The Hot Travel Girl on Instagram

You know exactly who I mean. She’s stupidly gorgeous, effortlessly flawless, and has abs that would impress Hercules.

She’s fashion-forward and gets just the right angle, lighting, and “candid” quality in every.single.photo. And we all worship and revile her. She has at least one picture with her hand cradling a beautiful brimmed hat overlooking some amazing destination you’ve probably never been to and maybe haven’t heard of. The girl crush is intense.

She has one picture flat on her back, wading in the most turquoise ocean you’ve ever seen, tits (taut and tan) pointed to the sky, arms delicately sprawled away from a bikini that costs more than your rent, toes pointed, and she’s every wet mermaid dream you’ve ever had. She’s breathtaking in the photo of the sun glistening on her shoulders. She’s adorable with her perfect face of fresh makeup on “travel day” as she coquettishly teases, “forgive the messy bun!”

Oh shut up, will you? We know that you know that the whole damn world knows that you are the hot travel girl on Instagram. You get the all likes and follows and thumbs up. You get the sponsorships and merch. You are well read in the art of false humility; you embody immaculate vanity. You are the masquerade we all want so desperately to be invited to.

We want to be where you are, live in that dress, look as fit at you. If we could eat you, we would; you’re that delicious. We want you to be our best friend, our sister, ourselves. We want to magically transform like Sailor Moon into you: a shampoo-commercial-like goddess with really amazing white teeth and the cutest effing dog and/or boyfriend in the world.

And everytime we look at you we see an impossible ideal for ourselves, a filtered half-truth from the start. Our rose-tinted screens and abounding insecurity will lead is to imitate you or hate on you, but only very rarely admit how crappy you make us feel.

The before & after of me at Big Buddha in Thailand during monsoon season. I got a nasty ear infection. #fabulous #smexxy #myhairwaveshello

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I’ll never be the hot travel girl on Instagram. I’m not tall, thin, or breathtakingly gorgeous. Most of my clothes were given to me by my grandmother. I can’t afford that fancy rooftop restaurant and I work during the week. When you said, “let’s exercise!” I was excited because I thought you said “extra fries.” But I know that Instagram girl personally.

I’ve traveled with her, taken her photos. I’ve painstakingly waited for the EXACT moment to click the button for that “candid” shot of her laughing while her hair blows in the breeze or she’s mid-jump in front of a major landmark. I’ve helped pick out her filters and I’ve seen her on Facebook and Pinterest. I’ve had deep conversations with her about how she too feels insecure and never good enough. She’s told me how her hair could be better, her body more sexy, her captions more creative.

She’s scrolling through an entirely professional league of Instagramers and travel bloggers. Sometimes, there are brief glimpses of relief and glee that sweep over her expression when a photo turns out JUST SO, but as soon as it’s posted she checks it over and over for flaws or likes. Other people’s opinions of it decide it’s worth, not hers, not mine. As easily as she gets her hopes up, they are dashed. She gets great reviews too — thousands in fact. But as always she wants to get more and more and more lest she falls behind in the race no one wins.

My husband frequently says, “comparison is the thief of joy.” He’s fond of tossing it out when he sees me scrolling through social media. I don’t know when his affirmation suddenly meant less than the impersonal cyber affirmation of my social media cohort. I only know that a little “ding” gives me familiar butterflies and his persistent, lavish compliments never convince me I’m as pretty or desirable as the hot Instagram travel girl.

So he very patiently angles the phone within a centemeter of my exact specifications, sits, kneels, squats, leans, stands and snaps pictures of me that will never convince me of my worth. I’ll like one in a hundred and decide I’m too ashamed of my curves, my flaming red hair, my basic attire. I’ll waste precious time editing myself to be whatever I think They want. I answer the question never asked, “No, they won’t like me more. I’ll try another filter, another cropping, another picture that better hides my assets and my ass.” It’s a cyclical disease. We both know this. But he loves me, so he continues to try and get the picture that will finally confirm what he believes about me.

My husband is insatiably kind and steadfastly emotionally stable, but has his limits. “You get 5 photos” he’ll say and snap 15. He doesn’t ‘do’ social media. He needs no one’s approval. He tells me I’m crazy when I am. He’s brutally honest and says “your hair is a hot mess” flippantly. He showers me with compliments nearly every day. He never hesitates to say I’m the most beautiful woman in the world, and online, and I should turn off my phone and close my laptop so he can prove it.

But I still want to be the hot travel girl on Instagram — for him as much as for me.

And I could sit here and lie to you, saying our socialization is completely to blame, that the double-standard for women controls my personal emotions. But that’s a half-truth, like so many I consume on a daily basis. The nasty truth is: discontentment is familiar and more comfortable than self-acceptance.

Partly, sure, it’s because I’m regularly informed that my body, hair, face, style (pick something a corporation can make money off of) is never good enough. But mostly, I choose to compare myself and rather than conclude that I’m so ‘valuable’ and ‘love myself so much’ I should get in shape, travel, buy a wardrobe, etc. I try to copy that which doesn’t exist and will never be me.

I choose to be unhappy when I decide to let a device, app, or another person (even my sweet hubby) determine my value. How I look matters less than what I love. Piety is prettier than petty poised pictures. Kindness is hotter than the Caribbean sun on her shoulders. Intelligence is sexier than that adorable billowing dress she wore overlooking the Greecian blue-topped cliffside. But woa, that is such an incredible place!

Who I am and what I fight for should be more on display than the dots I’m collecting all over the map. But if you ask a single one of my Facebook friends about me, they won’t tell you I’m strong or funny, but where in the world I’m currently at.

I’m not the hot travel instagram girl. You know exactly who I mean. It may be surprising, but I’ve decided I’m going to instead try to be the best me. I want to try each day to not worship her; I hope you’ll try with me too. Pretty isn’t pretty if it’s just not “you.”

I hope what’s captured along the way is how much I love people, poetry, good food, art and adventure; I hope I capture memories and moments before they’re all gone. I hope I can picture myself giving more than I take, learning more than I teach, encouraging more than I compare. I hope I seek out great company instead of artifical or shallow friendships. I want to follow the path in the woods because it brings me peace, not get followers and bee stings trying to shoot a fake scene.

I hope I can learn to say “thank you” when someone goes out of their way to be sincerely kind, and mean it. I hope the Instagram girl is as happy and fulfilled as she seems and that she gets a drink with her dear friends who remind her how beautiful she is every time she forgets.

I hope you know that you are so worthy of love, wherever you are, whatever you’re wearing, no matter how many ‘followers’ you have. I hope you know that I’ve felt how you do and you’re not alone. But more than anything, I wish for you to be fulfilled and growing and that you will struggle like me to choose contentment and feel empowered to be quite simply: you. It is the thing you can do better than anyone else.

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