the icing or the cake

When it comes to cake, I prefer the icing more. In fact, when Mr. Lively and I stop by Molly’s Cupcakes, my treat of choice is an icing shot – which is a healthy dose of icing in a small plastic cup, sans cake. Though to some that might seem gross, to me it’s heavenly.

However, in real life, I’m finding that I need to keep my metaphorical love of icing in check. I’ve struggled with this before as well, I even wrote about it in my bio. In college I tried to be perfect and happy through physical “stuff” only to be disappointed and later to get my major a-ha moment – peeling back the layers of our lives leads to the most happiness – not adding to the layers.

Once I had this revelation I discovered my purpose, moved to Chicago, and have been promoting the benefits of making under ever since.

But recently I’m starting to notice that I now have two lenses with which I evaluate my life. The first lens is the lens of “The Real World,” the in-person experiences and relationships that I have. And the second lens is the “Online World,” which is comprised mostly of lifestyle blogs, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.

According to my Real World Lens I am doing fine – great even! I am grateful for all that I have in my life, I am thankful that I have a career and purpose that I’m passionate about, and I have a great relationship.

But my Online World lens tells me a different story. My Online World lens makes me feel not quite “enough.” Sure, what I have is nice, but my life could be so much better if I had bright colored jeans, a floral blazer, a puppy, a hunky husband, a baby on the way, and a knack for cooking and entertaining like Ms. Stewart.

Then my life would really be something. 

I get swept up in the beautiful images and their promises of perfection and forget all that I have learned from my Real World experience.

This needs to stop.

Photos online are more beautiful, styled, edited, Photoshopped, and professionally done than ever before. Inherently much of the photography that I consume online is telling a beautiful story that only depicts the icings of life.

And if I’m not careful, I find myself disrespecting the cake (read: substance) of my life. I trade my gratefulness for the dissatisfaction of never having enough icing.

My hope is by taking the time to share this with you that I’ll begin to re-program my values to go back to true North. That I’ll reconnect with the epiphanies I had in college and begin to apply them to my Online World lens as well.

Because I want to be in the icing, but not of it.

This Post Has 46 Comments

  1. DWJ

    Wow, what a wonderful way to put some perspective on life. I love Pinterest and photography but you are so right, so many people think that they have to become the people in the picture. I posted a picture today of my house, unstyled with my wrinkled cushions on my chair and it’s the happiest place in the world to me. It’s mine and it’s perfect and I try to feel that way about everything I bring into my life. Love this post!

  2. Paige

    I know exactly what you’re saying and I struggle with this, too. Here’s a question for you that I often find myself contemplating: If consuming all of this icing doesn’t make us feel good, why can’t we quit? (Your food analogy is so perfect here!) Wouldn’t we feel better if we just stopped reading these things and focused on the cake of life–the real things that make us happy and fulfilled every day? I keep telling myself that I should just unsubscribe if they don’t feel life-affirming….but it’s so darn hard. In some ways I feel like I’m supporting the bloggers by reading their posts and I’m afraid of missing out on something if I quit reading them. But there’s also the possibility that I’d focus less on what I don’t have and more on what I do if I’m not bombarded by this icing all the time. What’s your take? Why do you keep reading them if they don’t make you feel good?

  3. Rebecca

    You nailed it! When I step away from pintrest and the all rest, I feel great about my life. But when I get sucked into the world of perfect homes, outfits and well dressed babies, I suddenly feel like crap. I couldn’t put my finger on it- but you just did. More cake, less frosting. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jess

    So lovely to hear your thoughts on this, ladies!

    Paige, I think there is nothing wrong with consuming the icing for me personally, it’s just a matter of me keeping it in perspective and not overdoing it- I can eat icing in moderation and be healthy and not get a stomach ache. So my goal is not to cut it out, but just keep it in check. : )

  5. Molly

    I came here from Pinterest, and your post stuck a deep chord with me. I sometimes look at the three-tier cakes, the beautiful wedding dresses, and the people with their multiple iDevices, and I look around at my tiny college room with it’s bare essentials of giant tome-like books, real food, not nearly as many clothes and squashed beanbags, and I wonder why I thought I was happy in the first place.

    I feel like I should embroider and frame this: more cake, less icing!

  6. Helena

    I struggle with this in two ways. First – it can be SO HARD to look at skinny-minnies online and not feel like I’m enormous. I have to remind myself that they are airbrushed and whatnot. Also, I read (in Glamour?) to remind myself that it’s a model’s job to look good, and she likely devotes all day to it. I can’t do her job, necessarily, but could she do mine? It’s not meant to dismiss models as having easy jobs, but rather, to remind myself that we all have our place and purpose.

    Second, and this is a little silly, but I’m baby CRAZY lately. Seriously. I think it’s because I’m engaged and can’t help but think what a “little Will” would look like. But HELLO, I’m planning a WEDDING. I have SO much to be excited about and need to stay in the present. Babies will come in due time.

  7. Cheltz

    Great post. I’ve avoided Pinterest for this very reason, and I’ve recently started cutting back on FB. There was definitely a draw during down time, to check in and not miss anything, but it’s over now, and I’m getting so much done without it! Makes me wonder if I should cut out more.

  8. Helena

    With Facebook and all, you have to keep in mind that people are WAY more likely to post something like “Look at my awesome vacation!” than “another ear infection. crap!” in their timeline. I know it’s hard to keep in mind when it looks like everyone’s life is so awesome… but appearances are deceiving!

  9. Jess

    Helena, agreed! I threw Facebook in there because I use it and I know other people struggle with comparisons there. But for me I do my “icing binges” on lifestyle blogs more than anything. Gotta keep it in check. : )

  10. Lisa

    Totally relate! I can feel successful and happy with where I am in life until I start comparing myself to other bloggers who seem to have it all. It’s always good to remind myself that I’m where I’m supposed to be and there’s a reason my track is different. I also have to regularly remind myself that I don’t need every amazing thing I find on blogs because I’m saving room in my life for the right things for me.

  11. “I want to be in the icing, but not of it.” This is SO great, Jess. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about comparison and how killer it is – your metaphor expresses it perfectly. It’s all about where you place your value, and it’s all to easy to forget what’s really important! Thanks so much for sharing.

  12. Great post. It’s interesting, now working for myself full time, I’m obviously on a much more stringent budget. I haven’t been able to spend as frivolously as I was when I had a steady income stream. This means I can’t give in to those temptations that dangle in front of me everyday in the blog world. But the funny part? Eliminating this as an option for my life hasn’t left me wanting (like it used to, when I had the means to shop without as much care). I’ve had to spend more time peeling those layers back, prioritizing what will make me happy and be the best course of action for my life and my business, and the results have been so gratifying. More than I ever thought possible! It’s funny how taking away what I THOUGHT was icing has led to the REAL icing underneath. Like fondant on top of buttercream. Which is not culinarily possible, but you know what I mean. 🙂

  13. Hey Jess,

    Beautiful icing metaphor, thanks for sharing !

    I love Pinterest, it’s a beautiful and powerful tool but has definitly to be laid a critical eye upon! I use it to promote green living and voluntary simplicity, and I have quite a folowing. So I guess I’m not the only one who wants to be reminded of the essentials (the cake) in life!

    The bare cake can be beautifully styled, too!


  14. Bettina

    I totally know what you mean, I’m in a constant state of why doesn’t my apartment look like that… And, I really need to stop it because I love my comfy apartment with the BF and our dog, so why do I immediately spot someone else’s stylish abode and feel like mine is sub-par when 15 minutes ago I was happy at home. I need to strip down as well, so recently I started writing down 5 positive thoughts and 5 things I accomplished that day every night before I go to bed, things that really matter, like what made me happy that day and what made me feel productive.

  15. Liz

    This post was so refreshing to read. I find myself feeling this way, like I am constantly competing to be a better version of me through the internets {which is just silly}, quite often. Thank you for reminding me to take a breathe, step back, and be happy with all of the wonderful things that I have!

  16. Jess

    Thank you all so much for sharing your own experiences with (or without) these feelings! I hope we all can get just a little bit better about being in but not of the online frosting.

  17. Patti

    I love this post! It is very true and I find that it can be a struggle to trying to eliminate the thoughts that “‘i am not enough” because it is not true at all! Thanks!!

  18. Jess, I so get this!!! When I step back and look at all I have accomplished in life I feel great. Then I start comparing myself with the online world and feel inadequate. This post is a wonderful lesson for us all!!

  19. jen v

    amen to this! i struggle with this all the time. thanks for a post that really hits home.

  20. I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you for posting this. It’s SO hard not to compare in the blogosphere. I do it ALL the time and I end up feeling awful. I shouldn’t. You shouldn’t. Let’s celebrate us in all our authenticity instead. I love it.

  21. Amanda

    Thank you for writing this post Jess. You have inspired many of us to open our hearts and lives up to our readers and draw back the curtain from the “perfect” world of bloggers. I have been so inspired by you and the others who have followed since Ez’s challenge. You have a new fan in me!

    I wrote my own response to this post. You can read it here if you like:

  22. Haylee

    Oh my gosh thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I relate to this post so much and I have to say, it is incredibly refreshing to hear that another blogger feels the same way, a talented/creative one at that. This is the one thing that makes me hate blogs. It can be so depressing! To see all of the amazingness of everybody else’s creativity and then to leave the page feeling so.. worthless, defeated, untalented. It’s the same way with Facebook, I swear on my life that there really and truly is such a thing as Facebook Depression. So yes let me first just say that 1. I can completely relate, and 2. thank you so much for being open about this and writing a blog post about it.

  23. Jen

    This post was so timely for me. It is easy to get caught up in that online world and forget that it is sometimes a lot of “smoke and mirrors”. Thank you for reminding us what is real is a better measure for our happiness.

  24. Kate

    what a fantastic article. so very true! it is so important to remember that we are not always seeing the whole story online.

  25. Duaa

    I love the way you compared reality to icing and cake..wonderful way to look at it and it makes it easy to understand.I can completely relate to your situation.I feel like the world online is so perfect and in comparison, I hate my becomes so boring and drab and horrible…thanks for the beautiful really helps.

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