Laura Callaghan calls out the curated positivity we’re surrounded by on social media and puts it all into perspective with her illustrated ‘Aspirational’ series.
It’s no question that our social media feeds are constantly inundating us with an onslaught of motivational imagery and quotes, demonstrating what our #goals should be or intending to guide us in the quest to find the holy grail of wellbeing. Like common mantras of self-help or life-coaching, these so-called inspirational quotes combine with the curated imagery of others’ dutifully healthy and upbeat lives to create a self-enclosed world dominated by an expectation of positivity and self-improvement. This philosophy of the self as a project to be “worked on” implies that we, too, could achieve a perfectly balanced body and mind if we do this self-work in the right way. Laura Callaghan calls out this shaky doctrine, humorously showing how ridiculous it is by juxtaposing her amazing illustrations of life’s everyday banalities with common aspirational mantras.
Disregarding the cognitive dissonance that has to occur when there is both a self to work on as well as another self that does this work, the “mind over matter” proposition so frequently espoused throughout our feeds can unfortunately have the unintended result of creating a type of aspiration meritocracy. In other words, the failure to properly revise our inner thoughts and feelings in order to align with the curated lifestyles and conspicuous happiness in our social media feeds, is above all a personal failure. If you feel exhausted, cranky or burned-out, you have only yourself to blame. As Laura explained to Dazed, “Now that it’s possible to curate our lives and how we present ourselves to the outside world I think we hold each other up to impossible standards. It’s now possible to edit out the shit and difficult parts of life and leave in those posts about success and happiness.” In this way Laura suggests that although positive or aspirational thinking may often be associated with success in our minds, it is in fact driven by a terrible insecurity: “When we’re surrounded by posts depicting people’s perfect lives it’s easy to forget what’s real, what is disingenuous and to feel like you are the one failing.”
In our always-online #wokeuplikethis world, being positive and mentally/physically self-disciplined is not only normal, it has become normative. We’re expected to impose it upon ourselves. And we do: we hold ourselves to incredibly high and often unachievable standards in terms of beauty and lifestyle. This proves very profitable for companies selling what we need in order to keep-up-appearances or market this aspirational lifestyle back to us. “It feeds into a larger issue of our identities being packaged and sold to us, you can just post the ethos you want to subscribe to and let the world know how you feel through someone else’s words,” as Laura says. This need to keep-up-appearances, particularly within the realms of social media, can be stressful and exhausting, yet paradoxically empty and unfulfilling at its core: “Instagram feeds have become a sea of profound statements used with wild abandon. When these bits of advice or encouragement are applied to real life situations they are useless, the meaningful becomes meaningless.”