In which I wonder about Pinterest

An aside to begin: I actually contemplated writing out a manifesto of sorts for my son. I titled it: “Things to Keep in Mind Before Asking a Girl on a Date” and it included this rule:

1. Find out if she is on Pinterest. And then check her boards out. If there is one there titled “OMG My Dream Wedding Someday Just Gotta Find The Man haha” and it’s filled with whimsical photos of a perfect wedding, dozens of dresses, cunning favours, and artistic photography poses, then here is my advice: RUN FOR THE HILLS.

Conclude Manifesto.

Source: via Edward on Pinterest

My friend, Rachel Held Evans wrote an insightful article this past week in praise of her pre-Pinterest wedding. I also had a pre-Pinterest wedding and I’ve written about that before, in particular my $35 wedding ring (which hasn’t fit since the second baby and now I wear a $9 metal one but I digress). Ever since, I’ve been thinking and wondering about the Pinterest.

Those of you that hang out here occasionally know this truth: I like Pinterest. I don’t use it as much as I did a few months ago, but I’ve found it useful and inspiring for my life, particularly as a new homeschooler and as inspiration in my life. (My greatest Pinterest accomplishment has been my Wise Women board.)

But here is the thing I have noticed about Pinterest:

We pin the clothes we wish we wore.
We pin the places we wish we could visit.
We pin the home we wish we lived in.
We pin the crafts we wish we had time to do.
We pin the quotes and sentiments that we wish defined us more.
We pin the meals we wish we made.

Really, we pin the life we wish we had.

I mentioned this to Brian one evening and, like any self-respecting armchair theologian couple, we had a good row about the postmodern need to define and identify and differentiate ourselves based on what we consume or purchase.

It’s a tension for our generation because we claim to eschew typical consumerism, we pooh-pooh the Walmart. We see what we purchase or desire as an extension of our identity. So we still want to buy and consume, we want to be unique so we copy someone else’s ideas, we still want to surround ourselves with our stuff. We want people to know who we are by what we wear, think, cook, espouse, read, or craft. (And now, add “pinning all the things” to that list.

Pinterest is the fantasy league of consumerism and it speaks to the larger issues that we battle as a society: I am my image, I am what I consume, I am what I purchase, I am what I desire. How will anyone know I’m cool and quirky and fun and unique if I don’t have the stuff that proves it? We become avatars of our true self, unable to be without the proper accoutrements to display it.

We mistake our Stuff for our Self.  And then when we pin it or we do it or, even better, if someone else pins it or likes it or comments on it, we feel reinforced in our yearned-for identity.

Whether it’s through fashion or art, technological gadgets, music, books, paint colours, vintage furniture, homeschool hacks, craft and so on, we think that if we have it, we are buying or pinning the lifestyle that it represents, the lifestyle that I wish was mine, the person I wish that I was.

Let’s not even talk about how this kind of visual wormhole can lead to discontent or feelings of failure and inadequacy.  I feel a tremendous amount of pressure when I look at Pinterest. Like somehow I’m not funky and quirky and cool and creative enough. I wear a lot of drab colours and couldn’t pull off a top-knot if my life depended on it, my tinies do not have carefully decorated bedrooms, and Ryan Gosling isn’t all “Hey, girl” about much in my life. I can’t just make a cake for my sister, no, I have to make a damn picaken, oh, pardon me, #DamnPicaken. (Inside joke for my Twitter and Facebook followers. If you missed it, I live-tweeted making a picaken yesterday – that’s a pie baked inside of a birthday cake and then covered with icing – yesterday and it was probably the lowest point of my Twitter career and completely the fault of Pinterest influenced by the very dear Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.)

I suppose it’s like anything else in our life. Pinterest itself is benign; it’s more what it exposes about our own heart, our own desires, our own inadequacies.

(And now I’m going to publish this post so I can be the first one to pin it.)

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  • Meg Bodin

    Insightful. I use Pinterest. I’m not obsessed. I use more like a “bookmark” on steroids. I love that I can go to my boards and say, “Ok, if I go to the ‘Regent’ board, I can find that damn Turabian citation site”… instead of freaking out and searching my history. I love that I can find GF and Vegan recipes and “pin” them, so when I go to make them a couple of days later, I *again* don’t freak out and go searching for the link… Pinterest is what you make it… it’s not what makes you. Sending you BOOKOOS of love and hugs. *Always growing. – Meg

    • Jill

      that’s exactly what I love it for.  i’m the most disorganized person in the world and having “someone else” file my folders and keep my stuff all nice and neat so it doesn’t get crumpled down in the bottom of my purse is WONDERFUL!  and i actually have done/made/used quite a bit of the stuff i’ve pinned!

      hallelujah for grace, J

    • Sarah Bessey

      I like to use it for that as well. It’s so helpful for organizing.

  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    I don’t use Pinterest for the pure fact that I KNOW it would consume my life…and then leave me feeling wanting. ; )

  • priest’s wife

    I agree with this post- I’m on Pinterest- but I always forget I am there

    I like the way Meg Bodin uses it- as bookmarks for actually activity- If I use it as an impossible dream board….depressing

  • Sara Thompson

    I just bought a shirt I saw on Pinterest yesterday.  lol  As a non-artist and non-creative person, I find it helpful more than anything.  And hilarious.  And I love your “Wise Women” board, too.  I just don’t think it’s a big deal unless I make it one.

    • Sarah Bessey

      I find it incredibly helpful as well. 

  • Tsh @

    I basically use Pinterest like I use Google: to look up stuff. And it’s often better than Google because if it’s pinned, it tends to be better stuff, and 2. I’m visual.

    But yeah… It can suck the life out of you if you’re not careful. I think many of us learn that when we first start (“Pin all the things!”), then you go through this sick pit-in-your-stomach feeling, and then you walk away. Then you come back again, slowly, and figure out how to use it in a way that’s similar to so many other neutral tools in life: as a useful tool. Neither good nor bad.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Me, too, Tsh. That’s almost exactly my experience.

    • SortaCrunchy

       Totally agree with this. It was DIZZYING and OVERWHELMING and HEAD-EXPLOSION at first. But I’ve been on it for a year now (really? wow.) and I think I have finally found a great place of using both as a resource and as an organization tool. I truly do make some of the recipes I pin. I refer to my outfits board often when I’m thrifting. I use the printables and activities I find for the girls.

      Granted, some of it is sheer dreamy-dream stuff, like my home ideas board. And I TOTALLY see and agree with your point that it is very easy for Pinterest to enable us to mistake our stuff for our selves. So, so easy.

      Such great thoughts on how easy it is (as with all social media) to become avatars of our true beings. Great insight there, friend.

  • Katherine Willis Pershey

    This is so thoughtful and smart. Thank you!

  • Joyhoss

    Thank you, Meg and Jill. I feel the same way. Not everyone approaches things in
    the same way. 

  • alwaysalleluia

    Wow. I really love this. A lot. I was a rabid pinner for a while there in the begining, but all of the flap over potential copyright infringment squelched my fire. I grew increasingly concerned about being branded a thief. Now you’ve got me considering my covetous behavior spawned by ogling images that portray a life I don’t have. By means of longingly pinning things I wish I owned greed occasionaly rears it’s disgusting head too–and pride, well, that beast never misses the party either. 

    Have mercy! I am chewing on this today, this bleak, rainy Ohio afternoon.  

    And I’m pretty sure the last flickering ember of enjoyent found on pinterest just fizzled out. Wait–no, Yep, it’s done. Thanks, Sarah. Really, thank you. I’m sharing this. 😉 

    • Sarah Bessey

      Oh, no, I hope I didn’t ruin Pinterest! Now how will you get your Ryan Gosling hey-girl-meme fix?? 😉

      • alwaysalleluia

        Oh heavens! *blushing* I do love the Ryan Gosling meme!! And no you didn’t ruin Pinterest, I haven’t had time for plot lately and thus the passion has cooled, but truly you made some really great points, so I will proceede with caution. 😉 blessings, sistah!

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    Such piercing insight here, Sarah – thank you.

  • Loretta Tschetter

    I agree 100% with this, even though I am at the same time guilty of doing much of what you are talking about. (However Pinterest has become probably my most used recipe source and I’ve made some wonderful stuff from it. No picaken though.) I think that it can fill a useful spot, but just like most other social media sites it is up to us as users to consider how best to maintain balance. And I appreciate people like you who can gently point out the pitfalls so that I can consider how to avoid them.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Loretta. Glad you caught my meaning.

  • Leah Colbeck

     For the first time I have to disagree with you :) Yes Pinterest can be these things but it isn’t for everyone, nor for most of the people I follow I would guess. Pinterest like anything else in life (exercise, food, belongings, dare I say church?) is what you make of it. It can be as you described, but it can also be a place to find inspiration, ideas, encouragement and celebrate other’s successes. I certainly don’t pin the life I wish I had, but I do pin things that I am actually doing or those that will help me grow. I am solidly anti consumer (except books, ahem) and don’t feel pressure at all that I am somehow lacking by seeing something on pinterest anymore than I do when I read something awesome someone is doing on their blog. (And by the way I do hate this argument just as much for blogging, the idea that blogging somehow causes other’s to feel inadequate. Those feelings come from within love.)  I don’t think ‘I suck’ I think ‘Wow – good for them.’ Pinterest if we want it to be can be a place to celebrate each other, and our unique passions, talents and dreams, not make us feel terrible about our differences.
     P. S. I also use it as bookmarks – no different than internet in that way and is handy 😉

    • Sarah Bessey

      I don’t disagree with you at all, Leah. I do believe it’s benign but it speaks to something larger in our culture, too. individually though, yes, we all use it differently and it can be used redemptively just like any medium. 

  • Mizmelly

    And once again you knock it out of the park…. it’s been an eye opener to me how much all the social networking/blogging stuff is so self centred… I can use it to benignly stay in touch with friends and be inspired by their lives or I can use it to call attention to my Self … I wonder just how clever I am at steering clear of the dark side of it all… not very clever at all…

  • D.L. Mayfield

    i love pinterest for the humor and visual kick-in-the-pants; i eschew the weird perfect-mommy pathos (this means I have had to “unfollow” many a vaporous and over-zealous pinner). but how else could you make your picaken? how else could i be inspired to make a 5-layer purple ombre coconut cake for jesus (i mean, easter dinner)?

  • Alysa Bajenaru, RD

    I am new to your blog but am loving your insights.  Our small group has been talking about this a lot lately, how not to get caught up in the “dark side of Pinterest”.  I do like Pinterest, it has doubled my blog traffic, but I also have to be careful not to compare myself to what I pin or see others pinning.

  • Grace

    I don’t feel much pressure when I look at pinterest. It’s been a practical tool for me. I use it mostly for recipes (I’m a visual person and also disorganized), I’m finding more recipes on the internet that fit my family (with several food allergies/intolerances) than in my cookbooks. Every recipe I pin, I plan on making. If I make it and didn’t like it, I remove it.
    For the other categories, like clothes. I pin some to get a sense of my own style. Pinterest has helped me pin down my style. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t buy a lot of new clothes. 
    I have so much else to deal with now (chronic illnesses in the family), and I know my limits. I try not to bite off more than I can chew. And it does seem like I can chew much less than others at times, but I know that’s not true.
    Don’t be too hard on yourself.
    I can’t remember the exact quote, but Bill Johnson said something to this effect ‘If you knew who God created you to be, you would never be jealous of anyone else.’

  • Elizabeth

    Ooh – just checked out your Wise Women board and love it!  Very, very well done.  

    I’m not on Pinterest because I already spend more than enough time online and I suspect I wouldn’t have the self-control to use it really wisely.  Perhaps one day I’ll get into it for the recipe organization but now is not the time for me.

    Very wise thoughts.  I thought your response to Leah summed it all up very concisely:  I don’t disagree with you at all, Leah. I do believe it’s benign but it speaks to something larger in our culture, too. individually though, yes, we all use it differently and it can be used redemptively just like any medium. 

    Love your writing, Sarah.

  • KC

    I think you hit a nail on the head.  I really like the deeper point you’re making here and your insight into something in our culture (which, if I understood you correctly, isn’t at root about pinterest at all…not sure why people felt the need to rise so staunchly to its defense.:)).

  • Marnie

    I have been really struggling with this same thing lately… My (tiny/backyard) wedding was postponed when I ended up in the hospital over Christmas and now that we have rescheduled it for July I have more time to tweak little stuff… we aren’t really decorating or having it catered (yay potluck!) or anything like that… hell, we don’t even have invites – we are just telling the family…

    my point is… after the rambling…that this extra time has given me the feeling that I should be picking the perfect flower crown (or hat – my hair has started falling out from the hospital trauma!) and decorate the little table that will have our Trader Joe’s wine on it or hand burn into reclaimed wood the names of our guests… my cousin did that last year!  It is all some kind of craziness and I start to feel like I am being sucked in and sickened by all the pretty.  But I do like pretty.  It is a dilemma.  

  • laura @ hollywood housewife

    I love what Tsh had to say, and that’s how I use Pinterest, too: as a tool.  I hear a lot of things about how facebook and pinterest make people feel inadequate and I can’t decide if we live in a world that’s too much TMI in response to an oppressed time, or if we live in a world where we can perfectly craft our life online.  

  • Alisoncreamer

    You crack me up !!!

  • Valerie Quirey

    So I was struck yesterday by a passage that is my new social media policy: “For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16) I don’t want to get caught up in worldly uses of social media. There’s a lot of good that can come from many sites and I’m not ready to cut them out of my life, but I’m going to use this passage as a reminder where to draw the line.

  • Tl7inhaiti

    i am not being snobby or judgmental — but i cannot do pinterest — it seems like the black hole of death and discontent for my personality so I don’t know about the good parts and that is okay with me.

    hugs (pinning of hugs?) whatevs … you get me I hope.

  • hopejem

    You are singing my song sweet friend. I find some of the same issues on other social media sites but it is so obvious how Pinterest can take us that way as well. I do find myself checking my motives for NOT posting something because I wonder what someone might think. For instance, I am overweight and I love to post recipes of food that I would enjoy serving for my family and for friends. I don’t want to be judged and therefore I have to tell myself that it doesn’t matter. Why should I have to tell myself it doesn’t matter. I don’t add value to myself because I have more followers than someone else or better photos or more pins. We have leanings towards that though, don’t we?

  • Erika Morrison

    I approach Pinterest the same way I approach anything else in life: as honestly as I can. And engaging with this online pin board was/is just another medium by which I learn something about myself and, if necessary, steward the awarenesses that are brought forward. 

    For me, Pinterest is a place for my visually stimulated mind to curate art. And I find that I am so grateful that there isn’t a hunger in me for “more” as I look at all the pretty things.

  • To Think Is To Create

    Rambly comment ahead! :) 

    I sure hope I never use it as an impossible dream board! I love it because as a creative person I know it’s beneficial to my soul to surround myself with beauty, like air, food and water. Be it the beauty of God’s creation out my window or the lovely work of others I have the benefit to be able to see thanks to Pinterest, I’m grateful. I think it’s definitely good to keep our hearts guarded for jealousy and discontent, but the whole of Pinterest is so darn inspiring and functional for me (as a bookmarking tool), I can’t help but love it. It doesn’t increase the ‘stuff’ in my life, but more the artistic inspiration. I think artists thrive on expression, and some artists express it in a painting, some in how they dress. I think either is beautiful.

  • To Think Is To Create

    P.S. I shoulda read the comments first and just said ditto to what Erika M said – I’m grateful there isnt a hunger in me for ‘more’. <3

  • Carolyn G

    One thing I appreciate about Pinterest is the way that it/members poke fun at themselves…with all the funny little quotes like the ones you included here (I had not seen the pizza one….funny).  I definitely agree that we can easily get sucked into vicariously being “creative” and “expressing our values” without actually creating or doing anything productive and helpful to the world.  I always think about something you wrote once about “browsing Pinterest as a cheap form of therapy.”  (Funny, that I visited your site just after I’d been browsing Pinterest).  I’m pretty careful about what I browse and who I follow on Pinterest, because I’m well aware of the danger of feeling inadequate and discontent.  Hmmm…I’ll have to think more about what you said about mistaking our “stuff” (or our “likes”) for our “selves”.  Maybe if there was a way to make your pins completely private there would be less temptation in this?  
    Have you watched Sherry Turkle on TED Talks “Connected but Alone”   – kind of relates.

  • Carolyn G

    Oh… and I checked out the picaken .  It’s kind of like the Bacon Explosion (bacon, wrapped in sausage, wrapped in bacon)…but a dessert version.  My husband would be all over it!  Did you make it all from scratch?

  • Suzin

    love this post….and the message of how not content with are with our own lives…. not that wanting more, or just liking something is bad…of course not, but there is a slight obsession with just needing to desire more and bigger and better…. love it!!

  • Kitzya_lebron

    I am BEYOND thankful for Pinterest because it has taught me to LOVE cooking…and I’m good at it! I have made just about everything I’m “pinned” or it’s on the menu to be made…Hector is also very thankful for that! But yes, like anything in life if you allow it to consume you, it can be negative. But for me, I am In Love, and yes, it has also helped my creativity. And I also think at times, wow, she/he is so talented;and thankfully, no feelings of envy or bitterness, or “I’m not good enough”.

  • Mary Carver

    There are so many things to quote here that I can’t decide which one to put in a tweet. I’m pretty sure that’s a whole other problem, though. Anyway. I love this and you are right. Pinterest IS the fantasy league of a strange brand of ironic-or-not-so-ironic consumerism. Brilliant.

  • Charla

    this is fantastic.

  • Cat

    have found Pinterest to be a really interesting journey for me. I absolutely
    agree with your notion that it creates a sense of unrest and discontent. A friend
    of mine (a ‘real life’ friend that I see on a regular basis!) has 118 boards!!
    What!?! The amount of time she spends on maintaining lists of ‘stuff’ is
    extraordinary, and to be honest, I find it a little bit sad. 

    my initial spree of pinning things left, right and centre, I have discovered
    that there was something more significant for me to explore on Pinterest.  I have three little girls (6, 4 and 16
    months) and my job is at home with them. And I have been going through this
    really interesting process of late, of which I know that I have only just
    begun, of trying to decipher ‘what’s next?’ 
     My Pinterest boards have become a
    way of sorting through the things that spark something in me, that delight me,
    that inspire me to move and act, that resonate in a deeper place than just ‘I
    want that’.  It is no surprise then that
    the boards that are growing in pins are the ones that involve books and
    libraries and reading. Ahh, let’s hope this not me trying to justify Pinterest!

  • karaliechty

    This is a really great post.  It’s funny cause I saw the title and then had to shower, dress, etc. before coming down and reading the post, and while I was getting ready, I thought, “I wonder what she’ll say about Pinterest…. probably something about consumerism and discontent… something I would say….”.  Ha!  That whole thought is embarrassing to type out, ’cause it exposes my egocentrism …. but it was pretty funny that it turned out I was, at least, partially right.  :)
    I don’t do Pinterest.  I have seen it, and it’s totally fun to browse… there is one blog I read, where she has the link to her Pinterest right there…. I like the same kind of stuff she does, so I’ll browse her stuff.  It’s fun.  But I won’t do more with it than that.  I don’t facebook, either, but I’ll look at my hubby’s facebook sometimes when he is on it (it usually reminds me why I don’t facebook.)  I don’t tweeter.  I do have a blog, but I don’t care how many people read it, I’m not looking to increase traffic (OK… it might be nice if my sisters would read it sometimes. ;>).  I don’t text…. I don’t have a smart phone… I have a dumb phone.  It’s so stupid.  It just calls people.
    I keep my eyes wide open and I watch things carefully as culture changes and evolves.  I’m not stuffy… heck, I’m a party animal!  I just don’t like a lot of what I see happening to our ways of communicating, and our social mores.  Communicating has now become like a lost art form… looking someone in the eye, touching them, knowing just a few people deeply instead of hundreds of people at a surface level.  
    I’m so grateful for technology.  Truly.  And I’m so grateful I have the freedom to say ‘yes’ to what makes sense, and ‘no’ to what doesn’t.

    • Jill

       this makes me laugh:   I do have a blog, but I don’t care how many people read it, I’m not
      looking to increase traffic (OK… it might be nice if my sisters would
      read it sometimes. ;>)

      probably because i can relate.  one reason i blog is to connect with family (who are FAR away) and they pretty much don’t give one iota about it!  so my primary reason is to document our days!  and i tell myself that often so i don’t get my feelings hurt about my family.

      i wish you had linked to your blog! :)

  • Anastasia Borisyuk

    That’s exactly why I don’t spend much time there, I just use it to organize things I need and use! I have one board that’s titled Only in My Dreams for things I know I’ll never do/have, the rest are things I’m actually baking/cooking/creating. In that sense I love it! But I have gotten stuck there a couple of times!

  • Traci

    Loved this post.  Loved the truth.  Loved the humor.  Loved the conviction…. LOVED the last line!  <3  Traci

  • Nacole Simmons

    love this. my thoughts exactly. i would rather be outside doing something–transplanting/fertilizing/making yard pretty with what i actually *do* have, instead of pinning pictures of the garden i *wish* i had. getting my hands–and knees–and face– in the dirt makes me feel alive. ok, leaving the computer now for some real life. thanks, Sarah. posting this on my delicious links on blog.

  • Katie

    Great post- been thinking the same thing myself lately!  Thanks for sharing!

  • Kelly J Youngblood

    So I’ve been thinking about this and am tempted to create a “this is real life” board and take photos of my cheap bookcases and messed up coffee table and furniture that is stained from leaking sippy cups and pin them.  

    First, though, I’m going to go pin a picture of the camera I wish I had and the computer I wish I had and the photo editing software that I wish I had in order to really make it a good board.

  • Leanne Penny

    My friend and I were talking about this the other day.  How in this lonely online world, we don’t feel like anyone really knows the real us anymore.  They think they know us based on what they see online but they don’t take the time to enter into our real worlds, our real homes.  

    I would much rather have people into my cheerio and laundry covered real house than my fakely perfect online pinboard for the house I’ll never have.  I have online connections galore, what I need are connections who will let me and the kids come over in our PJs or invite just me over at 10PM for wine and therapy when my husband and I tear each other down.  

    I would trade everything on my pinboards for authenticity in life.  

    Also #damnpicaken made my afternoon that day.  I probably got a little too excited describing it to my husband.

  • Jimmie Lee DiIanni

    Isn’t it funny how these things try to steal our attention away from whats real? (pinterest, FB, twitter, etc)
    I too was a little obsessed at first. But i have found a lot of cool things to try/make. I may never get to them all but I have successfully tried/made several things. On the other hand, I do have boards like “i want to be a disney princess” “Awesome things I will probably never do” “Dreaming” And I won’t even talk about the clothes envy I have developed, darn you Polyvore! This post got me thinking :)

  • Melissa

    this is awesome and so very true. peter rollins talks about this- we put out there the things we want people to perceive about us. we want them to think we are a certain way when in reality we are nothing like that. good thoughts to ponder.

  • Johanna Hanson

    I use Pinterest to look things up…therefore I don’t have much on my boards!  If I am looking for a Cars birthday cake idea for my son, I go and pin some possibilities, etc… If you just pin for the sake of pinning it is overwhelming and sucks the life out of you!

  • nobeatenpath

    Fantastic post – what I like is that it is not really about Pinterest, but more about the twin modern malaises of defining ourselves by what we purchase/what we own and also about discontent, wanting more and never being satisfied. Thanks for sharing.

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  • sarah

    I think about this post constantly since you posted it.  Thank you for speaking aloud the insidious spirit of consumerism and materialism that is so subtle in our culture.  We explain it away and we can’t be honest with ourselves about our need for more cool and hip stuff to use in the construction of our identities.  I don’t think Pinterest is evil, either, but sometimes it is difficult for me to find the Kingdom of God there.  It can be easier for me to find materialism and insecurity and the like…

    The things we have around us should REFLECT who we are, not TELL US who we are.

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