In the photo folder on my computer, I have a little file tucked away inside that’s meant for my eyes only. I’d like to say they’re full of boudoir shots or pictures of me having sexy time with my husband. But the truth, is they’re even better: they’re filled with snaps of my kids sobbing, sitting on the toilet, picking their nose, or posed in a way that’s inarguably hilarious to everyone but them.
Then there are the photos on my Facebook page, which show my children wrapped like adorable burritos directly after bathing, or in our flower-filled garden immediately after they’ve put on a clean dress. There are also photos of them cuddling with their grandparents, reading to puppies in an animal shelter (yes, really), and generally looking darling and delicious.
It’s the latter photos that tend to make parents enraged. Or envious. Or exhausted. Because as we all know, very few people are as honest in their social media feeds as they are with themselves behind closed doors. And for moms in particular, this fact can be particularly disheartening. When you’re sometimes overworked, under-appreciated, and devoid of free time to pee alone and then you see glimpses of other families’ seemingly perfect lives, it can feel isolating and defeating, as if everyone else knows the secret to doing it right, while you’re clearly doing something wrong.
Of course that’s not the case; usually we’re more alike than we are different. But feelings aren’t facts, and when the photos show something close to perfection, and they seem to be never-ending, it can hurt way more than it helps.
It’s that very particular feeling that makes “Sham of the Perfect” absolutely, well, perfect. It’s a project wherein photographers from around the world regularly share photos aimed at tearing “down the sham of perfection shown in more idyllic work and present life, parenthood, families, childhood, and home as it actually is; full of flaws and full of beauty simultaneously.”
The photos on their website, Facebook, and Instagram accounts feature catastrophic messes; dirty faces, feet, and clothes; and bare butts and boo-boos. And they show real emotions — from playtime to eating time to everyday life as it’s being lived — and how it’s being lived — not posed moments that seem plucked from a catalogue or magazine. Sleeping, crying, laughing, hugging, pouting, bickering, napping, kissing, jumping, and generally just being in a beautifully relatable way.
Erika Roa, Lacey Monroe, and Natasha Kelly initiated the project in 2014 after taking a visual storytelling photography course online. They told The Huffington Post they’d all been criticized for “having frames that weren’t ‘clean enough’ or ‘free of distractions,'” which frustrated them.
“If our images had to be tidy,” Roa said, “[then] we’d never be able to shoot in our own homes, and if our homes were ever tidy enough to shoot in, then the images would seem completely dishonest years from now.”
That was the moment when they turned their lenses to those closest to them to “examine what it means to be a family in today’s world.” They didn’t want only grinning babies and toddlers with perfectly combed hair strolling on the beach.
“We knew that was not what our lives looked like and we thought there would be others out there who also yearned for more honest depictions of family life,” Monroe told The Huffington Post.
Eventually they reached out to other visual storytellers and their group is now 15 strong, with photographers contributing from Australia, the U.K., Canada, and the United States. Their goal is to “encourage parents to embrace the chaos.” Because everyone has it, even if no one else ever sees it.
“I don’t want someone to feel like they are not enough or failing because their home life doesn’t look picture perfect,” Monroe told The Huffington Post.
Speaking with Babble, Roa also shared just how positive the response has been so far to the project, and why she thinks it’s resonated with so many:
“I get the impression that so many parents are excited to see these sorts of images coming from people connected with the photography industry, which also happens to produce those classically pristine stock images of well-dressed children playing quietly on white couches,” she says. “And while that pristine image can be an authentic moment, it’s not what makes up the meat and potatoes of parenting. We are taking all those other moments that haven’t been considered pretty enough to share, pulling them out of the dark, dusting them off, and saying, ‘This, this is reality and it’s part of what makes family so wonderful. It deserves to be celebrated too.’ And that message that is truly universal.”
Amen to that.
h/t: The Huffington Post