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Our Blog: May 14, 2012

Pinning for Inspiration – Not Comparison!

It seems like everyone is buzzing about Pinterest, the website where (mostly) women create virtual bulletin boards of the “beautiful things you find on the Web.” As someone who researches modern motherhood, I was intrigued to read a recent post by author Stephanie O’Dea, titled “Pinterest and Feelings of Inadequacy.”

This popular blogger, a New York Times best-seller nonetheless, felt inadequate when looking at the “vision boards” created by other moms on Pinterest. Stephanie splashed a cartoon on her piece that joked, “I spent the day on Pinterest and now I hate my laundry room, my garden, my color palette, my husband, my linen closet, the vacations I take and all the food I make!” Interesting indeed.

Pinterest is the ideal lens for observing “social comparison” theory in action. In essence, the theory says that we evaluate our own circumstances by comparing them to those of others. If you spend your time browsing boards featuring “perfect” recipes, floor plans and wardrobes without a healthy dose of perspective, it’s likely that you’ll wind up feeling deflated.

Social comparison theory applies in many situations. Take wealth, for example. A 2005 study by two university sociologists concluded that no matter how much money people were making, they were most unhappy when living around people who were richer. It’s not how much you have, but rather how your earning power stacks up against that of your peers, that influences how you’ll feel about yourself.

Author Rachel Bertsche applies the theory to relationships in her new book on female friendship, MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. Bertsche concludes that if you compare your typical routine to the lifestyles you see on your favorite television shows, you’ll probably not fare too well. As Bertsche, a fan of shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Sex and the City and Entourage, put it, “If those are the models I live by, I should have three or four BFFS whom I meet for coffee or beers or cosmos every single day, sometimes twice.”

And, of course, I’m now applying the theory to my study of working parents and the challenges they face. When my co-author and I interviewed moms across the country about their biggest fears as parents, we saw a similar comparison problem emerging. We called this one “The Myth of the Perfect Mom.” Here’s how we describe the phenomenon in Good Enough Is the New Perfect:

“We see her everywhere, the specter of maternal perfection. She’s at Gymboree, asking sweetly, ‘How much sign language does Carter know? Landon can sign apple, kale and toilet – and he’s only nine months old!’ And at the playground, smiling serenely as she passes a slice of organic pumpkin millet loaf to her toddler while we dig through our own bags, praying for a stray granola bar or a bag of chips to satiate our own child. We see her at school, shepherding her tightly braided and well-matched kindergartener into the classroom while she signs up to run the Halloween party and the book fair. (We’re sure she never forgets to turn in field-trip money or send sneakers on gym day.) And she’s at work, exuding the healthy glow of a woman who has never arrived in the office with Cheerios in her hair and someone’s empty juice box in her handbag.”

In the next paragraph, we deliver the zinger: “It doesn’t matter that this woman exists only as a composite. In our minds, she’s there, and she’s succeeding where we fail.”

And that’s what we need to remember when we’re reading status updates, browsing Pinterest boards, and following tweets. We’re comparing our real lives to make-believe. As Stephanie O’Dea so aptly concluded, “This isn’t real. This is a fantasy. Take a deep breath and remember that you are already good enough. You don’t need to have rock-hard abs while whipping up 37 different varieties of cheesecake in order to feel good about yourself.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I hope you’ll use Pinterest as a source of inspiration – I’ve found everything from our new favorite baked s’more recipe to a design for the firepit I’d been dreaming about — but not as another reason to feel inadequate. You’re already enough.


Hollee Schwartz Temple is a frequent speaker on work/life balance and motherhood. The co-author of Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (Harlequin Nonficton), she is a law professor, writer and proud mom of two feisty redheads.

Are you one of the many moms (or dads) on Pinterest, searching for inspirational ideas, recipes and trends? Be sure to check out the La Petite Academy and Childtime Pinterest accounts for inspiring ideas and crafts for your children to help them learn, grow and have fun.


About the Author

Hollee Schwartz Temple

Hollee Schwartz Temple is a professor at West Virginia University College of Law. She is a work/life balance columnist for the American Bar Association Journal, the nation's premier lawyer magazine, and blogs about work/life issues at Hollee is the coauthor of Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood.