We need to stop glamourising other people’s lives

dawn

I wake up in the morning. I do the same thing each day; I open the weathered curtain, which so ineffectively occludes the sunlight that filters into my room through the pitiful slither of window I have.

I open the window, which stretches from floor to ceiling, and I am hit by a wall of heat emanating from my balcony. I used to marvel every day at the fact that I woke up in Barcelona, now I groan at the 25° degree heat at 7:30am and wonder when I’ll need to take a siesta because of the heavy, heavy heat.

I pad my way through the apartment and make myself a cup of tea, reminding myself that I need to ration my intake until my next visitor can bring me proper British teabags – my main request from any guest. I sit on my cupboard next to the window, sipping from my initialled mug, thinking pensively about the day ahead. I dread it. 

I dread the heat, and the fact I’ll have to change my clothes at least two or three times because I sweat through everything and I feel disgusting. I dread travelling from one end of the city to another, anxiety-filled journeys through the purple line to the green line to the red line and back again, all day. I dread the lessons I have to give, doubting whether I’m actually imparting any knowledge to my students, whether they’re learning anything or if they just show up because they have to. I dread mealtimes, because they only highlight how bad my relationship with food is, and how much worse it is in a different country. I dread counting out the cents in my purse, knowing I have to pitifully scrape by until next month’s pay. I know that even though I WhatsApp all day every day, I feel lonelier than I ever have before. 

By this point, maybe you’re thinking “you live in Barcelona, how bad can it be, really?”. Maybe these sound like trivial problems given everything that’s happening elsewhere in the world right now. Maybe you’re wondering how I can possibly bitch about the weather, how I can turn my nose up at the gorgeous Mediterranean diet, and hey, isn’t the cost of living so much lower than in the UK? And I understand it. Completely. I have friends who used to live abroad, their incredible photographs and details of their new lives and experiences used to litter my social media feeds, and I’d envy them. “Wow, look how lucky they are. I’d love to do that some day”. Now I’m living it, and honestly? I promise you, it’s no effin’ picnic. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Of course – Barcelona is incredible. A manifestation of cosmopolitanism and culture, vibrant and bustling and lovely. I have the chance to live a slower paced life, learn two languages, and experience so many new things. 

And while trying to make the most of all of that, it’s not the polished, Instagram-ready life that it might seem, and I’m fed-up of people glamourising my life from afar. My problems and worries and anxieties get pushed to one side by people, because again, how bad can life get when you live in Spain? I’m not taken seriously anymore, because I’m obviously just over-exaggerating and making a big deal out of nothing, and why don’t I just go to the beach and shake it off? 

raindrop sunset

Is it my fault? Have I posted one too many ‘OMG LOOK AT THIS’ pictures on my social media accounts? Have I flaunted a new life that isn’t all that it seems? Have I fooled you all, and in doing so, tried to fool myself? 

There’s been a lot of debate recently about how we view other people’s lives through the lens of social media, and how it’s unfair to make judgements and assumptions based on a square grid of pictures, calling social media the ‘highlight reel’ of someone’s life rather than an accurate representation of that person’s real life. My own Instagram feed is full of beautiful pictures of this place. It doesn’t document the days where I can’t stop crying, where I doubt myself and every choice I’ve made in the last six months, or the days where my anxiety is out of control because I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent this month. The days where I feel like I’m going to fall apart at the seams. 

They’re the times I don’t know how to document – it’s not that I don’t want to capture those moments – so often these are the times that shape and change us and that’s really important to me. I love reading blogs that are brutally honest and relateable and real. The ones that make you feel like no-one’s really got this whole life thing figured out, that sometimes the only thing we can do is put one step in front of the other and give it our best shot.

It’s why I took a break from blogging when I first arrived here and have been pretty quiet since I started again. I didn’t quite know how to write about this incredible opportunity when, at times, I truly felt so lost and miserable; when so many people asked “how is it? I bet it’s amazing!” and all I wanted to do was scream, “no, no it’s not, it’s really fucking awful!!”. I felt like I had to adopt this pretence, acknowledge how privileged I am to have this chance, to please and reassure the family members and friends who were worried about this move in the first place. Don’t worry them, I told myself. Stay strong. 

So often we look at these snippets of people’s lives and feel envious or roll our eyes when those that we think ‘have it all’ complain. I’m guilty of it too. I used to look at the bigger bloggers and think, stupidly, that the free holidays and endless free swag would in some part make up for their bad days. We do the same with Facebook, saturated with pictures and check-ins, and we forget about the people behind them. The people whose lives aren’t perfect, the people who struggle through their days. We forget to check-in on those people, to ask them how they’re feeling, disregarding any problems they mention as unimportant because what have they got to worry about? Life seems to be working out for them.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that people’s lives aren’t for us to glamourise. Of course, envying, comparison – we do these things naturally as human beings. But just because someone’s life might look shiny and flawless at times, it’s dismissive and careless to forget that we ALL have bad days, bad weeks, bad months – and that they happen no matter where you live, no matter how much money you have, or how beautiful your apartment is. Take a step back from the screens and remember the people who’re behind them.

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17 thoughts on “We need to stop glamourising other people’s lives

  1. THIS IS SO FREAKING TRUE. As a Canadian now living in England, some days are totally shit, when little things get overwhelming and everything seems hard. That’s the whole reason I started my blog was to show both sides, the highs and the lows – and there’s definitely lows! Good luck with your move, will definitely keep reading your experiences! 🙂

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  2. I found myself nodding along to a lot of this post – whilst I don’t live in another country, I do think there is a misunderstanding of how people are truly feeling as it’s easy to interpret their feelings from what they post online. From a very young age I’ve been conscious not to post about negative things online as I was told it can impact others around you. Because of this I don’t post when I’m having a truly bad day/week/month on Twitter and Facebook, and instead post something positive about my day, even if it’s small. So even though this year has been super tough, I’m starting to think others have taken my positivity to mean that I’m the best I’ve ever been! I completely agree that glamourising other’s lives can be damaging and understanding that everyone has personal things going on is really important. Thank you for this brilliant post!

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  3. This post made me want to hug you and shake your hand in equal measure! I think you are so right, with social media getting into every part of our lives these days it’s so easy to only see the good bits of life. Noone ever shows the tough times on instagram when you’re blotchy faced from crying because everything feels rubbish!
    Oh my goodness I am totally with you on the weather thing! I would be dying in that heat all the time.
    I hope things are more good than bad for you at the moment 🙂
    x

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  4. Thanks for writing about this – social media is such a brilliant opportunity to connect yet it is also incredibly difficult to remember that what we see is ‘life, curated’ – a summary of the best & most beautiful moments, which might not represent the ongoing reality that continues beyond the snapshot. So it is always great when I come across writers who remind us of that – and share both their lows and highs themselves.

    Keep writing 🙂
    Ksenia
    http://www.thelifedegree.com

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  5. This is so on point – being in an ‘enviable’ situation doesn’t automatically mean that all your insecurities and problems instantly disappear and your entire life becomes perfect. After university I spent 7 months travelling and everyone assumes that you’re having the time of your life 24/7, but there are always challenges and bad days. I hope things look up for you Rhian, and thank you for sharing such an honest post!
    ~ Kate xx

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  6. YES. this is something that a lot of people don’t seem to think about, that a lot of what we write about and post pictures of is our highlight reel. I’m moving to India in a month to teach and while I know most of my pictures will be of beautiful things I see and sunshine, it’s simply because I’m not going to post a picture of me lying beside my squat toilet when I’m completely ill and missing home in a place I’m not acclimatised too. And I’ll be guilty of looking on instagram and seeing my friends back home as they’re dressed to the nines about to go and sometimes wonder why I left in the first place. I know how lucky I am, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

    I think this is the first time I’ve come across your blog but I’ll definitely be coming back after reading this.it’s good to know you’re not the only one who feels this way.

    I loved this post wholeheartedly and I hope you make the most of your time in Barcelona. Sometimes it’s good to get out and be a tourist again, remember why you wanted to do this so badly in the beginning.

    Love,

    Anne

    http://www.aportraitofyouth.co.uk

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  7. First of all this is a really great post. It’s well written and clear that it’s come from the heart.

    I’m sorry that you’re going through a bad time. I imagine if I moved abroad I’d be terribly homesick and my anxiety would spiral.

    You’re right that often people trivialise others’ problems particularly when, as you say, they only share the best bits via social media.

    I’ve always shared my struggles through my social media and, more recently through my blog, and it’s been very cathartic plus provided me with a support network but I know it’s not an option for everyone.

    If you ever want to chat I’m @Vickatronic over on twitter.

    V

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  10. I’ve recently move to New Zealand from the UK, and I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve cried myself to sleep. I miss my family, my friends, my hometown, British life, Yorkshire, proper teabags!!! I know how you feel.
    But amongst these feelings I have the best feelings too, it really feels like home here, I love the lifestyle, the sun makes me happy, I love learning about a new culture and I feel pretty damn proud of myself that despite finding it hard, I’m still here, I’m doing my best, I’m making the most of it. Worst comes to worst home is still there and you can go back if you need to. That’s my thought.
    Keep at it, try make the most of it. You are learning, growing and all these experiences are going to help shape you.
    You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone, live in the moment & do yourself proud. It’s easy to say I know, but there’s so much joy to find.

    Steph xxx

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  11. Thank you for your honesty! My husband and I quit our jobs to go travel for a year, and 4 months in, we’re suuuuuper over it. Turns out we appreciate a stable life with reliable pay and a community of friends and family nearby a LOT more than we realized. We’re not going to throw our once in a lifetime chance away and go home, but we’re really looking forward to it being over. And it sounds so complainy when we tell people that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be! So I totally get what you’re feeling 😦

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  12. I love this article (and it’s so beautifully written!). Having just begun my blog I struggle with each post to try to infuse “reality” into my reports of places and experiences. The beauty in your experience is that you took a leap of faith, and living outside of your comfort zone for any period of time is going to be an immense struggle. I applaud you for doing it because so many lack the courage! I think we do owe it to one another to be honest about our experiences and not just present an overly glamorous view of the world — and do our best not to glamorize others’ lives, as you said. Let that be our charge. Thanks again for your honesty, all of your readers will benefit from it!

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  13. I absolutely agree with this post, and it’s just what I needed to read today. My husband and I are expats in Germany, but the entire experience of moving to Europe has been in many ways the worst decision of our lives. While we have amazing opportunities to travel, we’ve given up so much to be here and travel alone simply can’t replace family, friends, our house, hobbies, etc. Sometimes I feel like I can’t relate to friends and family back home because they don’t understand. Nor do I feel like I can relate to many of the “digital nomads” who are fresh-faced 20-somethings and move to a new place if they don’t like the current one. Not glamorizing their lives either, but living in a country that isn’t your own can be such an incredibly isolating experience. I appreciate your honesty, and hope things get better soon! As bad as some of our days have been, we’re trying to make the most of it. One day I know we’ll look back and the bad memories will have faded, leaving the best moments to shine. 🙂

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  14. There are always highs and lows as an expat, and the culture shock never ends…it just comes in waves. Sometimes those waves bowl you off your feet and other times they just rock you gently enough to remind you to keep your feet firmly on the ground. I try to embrace all of my experiences, expat and otherwise, the good and the bad, because sometimes its in those shittiest moments that the real gems appear.

    Good luck!

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  15. It’s true, there are days as an expat which are hard, so hard. You miss home, your culture, your friends and family. The weather can be extremely tough too, i live down in Seville and summers are so intense. I must say though that i do love my life as an expat​ an now i have my own family it’s a lot easier and more meaningful. Wish you all the best in Barcelona.

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