“pinterest perfect”


I’ve had this Pinterest picture bookmarked for several months. I knew I wanted to talk about it, but didn’t quite have the message yet.

However, in this Thursday’s episode of The Lively Show, I talk with Erin Gates of Elements of Style and she said the exact phrase that explains this image perfectly:

“Pinterest Perfect.”

The reason I originally pinned it is because I think this image says a lot about social media, particularly Instagram and Pinterest.

When we look at the image we might think,

“Oh, what a pretty photo.”

Or, “Oh, what a pretty photo. Those girls are very pretty.”

Or, “Oh, what a pretty photo. Those girls are very pretty. I could never pull off the cut of that swimsuit.”

Or, “Oh, what a pretty photo. Those girls are very pretty. I could never pull off the cut of that swimsuit and I’ve never been that happy at the beach. I don’t measure up.”

Depending on the day – or our personality – this image could be a nice piece of inspiration or something that adds to feelings of inadequacy.  

But when you take a second look it hits you:


This is a photo of a girl videotaping another girl wearing a blazer on a beach jumping up and down like she’s just won the lottery.


This is what a lot (but not all) of social media can feel like.

One the one hand we have reality: the girl in the black suit who looks pretty, is pleasantly happy, and wearing appropriate beach clothing.

And on the other hand we have social media: a girl wearing a black blazer on a presumably hot and sandy beach jumping as if she has never been happier in her life.

Will this unrealistic image make for good pins on social media?


In fact, this exact image has over 4,100 notes and shares.

Even though the image isn’t based on a realistic day at the beach, it gets tons of shares in social media.

Probably more than if the two girls were just walking along together sans blazer and euphoric jumping jacks.

Which is why the photo was made in the first place. And why much of the most popular content on Pinterest and Instagram is so curated and beautiful.

Of course there are also many realistic and popular aspects of social media, too. But those aren’t the parts that bum us out and make us feel like we don’t measure up.

So perhaps the next time we find an image of a recipe, home, outfit, or trip that looks too good to be true, we can just see it for what it is:

A pretty picture of a girl wearing a blazer at the beach.

Not reality, but fun to look at.


PS – Like this post? Check out The Lively Show episode with Erin Gates of Elements of Style that inspired it!


photo via

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  1. I love this! Definitely makes you want to take a second, deeper look at photos and take them for what they are. Let’s stop trying to measure up to all those staged, posed, perfected images on social media. I think we will all be happier for it ; )

    1. Exactly! We aren’t asked to measure up. Simply to enjoy the beauty of the photo and move on (if we are able to avoid feeling negatively about ourselves in the process). : )

  2. This is so good. Wow. I’ll definitely be keeping it in mind every time I look at an image on social media from now on. And sadly, I’m probably just as guilty of creating images for the internet that are as absurd as a girl jumping around on a beach in a blazer. Something to think about.

    1. Exactly! It’s not to say that it’s “good” or “bad” that these images exist, or that we may even create them from time to time. The point is to make sure we keep a healthy understanding of the fact that they aren’t always “reality” per se, but more of a beautiful thing to look at… and not necessarily aspire to.

  3. Great reminder! I don’t find myself experiencing “pinterest envy” often, but sometimes I really get sucked into Instagram Envy! (Like why can’t I have a professional photographer following me around capturing every laugh? Why isn’t my studio super pretty with lots of natural light? Why is my kid always half naked so I can’t post videos of her singing and dancing?) I’m going to try looking at my Instagram feed differently today. Instead of seeing those well-styled well-lit images and saying “Why not me?” I’m going to look at them as women doing jumping jacks on the beach in blazers!

    1. For sure!

      And we can also keep in mind that there is a scale between the realistic and unrealistic, too. Not every pretty photo is specifically “unreal,” there is a range (which sometimes makes the pinterest/instagram envy a little more difficult to decipher).

      1. Totally! I love the idea of looking at instagram as just a place to enjoy some pretty pictures. Well and from time to time I actually get a pretty photo and love to put it on instagram for other people to enjoy! I certainly wouldn’t want someone to be jealous. So it’s just time for a perspective change. I try to just follow people I really like–so I doubt they’re really saying “Look at my life! Be jealous of me!” They’re probably just saying “Hey here’s a pretty photo to enjoy!”

        1. Exactly! Well said. I don’t think many people are ever trying to “make” people jealous. As Aimee mentioned in another comment, it is how we feel about something, not how the other person wanted to make us feel.

  4. bp

    So true. I love fantasy shots & images that make me smile about the joy in life whether styled or not. It’s fun to be inspired rather than to lose perspective and get down on one’s self for not being part of that life.

    1. Exactly! It can be a tricky balance sometimes (at least for some of us). But it sounds like you’ve got a great handle on it!

  5. TJ

    Sidenote, when will the Erin Gates podcast be up? Thanks Jess! 🙂

  6. I didn’t even notice the blazer at first glance! You’re so right, the images that attract me on social media are often very weird and unrealistic if you actually look at them.

  7. Love this post and thanks for writing it. I find myself overwhelmed sometimes by images on Pinterest and Instagram. I have to actually unfollow bloggers that I like because I get way too distracted swooning over their pretty pictures. This posts reminds me that I need to consciously unplug, not compare myself to others (whether it be my body, my career, my home, my bank account, my social life, or my wardrobe), and be present and thankful for the life that I do lead. My life is far from perfect but when I think about my husband who I adore, my sweet puppy, and my soon-to-be-born baby boy, I know I did something perfectly right. Looking forward to your podcast with Erin!

    1. Aw, this is so lovely, Meg! Congrats on your little boy! : )

      It’s great to hear you choose what is right for you when unplugging and consuming social media.

    2. Sara B

      I totally agree Meg! I have done the same thing.. sometimes looking at someone’s “pretty” life and pictures can get sickening and I just have to pull the plug and focus on my own blessed reality 🙂 It might not be photogenic, but it is real and lovely!

    3. jasilee

      Serious question- if you unplug from comparing yourself to others on Pinterest, do you do the same in real life? Is it something people can turn off? I see this all over the internet and I really don’t get it.

  8. dawn@joyfulscribblings

    What a wake up call. I didn’t notice the blazer at first. Looking at Instagram and Pinterest can be like looking at a magazine. I enjoy looking at beautiful images, but I need to keep in mind someone has spent hours styling most of the images. As a blogger I need to remember my intention should always be to bring out the beauty in things, but not so perfect that it’s unrealistic. Ironically one of my most pinned recipes is one that wasn’t styled and isn’t the greatest picture.

    1. That’s great to hear, Dawn! I agree, it’s not so much about making things look unrealistic, but just keeping in mind that we enjoy beauty and exceptional things and need to remember that not all of them represent most common reality.

      And, like you mentioned, not everything that gets shared a ton looks unrealistic, either.

  9. Whoa. This is brilliant, Aimee! I *love* this perspective.

    I never have looked at the phrase “make me feel” that way before, and I believe that I meant overall that “we end up feeling ___ / choose to feel ___” from our own accord, like you mentioned. But the same time, even in writing the phrase, it twists my own imagination about what is happening.

    It’s always our lens that causes the problems, not the other way around.

    Thank you so much for helping to clarify that for us and for helping me to understand the power of phrases like that at a whole new level. : )

      1. Well said, Aimee! I am so glad you brought this up. It’s something I’m going to pay attention to in my own language in the future.

  10. This topic of conversation is so dear to my heart … as I continue to try and take a perfect photo of my food that I’ve painstakingly created. No one wants to see the badly lit photo of my olive fried rice, so I say “forget it” and don’t share the really amazing recipe. I think it’s great to have the discussion about reality and measuring up!

    1. I know. It is sad that the most beautiful images tend to get the most shares and attention, which is what pushes many people to keep moving towards the “perfect” end of the scale – they simply want to share and make a bigger difference.

      Eventually, though, it can end up doing the opposite.

  11. i love this post jess. i didnt even NOTICE the blazer! all i saw was the happy/jumpy part….which did feel a little staged. it’s soooo important for women (and men!) to remember that LOTS of photographs on social media are thought-out (even created!) to be “perfect” and it’s okay if it cannot be replicated. MOST of the stuff i cook does not look as pretty as pinterest food but it sure does taste good! and that’s what really matters. xo jillian

  12. emily_annadelores

    The era of blogging and social media can feel SO staged and contrived! We’re all trying so hard to portray ourselves in a perfect, idealistic way. We want everyone else to think our lives are happy and magical and perfect. Everything is so curated. And it makes it pretty, so I guess it’s okay, as long as we don’t accept it as objective reality! It’s certainly subjective sharing, and I try to remind myself of this if I ever feel jealous of whatever is in someone else’s Instagram feed. 🙂

    1. I agree; it has become over-staged.

      But I think many do accept it as reality, just as they accept it as reality that celebrities wake up with hair and make up done and the perfect words for any question. People don’t think about the staff of 20 professionals who make it all happen.

      Will the over staging come back to bite? I wonder.

      People see the end result and not necessarily all the prep to get there.

      As a health and fitness writer for those over 35ish, I can tell you I workout harder today at 48 than I did at 28. I’m just beginning to do YouTube posts for workouts, and I am real. I don’t have a perfect body, but I run 1/2s with a smile. I get out of breath lifting, but if you are working it – that is reality. I sweat – and it isn’t always pretty. And I don’t wear make up when I workout.

      As I look at my community, I love the pretty photos, but I trust content of the photos that are less staged.

      I’ve tried to live by the tenant that authentic content – both photographs and words – will get you where you want to be. Perhaps that is the reality of a great pin. I’ll never have to look back and say – that wasn’t real.

      So show me your olive fried rice and all the other posts you decided not to share! I want the recipes!

      Have a great day! – Chris

  13. Thank you so much for this post, Jess! What a great way to look at social media — taking the step back and naming the photos and messages as the really are, instead of attaching our emotional response to them.

    I look forward to viewing pins, tweets, and instagram pics in this way from now on!!

  14. thebookofjimmy

    Maybe to help even things out a bit, when repinning we could create more appropriate captions, like you did with your last note (“A pretty picture of a girl wearing a blazer at the beach.”) It doesn’t have to be snarky (though I do enjoy those for a laugh here and there), but if it’s a little more honest like that it might help folks not get too sucked into pinterest envy when they repin or like.

  15. Such a great explanation Jess. I was thinking lately that the most
    needed (apparently) job of the moment is “stylist” because everything
    needs styling these days and absolutely everything seems to look better
    with something more added…And this goes on and on, summing up that
    nothing would ever be enough in any single aspect of life, something
    more if always missing for the perfect picture…So sad, so true and
    everyone might feel less or more guilty, once realizing it, be it the
    ones who stylize or the ones that admire styled pictures…All this
    metaphorically and literally speaking…

    1. Well put.

      Though I’m not sure something more is always needed for a great photo, I can see the need to have a discerning eye to get the best shots if you are looking for the “perfect” shot. Thankfully, there are people putting content out there that doesn’t need or require this level of thought and still resonates. : )

  16. jasilee

    I really don’t understand why people find satisfaction from putting disclaimers on beautiful pictures. If someone feels shamed or inadequate looking at something beautiful it’s obviously an issue within that needs to be fixed. This sort of nonsense is steps away from book burning and other irrational censorship.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Jasilee! I appreciate it.

      I don’t think myself or anyone else was asking for censorship with photos on the part of the poster, just a suggested way to look at photos for what they are — without attaching emotions or comparison if it becomes an issue for the viewer.

  17. jasilee

    Um.. YES! We are each totally responsible for the envy we feel for others nice-somethings. But people of the internet are so inclined to jumping on the bully-bandwagon (a train that is so horribly real and deserves real attention) and calling out people with nice somethings for shaming those without. There are true bullies out there following and hounding and hurting people. We must absolutely take responsibility for how we frame this envy.

  18. Cariemay

    It’s a very fine line isn’t it, between wanting to be the very best version of yourself, and going so far that reality gets left behind. Though I’ll admit my first thought was along the lines of “she can’t be getting very much of her friend in shot” and that’s a whole nother level of unreality!

  19. Heather

    The whole ‘pinterest perfect’ conversation definitely has it’s place. But this photo is from a J Crew catalogue. It was styled by a team of professionals and put together… to sell bathing suits, blazers, and a lifestyle… by a retail outlet.

    I think the more important point is that the Pinterest users who try to attain ‘pinterest perfect’ status are forcing themselves to meet and maintain the level of perfection (which is really just professionalism), but in everyday things.

    Is there any reason the you should beat your self up because your one year old’s birthday doesn’t look like those on Pinterest – Pinned from Martha Stewart? No. Because the party that Martha Stewart put together was actually dreamed up and put together by a team of professional designers, decorators and stylists with a huge budget – and that is their job.

    I do agree with the concept to a point. But comparing professionally styled/created content to user-generated content is not comparing apples to apples.

    1. Thank you SO much, Heather, for identifying the source of the image! I wasn’t able to figure out where it came from. So I knew the photo was probably professional, but I didn’t have context for it. Knowing it’s from J.Crew makes it feel totally different. You’re so right.

      What’s also interesting, though, is that there are many wonderful photos like this put out by bloggers and individuals everyday. Not just Martha or J.Crew. And those photos are the ones where many people can feel like they don’t measure up.

      But you are right, particularly when we see mega companies putting out incredible stuff we don’t need to compare oranges to apples. But sometimes comparing user-generated apples and apples can can feel just as isolating.

      1. Heather

        Totally. You hit the nail on the head… “wonderful photos like this put out by bloggers and individuals everyday. Not just Martha or J.Crew. And those photos are the ones where many people can feel like they don’t measure up.”

        It is the blogger masquerading as the graphic designer – the shopper with an eye for colour masquerading as a fashion expert, and so on. They have some skill, they are taking initiative and posting their content… we recognize it as ‘better than normal’, yet there is something off *just* enough that we know it isn’t professionally done. Just enough that we associate ourselves with them, as other like minded everyday creative folks. And therefore compare ourselves to them. You are right. The problem isn’t living up to the professionals. It’s living up to the people who are trying to portray themselves as equals of the professionals.

        These professional photos (of professionally generated content) have always existed. They were in martha mag before they were on pinterest. And the number of domino images on Pinterest is unbelievable and it folded before Pinterest began.
        Pinterest has just become the holder of all of these images. Good and bad, professional and not…

        1. Thanks for your thoughts on this. Though I politely disagree with your definition of professionals excludes small business owners. I don’t think there is anything ‘less’ professional about someone who works for themselves and makes a living as a graphic designer or stylist if they pay the rent and provide great value for their clients through that skill.

          For example, I have a very “fancy” business degree at one of the top B-Schools (UofM Ross School of Business) and learned *very* little about running a business – less than I learned from starting my own jewelry business at the age of 15 based on trial and error that lasted 14 years and made six figures in revenue.

          Many other small biz owners fall in this same camp, and I don’t think that makes them less “professional” than someone else who has a position at a company (though this can be a topic of debate online for sure).

          That said, the budget and team behind something like JCrew or Martha is indeed much different than a solopreneur in terms of the image content that this post discussed specifically.

          So I don’t think it’s about who is professional and who is not in terms of the concept I wanted to share in this post. It’s about whether we think the images we see online are a peek into the full reality of the people behind those images, or not.

  20. Malorie Bertrand

    Great post! You captured the this topic so well and so simply. So long as people can remind themselves that what they see on social media isn’t real, for the most part, I hope they don’t measure themselves against it.

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