The Brain Spectrum Between Fake and Real

Maybe I’m missing the whole point. But I think I get it…and I don’t get it. What’s with all the hullabapoo over this “lifestyle porn” thing plaguing and rumbling many of my Facebook friends? In my humble opinion, it’s about people creating a perception of who they want the world to think they are. Think about that.

We’re all guilty. I’m absolutely guilty.

Long before there were blogs or Photoshop to create these perceptions and spread them around, I owned a private photo studio specializing in children and family portraiture. Over twenty-plus years I had some fun clients like Gap and Nordstrom. I even did some work for Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson. But the bulk of my business came from locals who wanted me to create an image of their family for them to share with the people they cared about.

It was my great joy to do so.

But sometimes families with six, eight, ten kids would appear all dressed like they were ready for the cover of Vogue. I’d do a quick calculation and realize they’d spent at least $400 to dress each member. That meant thousands of dollars had been invested just in the coordinated wardrobe—oft times more. Sometimes this was for real, but sometimes…

“Excuse me,” the mother or father would whisper, “but can you hide the price tags? We’re taking all of this stuff back as soon as the photo shoot is over.” (Nordstrom, my employer, had a very lenient return policy)

I felt like I was being dragged into something deceitful, if not dishonest.

I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence. It wasn’t.

I wish I could say I refused. I didn’t. I did talk it over with my manager who only shrugged.

By the last few years of my profession, I was a somewhat jaded by the whole appearance thing. By then I’d photographed thousands of families who were kind and generous. When they sat before my lens it didn’t matter what they wore. They were beautiful people because they were genuine. Their love for one another shone through. Then they’d be the families that were unkind to each other, unkind to me, unkind period. But oh, how they wanted the world to see them as successful and loving. They were dressed, coiffured, and made up. They posed just right and beamed on cue. And yes, they looked good on film.

I closed my studio more than ten years ago, so I’d put those people away with my old Hasselblad equipment until all of this “lifestyle porn” stuff surfaced. I realized then that my experiences were relevant to the work I’m now doing—brain studies. Here’s what I discovered: We’ve got two recently discovered regions in our brains that help us process fact from fiction—the anterior medial prefrontal and the posterior cingulated cortices. fMRI data registers activity in these regions during autobiographical memory retrieval and self-referential thinking. That means our brains inherently tend to believe what’s real over what’s not. Good news.

Navigate this tricky part with me. We can change our brains by telling ourselves something over and over. So when we “appear” to be something and pretend to be something that we’re not, we confuse our own thinking.

This isn’t always a bad thing. It works for positive affirmations. We tell ourselves that we can accomplish something until we accomplish it. Bravo! But…when we tell ourselves that the doctored image that we send out into the world is real, we reshape neuropathways and alter the shape of cells, not to mention our lives. We deceive not only our friends and neighbors, but also ourselves.

But it goes deeper than that.

Why in the world do we think that we need to be something that we aren’t? What if the whole world just stopped faking it? What if we admitted that being married is very, very hard? That being single is hard too? What if we admitted that parenthood is colored in something duller than bliss? What if we talked honestly about the weight of debt? What if we told the world that we’re disappointed in life? And in ourselves?

What if we exhibited the confidence and worth to cry for help? What if we posted reality?

Oh, yeah. Never mind. I know what would happen because it’s happened. When people post the truth, things get uncomfortable. We ask, “Why on earth would someone post something like that?” And so we generally turn away. It’s easier to look at smiling, fit success than it is to look at weeping, muddled struggle. It’s how we’ve trained our brains.

Big sigh here because my brain hurts and my heart hurts. I don’t know the solution.

I only know that it’s exhausting to pretend for the sake of appearance. Frankly, I’m reached the age and wrinkled stage when I’m gonna put my resources elsewhere. Love me for who I am, or don’t love me at all.

I guess that’s what my rant is all about today. I want you to wrap your arms around yourselves and accept you for who you are now. Not who you used to be or will be. Extend that same unconditional love to others. Even to those who are still “posing to pretend.” And I’m going to ask you to think about how this world would change if we could learn to relate to each other in “real” time and “real” ways…if we could cut the crap and get to the heart. You know when you hear a story or see a face and your limbic system lights up with “ME TOO! ME TOO!” That’s the reality that connects humanity. Phoniness drives us apart. Friends, there’s room for all of us. And all of our flaws. There’s love enough if we’ll let it be enough.

That said, I’ve got a confession to make about where I fall on the fake spectrum. Sometimes I Photoshop my images (mostly my booty, but sometimes the bags beneath my eyes). And I might as well tell you the story behind the above photo. It’s NOT the Christmas card image I sent out for the world to see a few years back. That one was of my six kids standing still and smiling. This one—the real one—is the shot when Dallas made a snowball, aimed and fired at his brother Collin, but hit his sister Devyn smack in the face instead.

THIS one is precious to our family because it’s a recording of the “real” us. I didn’t send it out because it wasn’t picture perfect. Now, that I’ve learned some of the lessons I’ve learned, I kinda, sorta wish I had.

And I wish that we could start a dialogue about the freedom of reality. Maybe you could even include some images and stories of your own. That would be nothing shy of wonderful.

2 thoughts on “The Brain Spectrum Between Fake and Real

  1. You nailed it! Again. When I see what seems to be fake, I don’t take it personally. Most of the type of blogger they are referring to are quite young. Notice how few grandma bloggers there are? Hold the standard for all of us who know better, Toni!!


  2. Nothing wrong with trying to put your best foot forward …if we practice it enough..maybe it will be more like us..and I love all your images…especially the ones that are candid..your the best Toni!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s