on the number of likes on a photo or the number of followers you have, you're letting arbitrary numbers dictate your confidence and self-worth. You're giving an app permission to take your power... the power you have to cultivate your personal taste and to authentically love what you create.

Your entire life you’ve been told that your value as a human being is determined based on external things: grades, degrees, money, career promotions, power, numbers, marital status etc.

Unfortunately, this is how our society is set up.

You're taught that success and happiness are based on outward measures (instead of internal motivations or feelings) and that they’re subject to other people's judgement or approval.

When you look at it from this perspective, in a warped way, it makes sense that you try to outsource your worthiness, too. You desperately look to others to make you feel seen, heard, valued, and understood.

The key here is to stop searching for outside approval and no longer look to others for validation. When you learn to self-validate, you’ll no longer let the amount of Instagram followers dictate whether you are good enough or not. You’ll have taken back your power, because you know that you’re worthy beyond measure.


[Still struggling with the pressure to be perfect on Instagram? Need help with overcoming your perfectionism and becoming a recovering perfectionist? Then make sure to download my popular (not to mention FREE!) perfectionism-busting workbook.]


1. Learn to detach yourself from the numbers

Most women have a tendency to get caught up in the numbers game, whether it's the number on the scale, on the back of your clothing tag, or the number of Instagram followers you have.

Remember that you are so much more than a number. Stop caring about numbers. Stop spending time with people who care about them. Stop looking and thinking about them.

Because true growth, true power, and true value have absolutely nothing to do with cultural status or vanity metrics.

When you embrace Instagram as a connection-based instead of a numbers-based platform, you can actually enjoy making connections again.

2. Know who you are and stay true to yourself

Last year, I took part on an empowerment campaign on Instagram. As I signed up, it was made clear to me that I couldn’t be an influencer in the campaign because I didn’t have a certain amount of followers.

It got to me and I took that message to heart: I wasn’t and would never be an influencer.

Months later, I realized that I’d let someone else determine who I was (not an influencer) and how I showed up (believing that I couldn’t truly make a difference in someone else’s life through my posts).

Here’s the deal, girlfriend...

Stop crowdsourcing your identity from unreliable sources. Stop listening to noise, lies, or negative opinions. Stop letting outsiders determine your message and how you show up for others.

When you know who you are and what you have to offer, then no one can convince you otherwise.


Embracing imperfection (aka keeping it real > highlight reel)


The easy answer to the question of how to keep it real on Instagram would be: just be authentic. But as a perfectionist, I find this rather difficult sometimes. I want to post something more real and less filtered, but it also needs to be something presentable.

That’s why I think throwing the phrase “Just be authentic!” around isn’t particularly helpful, if it isn’t accompanied by a mindset shift.

That’s where the mindset of embracing imperfection comes in.

Instagram is changing. Have you noticed? People are getting bored with all of the ‘style but no substance’ content on Instagram. We’re moving away from pretty pictures and fluff captions, because we crave connection, impactful stories, and real people. What used to be perfection on Instagram is no longer valued as such.

There’s a shift happening from ‘highlight reel’ to ‘keeping it real’.


1. Your mess is where it’s at

All of the things and all of the parts of yourself that you used to keep hidden behind the curtain of perfection - your mess, imperfections, insecurities, and breakdowns - that’s where it’s at.

Offer a sneak peek into the ordinary, normal-ness of your life. That’s where connection happens. You don’t trust “perfect” people, so why are you trying to be one?

Share your story and the lessons learned along the way. Turn your mess into your message.

Because I wrote about lessons learned on my own journey, when I went through my “OMG, I can’t with this perfectionism crap pulling me down anymore!”-breakdown and my heart and life broke open, I could no longer write on my blog and Instagram as if it was all business as usual.

That’s when my message shifted from wanting to appear polished to wanting to share my true, perfectly imperfect self. I had to allow myself to build from the broken pieces.

This is my permission slip for you to do the same.

Instead of perpetuating the myth of perfection by solely focusing on being unbreakable, focus on shattering with grace and courage and making art of the broken pieces.


2. Curation isn’t bad

Embracing imperfection doesn’t mean you have to stop curating your content on Instagram. The shift here is to be mindful and intentional about what you share.

Curation isn't bad. However, curation where the goal is to be more perfect is bad. There’s a difference between curating for curation’s sake and curating for perfection’s sake.

Think about it… you curate which of your 2,613,478 thoughts you vocalize. You filter yourself. And that is a GOOD thing.

So, spend some time filtering down the message you want to share. And then share it, with intention and no matter how imperfect it is.

3. You can still focus on the good

Let me be clear: turning your mess into your message and sharing your story in an authentic and intentional way doesn’t mean only focusing on the bad things, the struggles, the dark parts.

Life is not perfect, but when you concentrate on what's good - even the good in the challenges - you get more of it delivered right to you.


This is the core of gratitude in my mind: finding the fleck of glitter in every experience and drinking it all up completely.

What I've realized over the years is that life is hard for everyone. In different ways, of course, but there are battles we are all fighting, obstacles we are all overcoming, fears we are all facing.

So, when I see pretty pictures posted and happy stories shared on Instagram, I am deeply moved. Not because someone's life is better or cooler than mine. But because, despite the wars they’re facing, they choose to find beauty in it. And despite their battle scars, they’re sharing the blessing they've still found.

Keep posting your pretty pictures, your happy moments, and your blessing amongst the ashes. Because yes, life is hard and messy and complicated. But every time you find the good or share how you've overcome the bad, you're inspiring me (and so many others) to do the same.

 The ugly truth behind perfection on Instagram: click through for 4 tips for keeping it real on social media. Plus, there's a FREE workbook! Be real on Instagram / overcoming perfectionism / recovering perfectionist / perfectionism quotes / perfectionism inspiration / progress not perfection / perfectionist / perfectionism definition / let go of perfectionism / stop being a perfectionist



Turn comparison off, turn awareness on


It’s all too easy to compare yourself to those people on Instagram who seem to have made it and have it all together and find yourself coming up short. If you continue this for long enough, comparison can seriously cripple your motivation.

Why is comparison so toxic?

Have you ever noticed that comparison starts with someone else's appearance of perfection and it ends with you feeling like you’re not good enough?


This is how the comparison trap works:

  1. You make up a definition of what it means to be perfect.

  2. You apply that expectation on yourself.

  3. When you don’t meet that expectation - which you never will, because you’ve made up an unrealistic and unattainable expectation for yourself - you doubt your abilities.

  4. If you see someone who you think is meeting that expectation, you become obsessed with learning every little thing there’s to know about that someone and you start to critique every little thing that you are doing wrong.

  5. You feel like you’re not good enough. You feel like a failure, sometimes before you’ve even started.


Comparison happens because of these two things:

1. Being unfocused and not having a clear vision

When you’re thinking about perfection, you’re not living in reality. It’s easier to daydream about other people’s perfect Instagram feed and compare yourself than to show up for yourself and take action on your vision.

Phew, #realtalk happening here…

You invite comparison into your life when you look at what others are doing and think they have it all figured out. Let me tell you: they don’t. Take off your perfectionism goggles and you’ll see that no one has it all figured out.

Perfection isn’t real. Hard work, taking action, discipline, dedication, consistency; that IS real.

In what way can you focus your energy? What do you want to see happen in your work and life? What are some short term goals for your work and life? And what’s your long term vision?

Answering these questions will help you get clarity on what YOU find important. Spend some time figuring out what’s your life mission or the bigger purpose of your work or business and how you can bring that vision to life.

Now, you no longer need to look to others for a sense of direction because you’re clear on your own vision.

2. Not being clear on what your values are

Another aspect that drives comparison is not being clear on what your values are.

You’ll likely compare yourself to those Instagram influencers that you feel are successful. They have a six-figure business, they have the cutest children, their work is published in some major media outlets, their design work is flawless, they take the best flat lay photos. (I could go on forever, because, you know, I’ve been there...)

But I want you to ask yourself these questions:

What does success look like to YOU? And what are YOUR values when it comes to work and life.

Maybe having a six-figure business isn’t that important to you. Maybe you value connecting with your small but loyal Instagram community over growing your following to a number that’s bigger than that certain influencer.

You’re comparing and measuring yourself to someone else’s measuring stick of success. It’s like entering a rat race and finding out that their finish line isn’t YOUR idea of a finish line.

Once you get clear on what your values are, you’re less likely to get distracted by other people’s shiny trophy cups. It renders comparison futile. That person you’re comparing yourself or your work to has a different definition of success, different values, different ideals, motivations, and goals.

Comparison is a teacher. And it can be an excellent teacher.

Stepping away from the comparison trap isn’t about turning comparison off. It’s about turning awareness on. And the way to do that is to get clarity about your vision and your values.


[Still struggling with the pressure to be perfect on Instagram? Need help with overcoming your perfectionism and becoming a recovering perfectionist? Then make sure to download my popular (not to mention FREE!) perfectionism-busting workbook.]


Putting boundaries in place


A reminder from me to you: Instagram is exactly what you make of it. You get to create your vision, you get to turn your mess into your message, you get to live out your values and make others feel valued and supported.

But all of this is a lot easier if you have boundaries in place.

1. Take responsibility

It’s easy to blame the negative feelings towards Instagram on everyone else. But could it be possible that it’s really you generating the negative energy?

You’ll never know the truth of what’s really going on in people’s lives from their status updates. So before you go down the rabbit hole of comparison and jealousy, step back and ask yourself “Why do I feel this way? Is it really about them or is there something going on inside of me?”

Usually, something is triggered - a thought, a feeling, an emotion - inside of you. Don’t blame them. Don’t blame Instagram.

You are the only one responsible for how you feel.


2. Limit your consumption

We all know what it’s like: you hop on your phone to ‘just check a few things’ and next thing you know, you’ve spent an embarrassingly long time on your phone.

If this happens to you, one tip is to limit your Instagram time and only go online certain times of the day. Or set a daily goal of how much time you would like to spend with AND without a screen and then make the most of your Instagram time.

Also, set aside plenty of time to stay the hell away from social media. Delete distracting apps from your phone for a day. Or announce social media free weekends for your entire family.


Phew, you’ve made it to the end of this looooong blog post, you superstar you! I hope this post was helpful and, at the very least, thought-provoking. And I truly hope you’re inspired to make a few changes in how you interact with Instagram.


Still struggling with the pressure to be perfect on Instagram? Need a little help letting go of your perfectionism? Then make sure to download your free copy of my perfectionism-busting workbook. Just click the button below.


Hit me up in the comments, how do you deal with the pressure to be perfect on Instagram? And what do you do to keep it real?

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Hi there! I’m Wendy, perfectionism coach and host of the #perfectionistproblems community for recovering perfectionists. I’m insanely passionate about helping you overcome your perfectionism, so that you can stop caring so much about what other people think and finally take on those dream projects that you've been putting off for so long.

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