The Problem With #LiveAuthentic

Socality Barbie

These past few weeks, @SocalityBarbie called our collective Instagram bluff. If you haven’t heard of @SocalityBarbie, Google it. Her single facetious Instagram account has an entire generation of Instagrammers thinking twice before they post a photo of a latte, or a caption about being grateful, or using the hashtag #liveauthentic. Well, at least I am.

If you pay much attention to Instagram, especially a certain aspect of it, all @SocalityBarbie did was point out the obvious: We’re not as original as we’d like to think we are. Actually, all those photos we post with the tag #liveauthentic look exactly like all the others. Morning coffee held in homespun mittens? Check. Look at this leaf I found on my hike? Check. Look at me on this beach while I post an unrelated inspirational quote? Check. You’d think we’re all a bunch of lumbersexual/neo-hippie lemmings, hoping that someone out there thinks we’re actually unique. But I think there’s more to it.

Aside from the obvious trendiness and even consumerism of it all, I think @SocalityBarbie exposed something deeper: a profound—if sometimes misguided—longing for authenticity in our generation. The reason @SocalityBarbie’s posts pack a sting is that all of us would like to think we’re unique and creative.

Many of us millennials on Instagram grew up in the suburbs. We played in front of cookie-cutter houses, in a world exponentially overflowing with mass-produced plastic crap. Everything from the burger we ordered to the shirt on our back was exactly the same as the one a teenager in a town across the country had—as long that town was large enough to have a Target or an Urban Outfitters. Now we’ve traded our Air Jordans for vintage-looking hiking boots and Birkenstocks, and advanced from sugary Starbucks Frappuccinos to single-origin pour-overs at the local shop. Kinfolk is to us what Better Homes and Gardens was for our parents.

Some might argue that we’ve simply graduated to more sophisticated brands, more cultivated trends. But I see a common thread: A desire for things with a story. Maybe it’s just what’s cool right now, but I think it’s something more. We’re tired of the generic. We crave things with a patina, the musty smell of something that’s well used because it’s beautiful and useful and lasting. Something classic. Something that has meaning. We’re tired of throwaway everything.

I met a guy a few years ago, an authentic mover and shaker in the slow- and local-foods movement, who admitted to me that he was so afraid of looking like everyone else, or trying too hard to be cool, that he actually erred in the opposite direction on purpose. He took pains to never wear something exactly like what was trendy, to wear glasses that were distinctly out of fashion, and to ride a bike that was decidedly dorky. He was such a pure example of the drive for originality. Most of us fall somewhere else along the spectrum—and I think that’s OK.

The point is, we all want to somehow communicate to the world something about who we are inside, and the moments and places that feel meaningful to us. No, that handcrafted coffee table sourced from reclaimed barn wood is not necessarily going add meaning to our lives. But if we’re going to bring objects into our world, shouldn’t they be thoughtfully considered objects that bring us some sort of long-term enjoyment? And, no, hiking that super popular trail we saw someone else post about online isn’t like putting up a first ascent. But that doesn’t mean the joy of discovery isn’t fresh and important.

I think we’re tired of feeling disconnected, superficial and cheap. We hope spending $4 on that single-origin pour-over isn’t just a status symbol, but a way for us to feel a connection to the people who grew and roasted the beans, a way to have a more full experience of something we’d be doing every day anyway. The irony is that somehow our collective motion toward a more “authentic” life all began to look the same. It’s the age of the Internet, so of course that’s bound to happen.

I’m sure we could all stand some self-examination, especially when it comes to consumerism and social media: Why do I really want this item? What is my Instagram photo really about? What am I really trying to say with this caption?

But I see in this generation an urge to be doers, makers and discoverers. And maybe the more we actually really do, make and discover—without being motivated by Instagramming—the more we’ll actually authentically diversify. And, if some of it ends up on Instagram, well, it can inspire the rest of us.

16 Responses to The Problem With #LiveAuthentic

  1. Liz Song says:

    Hilary – your post is one of the more productive commentaries on this socalitybarbie craze. Thank you for writing a well thought-out piece that searches for deeper (and more positive) meaning about what this is about, versus just criticizing. Thanks for your own self-examination and inviting us to do the same.

  2. Ti Conkle says:

    I’m not on Instagram, mostly because my internet access is limited and sketchy. I feel what you’re saying- and would offer the opinion that many folks who are living ”authentically” have found that it’s not as pretty, not as filtered or hashtag-able as the world would like to believe.

    It’s lonely and isolating, it’s often dark and difficult work- and it’s the sort of life that unsettles before all else.

    Each one of us is listening for the sound of change, I believe that we look for connection and validation for our search. Sometimes settling for a selfie, a hashtag, a cup of special coffee briefly offers the dopamine hit that masks the underlying need.

    In the end, asking the questions and learning to laugh at ourselves may be the most important thing of all.

    Now, where’s Social Barbie when I have to haul water to my dry cabin at -35 in blue plastic five gallon jugs? I just can’t juggle my selfie stick and wrangle all this crap!

  3. Hey, I love your writing and thoughtfulness and this post is another good example of all that. It rang true and inspired me on a few levels.

    Regarding the current predominance of the idea of authenticity, you cause me to think of a Shakespearean line that’s become somewhat of a cliche:

    This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.

    This authenticity idea is not very new, after all! 🙂 I get where the mover and shaker you talk about is coming from and see this kind of positioning often. We have a yearning to be unique and individual and clever marketers have picked up this… and found ways of packaging it. They sense what is out there in the aether and know how to harness it in a way that resonates. But then, authenticity can become just another mass marketed trend. Microbrew beer brands created and owned by brewing giants come to mind.

    But the true authenticity comes when you don’t care what the trends are one way or another. Being anti-marketing and anti-trend has long been a trend and means of marketing oneself! These kinds of mental gymnastics make my head spin. So, I’ve worked at tossing it all out and being “true to thyself.” That means I enjoy what I enjoy, be it trendy, passé, or plain geeky! It is inward in that the question I ask is “Is this meaningful to me and the people I care about?” instead of “How will the groups I care about perceive me if I do this?”

    So, for example, I like coffee. But not the “right” kind of coffee, all kinds. Each has it’s own place and time. I can nerd out with my Italian espresso machine and grinder (which are gathering dust these past few years—thank having small kids for that!). But when I was down and dirty trying to get established in a foreign country years ago, there was something about instant Nescafe that was awesome and helped move me along the journey. Cool, clueless, unsophisticated, authentic? Who cares? Not me. I’m just having fun.

    I also like your thoughts regarding social media like Instagram. For me, my posts are mostly for the audience that is my family… grandmas, aunts, uncles, brothers, in-laws. But regardless of the audience, I always ask a few questions before I post: Is this positive, helpful, and/or interesting to others? And, perhaps most importantly, does it tell a story?

    Great stuff! Thanks!

  4. Jenny says:

    Hillary! Hi! I loved this post, it super resonated with me. I’ve written about similar things here:

    and here:

    It’s something that always gets me, and that I ultimately have to get over. And I really like your commentary on it!

    Anyways, and more importantly, I’m excited to see you soon! Maybe a fun CO mountain run for all of us? 🙂

  5. A-JNK says:

    The instagram user is making fun of you guys. I am so glad this went over all of your heads.

  6. J $ says:

    The satire is poking fun at how absurd, first-world-problem-y, and self-obsessed the “quest for authenticity” is. Truly “authentic” people have no need to advertise their brand of authenticity on instagram because they don’t do it for recognition or “hipster points” or to be a smug coffee snob. They do it to actually espouse some values.

    Living “authentically” has nothing to do with originality. It has to do with environmental and social responsibility.

    So yeah, Socal Barbie nails it, and this post is just defensive while missing “the point” because it’s easier to defend your stance than to realize how shallow it is.

  7. That’s funny. I tend to use #liveauthentic. I guess I missed the irony of the sameness of coffee in homespun mittens photos. I wonder why. Maybe I missed it because I’m not a millennial, or I just don’t care so much, or am more original than all that, or maybe because I tend not to look at hashtag feeds, or maybe because I just don’t drink coffee, but I’ll tell you what, I’d love to get the attention of Folk Magazine thru that hashtag. 😀

  8. Elizabeth Waggoner says:


  9. DYR says:

    Also check out #youdidntsleep there …commented on your post about tentsites, instagram and destroying the environment.

    Sleep somewhere for shelter/security, and the view is for you in person, and to decide if you want to share that experience with others. Or in this case buy yourself organic, shade grown, fair trade, bird friendly, small batch locally roasted fancy pour coffee at your local one of a kind stop, enjoy the heck out of it and share that enjoyment with your friends.

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  11. Jay Long says:

    Great essay; very thought-provoking. In our quests to be different, we demonstrate how much the same we are; might not be such a bad thing. Very enjoyable food-for-thought.

  12. Michael says:

    I read this somewhere, so it’s not mine, “You laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.” I think tribe is what many are looking for and the social media gives them that, without a responsible commitment. They don’t have to haul water, collect firewood, defend the camp. Just hashtag something and you belong, get enough followers and you’re chief. Authentic means genuine, it matters not where it comes from. Hilary, your writing brings thoughtful responses from bright people. That is genuine.

  13. smplbchgrl says:

    Want to be really, truly original and authentic? Get off Instagram. Stop looking at what everybody else does. Stop posting what you do hoping for likes. Go out there and live authentically to your true self without having your phone in your hand to document it. Do something that doesn’t require a hashtag.

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  15. Kat O says:

    I am WAY late to this game, but I still feel the need to comment:

    For me (especially when I feel defeated in my art), I go back to the idea that we don’t have to be original, but we have to be authentic. There’s a difference. If you truly love your latte and homespun mittens, and you’re not just doing it for instagram likes, then that’s enough. If you hike a trail because it brings you joy, whether it’s insanely popular or totally off the beaten path, that’s enough. Don’t worry if people will think you’re contrived, or think you’re totally cutting-edge. Live for yourself and what makes you happy, f*ck the rest.

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