Be authentic... easy! Being yourself, right? (Part 2)
Updated: May 20
"Authenticity - ‘Being Yourself’ vs. Reality" - Part 2
I’m going to preface this ‘chapter’ by clarifying that I’m discussing the question of what it means to ‘be yourself’ in the context of content creation and content marketing. There will obviously be overlap with the same question applied to one’s personal life, but there will also be instances where the two divert completely. Just something to keep in mind as you’re reading!
A part of me feels it’s silly to talk about what it means to ‘be yourself’ on the topic of authenticity. DUH. Obviously being authentic means to be yourself. What more is there?
And then I remember instances where people describe what authentic means to them - especially around branding - and what they’re describing is what they are like when they’re being themselves, e.g. ‘goofy’, or ‘expressive’.
Now you could say that these folks were just a little misguided, but I think there are a couple of reasons why this might be more common misconception than you’d think.
1. Early Content Creators
Thinking back to how content creation would have started, with early YouTubers and people ‘putting themselves out there’ on social media, it would be fair to say that it probably took ‘a certain type’. I don’t know that I’d call them extroverts exactly… You could argue that anybody who spent their time filming videos by themselves rather than being out and about when the internet wasn’t a cool place to hang out yet was unlikely to be a traditional extrovert (and I’m sure there are exceptions to prove that rule).
Nevertheless, they would have had a certain charm, something likable about them and they would have likely been expressive. Similar types might have been attracted to follow in their footsteps, starting early trends. Over time, expectations around what one wanted to be like on camera were built, to a point where one might even feel that the camera permitted one to be more expressive than one would be otherwise.
The natural consequence of this development would be that someone who loved the possibility of sharing their thoughts online but to whom being expressive, or bubbly, or even funny might not come as naturally ran the risk of feeling dull on screen. Or repressive.
It’s just a couple more mental turns from there until you’re starting to think that anybody who isn’t excitedly expressing themselves is actually suppressing their emotions and not ‘being themselves’.
2. Being oneself… as opposed to societal norms?
I'd say this one applies even to our personal lives, not only content and socials.
If you think about how being authentic is often presented, it’s often in comparison to an alternative. Here’s a perfect example from ‘MindTools’:
Do you ever feel as if you're wearing a mask? Perhaps you think that you have to act a certain way around your boss, or say certain things to your colleagues, so that you'll be accepted. Instead of being yourself, you're playing a role to fit in, or to impress others. Most of us have gone through times like this. Instead of behaving in a genuine way, we tell people what we think they want to hear, and act in ways that go against our true nature. In short, we're living inauthentically.
This stance is very often the one taken when proposing that people be more authentic. There’s a bit of a contrarian edge to it. Defying society’s expectations of what one should be like, how one should behave, how one should speak…
I’m going to illustrate my point by going down memory lane real quickly. Growing up, I was a very self-confident child, not afraid to express my thoughts and opinions and generally boisterous. I was often considered ‘vorlaut’, which is German and translates to something between cheeky and loud-mouthed. There was certainly some disapproval around that trait of mine, and I stood out for being expressive, both vocally and physically. I don’t know how conscious my choice was to not succumb to their expectations and instead honor myself and stick it out, if you will, but I did it. People got used to me, I got used to being just a little odd and I’d say I came through largely unscathed. (It took me going to the US to study to find a community that celebrated these aspects of me and allowed me to fully embrace who I was, rather than wearing it like an armor, though.)
The entire process developed an internal sense of defiance towards societal norms inside of me, however. I’d been taught that there were appropriate ways to stand out, and unacceptable ways (e.g. it was acceptable to be a talented singer and perform, but it wasn’t acceptable to have a loud or high-pitched laugh). And consequentially, in order to be myself I had to ‘break the rules’.
I suspect that for most people being authentic or true to themselves carries a touch (or way more) of that. It edges us towards being different or in a way that might make us stand out. And as illustrated above, I completely understand why - because it’s usually the ones who ARE different that feel they’re being forced to live an inauthentic life and to embrace themselves they have to embrace being different. (But I do wonder about whether we’re really serving ourselves to position authenticity in that light, because I was only able to truly appreciate myself when I stopped being myself out of defiance.)
But. Being oneself could also happen to fit in with societal expectations.
And in our efforts to normalize the different we should probably take care not to alienate the previously normal, or else authenticity might suddenly get a rebellious flavor when in fact it needs to be perceived neutrally to be true.
And then… there’s the storytellers.
We’re entering the world of content creation completely for this point.
As content creators, we’re very much expected to ‘be ourselves’ in our content and online presence, so that we might be more believable, trust-worthy and relatable. And obviously we should also be entertaining and engaging, lol. *cue ironic laugh*
One way some of us will find to balance all of these expectations while staying true to ourselves, is to make up stories and characters to support our endeavor. I’ll use an example from SBL (Scott’s Bass Lessons) to illustrate the point, and the conundrum I’ve been pondering.
Sharon, one of our content creators, spun a storyline around a bass she’d gotten shipped by one of our colleagues. It was based on a true series of events, but stretched and exaggerated a little for dramatic effect:
The bass had first been with Ian, another one of our content creators, in order to do a comparison video of it with another bass. It was always intended that the bass would get shipped back to the manufacturer, or another bassist. Sharon, upon watching Ian’s video expressed the wish to try it and our colleague, Nick, who had arranged for Ian to receive the bass, made arrangements for Ian to ship it to Sharon. Upon receipt, Sharon practically fell in love with it and decided to use it for a video.
In it, she claimed to have stolen the bass from Ian. Seeing as how our audience was familiar with the bass from Ian’s previous video, this was technically believable, particularly in a hyped up way. As a one off, certainly harmless enough. But upon positive audience reception around the story, they decided to keep that ball rolling and Sharon has leaned into her character as bass thief in a lot of content pieces since, to the point where our audience will now refer to her as such.
Now obviously all of this was done purely for the sake of entertainment and fun - a creative way to make content around and about basses and bass education. But in the absence of an ‘official story’ to place that storyline firmly into the world of fiction, Sharon’s real identity is being diluted with that of the bass thief and it’s prompted me to consider the entire series of events from a perspective of authenticity.
Sharon is a content creator and storyteller and as such, by playing the bass thief in her content, being very much authentically herself. Simultaneous, however, she’s painting a picture of herself that isn’t true but is being imprinted on others with varying degrees of believability.
I don’t think there’s a wrong or right to this, really, and I’m not seeking to find ‘a solution’.
Rather, it might simply serve to exemplify why as consumers we should take what we see and learn in content with a grain of salt.