Behind the Curtain: Life Unfiltered

Last week a reader sent me the link to this story. He suggested I read it and potentially share it with my readers.


I encourage everyone to take the five minutes to read through the story in its entirety. As a warning, it’s absolutely tragic. Madison Holleran was an all-star track student at the University of Pennsylvania. From the outside– shown through her Instagram feed–she had it all. She was beautiful, intelligent, had tons of friends, a supportive family and a budding track career. The photos she shared on social media embodied the idyllic image one would imagine of an all-American collegiate female.

But Maddy didn’t see it that way. On January 17, she leapt off the ninth story of a parking garage, plummeting to the pavement below. She was only 19 years old.

Life Unfiltered

This story really resonated with me after reading it last week, and I continued to think about it over the weekend. As someone neck-deep in social media, I’m acutely aware of the image I choose to convey to the world. We all know those people: the ones who barrage your Facebook feed with negative status updates and constant complaints or whining. And surely, no one likes it. But has our obsession with avoiding unpleasantness gone too far? In our effort to convey our best selves, have we made it unacceptable to show people you’re not okay? That you aren’t perfect?

I can’t begin to comprehend the internal sadness Maddy must have felt, but I do recognize the desire to always present my most perfect self. When Will and I cull through photos for my blog, I am constantly faced with the least-flattering images of me you’ve ever seen. Cellulite. Blemishes. Creepy faces.  Sometimes they’re funny; others time, they’re depressing. And while I would love to rely on the notion that everyone takes a bad photo, I think I prefer Mr. Abraham Lincoln’s take on it: “There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.”

And that’s okay.

In honor of Madison, I’ve decided to commit to regularly showing photos of me that I just plain dislike. To be sure, the “truth” I’m hiding from the internet is nowhere near as serious as what Maddie kept inside; it’s just what I have. It’s my truth. Outtakes were tough to come by this go ’round: after I tell Will I hate a photo, he usually just deletes it, so I didn’t have much to choose from. However, he knows the plan now. Anytime I tell him it’s unflattering or a terrible picture, he tags it with “Heather_Outtake” so I can use it later.

After all, we’ve all got our quirks, and it’s okay to not be perfect.


Usually I look like I know how to ski. For some reason, on this day, I couldn’t get beyond a snow plow.


Guys, it’s the truth: I frequently have RBF: Resting Bitch Face. Not to mention, I hate that scar on my cheek from a wicked acne bout in my 20s.


I think this one is pretty obvious…

20131215OspreyRevel45If Mr. Lincoln is right, my ass looks this way sometimes?! Good hell.

20131230Victor142Dead eyes.

20141004Kebler107I look like there isn’t a single intelligent thought in my brain.

20140713NativeSunglasses15And again. With a tan and better lighting.

20130525BuffaloPeaks14I typically cinch my waist strap so tight that it causes all of my skin and stomach fat to bulge over the waist belt. If I know I’m using the photo for something, I can temporarily alter it…but you better believe this stomach bulge is standard issue!

20121215HEBVisit14My least favorite of the group. A) Seriously, what was I thinking when I gave myself bangs?! B) This was during a period of time when I went through the worst adult acne of my life. Sure, I could hide some of it with makeup but not entirely. Obviously.


ESPN is encouraging everyone to share their #LifeUnfiltered on social media. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, take a moment to show people that it’s okay to not be okay!


  • Reply Grainne at

    These are wonderful!
    I love this post and agree that we should all take off our “social media masks” every once in a while.

  • Reply Joan at

    I just completed reading the article about Madison. All I can say is , ‘Wow.”
    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply Angel at

    We all have flaws, that’s what makes us humans. By the way, this is such a great idea I’m stealing it if you don’t mind.

    • Reply heather at

      Absolutely! The more honesty floating around the internet, the better!

  • Reply CARLA at

    blogging about it this week.
    life isnt all pretty.
    <3 <3 <3

  • Reply Art at

    Very important story. It can be hard to see everyone looking like they’ve had all of their ducks in a row for years, and that they’re just killing life while sometimes it’s a struggle just to figure out what you want from it. Thanks for writing, and for having the courage to post the pics you don’t like.

  • Reply Christine @ Love, Life, Surf at

    Oh Heather. I love that you shared this. I read that story last week and it really is such an important message to share. And it is so hard when we’re constantly on social media, blogging, sharing, comparing, etc. Thanks for doing this. PS I totally have resting bitch face.

    • Reply heather at

      FOR DAYS. My mom passed me while driving one day and called me just to tell me that my face looked vicious behind the wheel 😉

  • Reply Anne at

    I have to LOL at the Resting Bitch Face. That is absolutely not something I would have associated with you, and it mostly just looks like you’ve zoned out a bit there.

    • Reply Anne at

      Replying to myself to make a suggestion – maybe you could take this a bit further and do a Q&A blog post, or Twitter chat? I know you keep personal details about your family and the wedding off your blog, but I bet your readers have other questions! Didn’t you used to dance? I for one would like to know how the heck you went from ballet dancing to mountain trekking 🙂

      And because I didn’t already say it, thank you for posting the story. I wish more media outlets did things like this, to highlight that real life is not what you see on a computer screen. I think it’s important to go screen-less once in a while, either for a trip or just one day or afternoon per week.

      • Reply heather at

        Hey Anne! Thanks for the suggestion! Are you meaning like a reader Q&A? As in, readers ask me questions about whatever tickles their fancy? Could be fun! (Haha and yes, I was a competitive dancer for 20 years!)

        • Reply Anne at

          Yep that’s what I was thinking! Readers could submit questions via blog or social media, and you could answer any or all topics, like what your toes look like from all that dancing 😉 I’m not super Twitter savvy but Twitter chats are another version of that, just hashtag a topic and everyone follows along in a Q&A-type format for the allotted time. Sponsored Twitter chats are neat too, if you can get a company on board.

  • Reply misszippy at

    Great post, Heather, and one that honors her life. I worry about this exact issue SO much as my daughter heads toward the teen years. Right now she is oblivious to all this stuff and I want her to stay that way. To be confident, to not care about her appearance, to not care about presenting perfect. It’s going to be one of my biggest challenges in the coming years, to be sure. And I hate that it is–wishing for simpler times!

  • Reply Jenny at

    What an honest and refreshing post Heather! Thank you for putting your whole self out there to remind us that not all is as it seems.

  • Reply Leah at

    So much respect right now. Thank you.

  • Reply Marissa @Barefoot Colorado at

    haha! This is awesome. I sure do miss ya, lady!

    • Reply heather at

      Running date soon?

  • Reply Dave Sandel at

    Wow! Such a powerful story. And I appreciate you taking the initiative to do the same.

    The part of YOUR story that resonated with me the most is the line, “have we made it unacceptable to show people you’re not okay? That you aren’t perfect?”

    Though, I think that also should extend to status updates, tweets, and blog posts as well, even if there aren’t unflattering pictures to accompany them. As you said, no one likes a habitual whiner and Debbie Downer, but for people that ARE conscious of what they’re putting on social media, I think it’s acceptable to show emotional frustrations and vulnerability as well. Whether it’s your personal or professional life.

    Because every time I’ve posted or said something on the subject, I usually get lambasted and called out in private how ‘it’s not ok to say those things.’ In fact, I found one company representative specifically looking for one of my blog posts for those reasons. It wasn’t even about *that* company. So yes, you and I and other bloggers walk the fine line between personal and “professional” but if brands or people can’t see the difference between saying, “Brand ‘X’ sucks” and “hey, I’m frustrated because ‘Y’ isn’t happening for me,” then it is an equally disturbing situation. Because then you’re passively FORCED to only put your best self forward. And that’s something I’ve always refused to do. My blog and my social media has always been ‘me,’ and if that limits the number of opportunities I get, then so be it.

    Everyone needs and outlet, and NO ONE deserves to go through what Maddy did.

  • Reply Paige @ Your Trainer Paige at

    Ahh, that article gave me chills. So sad 🙁

    This is such a great idea, Heather. I made a similar statement about body image – that I plan on not just highlighting the body parts I “like” but also those with more “imperfections” in an effort to portray a more real image.

  • Reply Kat Carney at

    Heather, I read this article last week and thought the exact same thing. Thanks for putting this out into the world. Sometimes I have people comment on my Instagram photos saying that my life looks perfect and dreamy. I want to explain that I’m a photographer, and it’s my job to find perfect lighting and scenes! And the scary thing is, I’m just as guilty as anyone else at looking at other people’s photos and thinking they are living a happier, more fulfilling and adventurous life. We all need to give ourselves a little credit, and realize that no one’s life is perfect. Again, thank you for opening yourself up like this.

    • Reply Ashley M. Halligan at

      Very well-said, Kat {and, Heather, too}!! I hope the “Life Unfiltered” trend becomes a massive wave that helps people realize their own authenticity is…plenty.

  • Reply Kayla at

    5 minutes?!?!? More like 20 minutes! Maybe I read slow……..

    I like your ass picture the best. *wink wink* and to be honest, I’ve NEVER noticed your acne scar……oh, and I liked your bangs phase; they were cute.

    I just can’t imagine losing anyone in my life this way. It’s absolutely devastating.

    • Reply heather at

      And man, that butt photo is just….painful. Although, I know Will has caught worse in photos, sadly!

  • Reply Christy at

    I love that Abe quote! I look at some of my pictures sometimes and think ugh I really look like that sometimes?! I love this whole post. I wish my daughter could grow up free of social media like I did, it really does add a whole new level of pressure.

    • Reply heather at

      The Abe quote is one of my all-time favorites! No excuses, just raw truth.

  • Reply amanda brooks at

    thanks for sharing the story. I have definitely been an open book with lots of things, but started pulling back some on personal stuff…a good reminder of why it’s valuable to not always “seem perfect”.

  • Reply Kovas - Midwest Multisport Life at

    I definitely have my share of awful pics and days that just don’t end, but I try to share that as minimally as possible; one, because people do get tired of negativity and two, I find that focusing on the positive helps me get past the rough times. I really like how you presented this – nicely done, Heather.

  • Reply Alyssa at

    That is a truly tragic story.

    I’ve posted my race pictures which are ridiculously horrible. Really now that I have a cute baby no one even looks at me in any picture I’m fairly sure so I don’t even try any more.

    • Reply heather at

      Your baby is pretty freaking adorable!

  • Reply Crista at

    This post is awesome but also, you are ridiculous. You are much harder on yourself than anyone else will ever be – unless they are haters! I am going to read Madison’s story… but I know it’s going to be sad 🙁

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  • Reply Loraww at

    Thanks for shedding light on this topic! Nobody is perfect and it can be very challenging for people to come to this realization on their own sometimes. We all have our “forgot how to ski” moments 🙂

  • Reply Anna at

    Thanks for sharing the story (and those lovely photos!)! For someone who has suffered from depression on and off for years, I remember the feeling Madison must have felt. Hopefully something good can come out of this terrible loss, and the stigma taken off mental health.

  • Reply Cameron Jarman at

    Great Post. Thanks for sharing. It is nice to see that everyone on social media doesn’t live a dream life and doesn’t always take the most priceless photos. I think we view others solely on the blips of information we get on Twitter, Instagram, FB and other social media sites but we don’t always get to see behind the scenes. Thanks!

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  • Reply Connie at

    Awesome! Refreshing! Love your eyebrows!

  • Reply Mary Beth Richardson at

    Thank you for sharing this! When I was laid off just before the holidays, I sucked down some humble pie and turned to social media. It was the first time I had been “let go” from a job, and my ego took a massive hit that day. But the love, support, encouragement and job postings my friends / followers / family sent my way was nothing short of amazing! Sure, my ego is still a little scarred from that room-of-doom-day, but in the end I’m glad I put myself out there and relied on my social family to help get me through. Celebrate ALL aspects of life with people! Good for you!!!!!

  • Reply Jenn at

    Thank you so much for this post!! So many times I pour over photos, trying to find the best ones to post…but I went hiking yesterday, took photos, and decided to post a few that I didn’t really find perfect! It felt very freeing and authentic! I’m flawed and imperfect and that’s perfectly ok!!

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