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What do you really need to know about other people? They’re putting on a front

Brianna Parkins: It’s tiring hearing your inner voice say ‘do better’ every time you see a fitness blogger’s fridge or someone you went to school with go on a fancy holiday

One of the most comforting discoveries in life is realising, sooner or later, that everyone is full of sh*t.

There are some caveats that go with this obviously. It’s not a comfort, for example, to find out your partner doesn’t love you, never did and has a second family funded from your siphoned-off life savings.

No, this is about coming to the understanding that none of us have a life that is truly as good as it looks on the outside.

As tempting as it is to lean into being an older woman and blame social media for tricking us into thinking everyone has nicer kitchens, more organised wardrobes and better morning routines for productivity, it’s wrong.


All of the apps make it easier for people to fake shiny, happy, colour-co-ordinated lives, one choreographed and colour-graded piece of content at a time.

But the pressure to be perfect existed before all of that newfangled technology. Going off housekeeping manuals and advertisements from the 1950s, the correct way to be a woman involved vacuuming in high heels – keeping yourself and the house presentable at all times. But that wasn’t the reality, with women living much more nuanced lives behind the Technicolour nostalgia.

The “tradwives” phenomenon on TikTok, where women advocate for old-fashioned roles in the home, sells a return to an era where the house was clean, the kids were cared for, couples didn’t fight and no one left the house in see-through leggings because that’s all that was clean.

Sounds tempting, but this was also the time women weren’t allowed to fully participate in the workforce after marriage. They were also legally prescribed amphetamines to “slim down” and tranquillisers to “calm down”. I’d have straight vacuum lines down the carpet every day too, if I was out of it on pills and had to distract myself from the fact that marital rape was legal. While good homemaking was a choice for some, was it equally a survival skill for others?

Today, so much joy, time and self-esteem is sacrificed at the altar of “getting it together”. As if your life is an unruly bunch of sticks that just needs to be bundled up, tied with a ribbon and put on display as a “reclaimed” centrepiece in an influencer’s modern farmhouse-themed home.

There is something to be said for giving your friends and family the gift of honesty, at least sometimes

I have been “getting it together” for 20-odd years now. At what point are all the things got and sufficiently togethered? When can I stop being mean to myself? It’s quite tiring hearing your inner voice say “do better” every time you see a fitness blogger’s fridge or a co-worker’s clean car or someone you went to school with go on a fancy holiday. Those happiness, wealth, love and career goals are supposedly within your grasp, if you just write some more lists and do some more things. Endlessly.

Despite what the people flogging you exercise regimes, cookbooks, drawer organisers and books on boardroom success say, nobody has it all together. Most of us are putting on a front just to get through the day.

Being a journalist means being granted proximity to the people we look to as bastions of “having it together”: politicians, business leaders, legal changemakers, models, celebrities, authors, entrepreneurs, newsreaders, sports stars and influencers.

Because I’m a no one, I’m not being dazzled by them at a private dinner. I’m the hunched and forgettable figure at the back, brushing the biscuit crumbs off my top that needed an iron but didn’t get one despite our interview today. Over the years, in those shared unglamorous spaces of elevator rides, empty corridors, grim back entrances, office rooftops and hotel lobbies, I have heard terse phone conversations with spouses, calls from the school again, and tantrums. I’ve seen what these people look like when they’re tired, ill, scared and without the usual sympathetic lighting.

I can say that no one has it together, all of the time. Until you have seen someone’s tax returns, bank accounts, laundry baskets and greatest hits compilations of arguments they have had with their spouse, you cannot confidently measure your life against theirs.

It can be tempting, in a mean “stars without make-up” magazine section way, to focus on flaws in others to make ourselves feel better. But if our old self-hatred could be quelled by picking apart other people, users of the influencer-denouncing Tattle Life website would only post once and the Daily Mail comment section would be empty by now.

Instead, maybe it helps more to carry on with the knowledge that everyone is doing their best and stuffing it up anyway, and to just accept that you don’t see that part as much.

There is something to be said for giving your friends and family the gift of honesty, at least sometimes. Once, after an afternoon of posting well-lit photos at a press shoot I told a dear friend that I had dropped my keys down a drain and was now experiencing the hygiene of Dublin’s streets as I lay down on the pavement in my good dress trying to fish them out.

“I was having such a bad day but the image of you covered in shite, yelling at people to walk around you like a mad woman really cheered me up, sorry,” she said. Then she had to hang up because she was laughing too much.