I see it everywhere. Instagram captions, Facebook comments, blog posts. It’s intimidating and impossible, and people are united across social media against it – yet social media is where it thrives.

It’s the perfect life.

You know what I’m talking about? It’s the mom who lost her baby weight right away and always has on the cute outfit. It’s the woman with the house straight out of Better Homes. It’s the girl in the big sweater with the big smile and the venti pumpkin spice latte. We double tap and disbelieve them.

Her life is perfect, we tell ourselves. Unrealistic.

I’ve seen people turn on them. Because they believe the lives projected on a screen are unrealistic, they celebrate messes and “rawness” and struggles and pain and forget that – maybe – the joy and beauty of those women’s lives is just as real as the sticky floors in theirs. And maybe – just maybe – the women in cute outfits and gorgeous houses deserve as much grace and acceptance as those whose lives don’t look so “perfect”.

Don’t confuse my message: I’m not saying we should be fake. I’m not suggesting we pretend we have it all together when we don’t. But truth be told, most of us DO “have it all together” in some area. Most of us have areas we prioritize and organize; things we are proud of in the midst of our busy seasons of life. But our culture has created an idol out of “authenticity” – an authenticity that is, in fact, far from authentic.

I did a little research on Instagram. I looked up #authentic and #liveauthentic, and found there are two ends of the spectrum: one end celebrating the impossibly “perfect” world of French breakfasts, sunrises in the mountains, and crystal Grecian pools and another defining “authentic” with messy buns and messier rooms. It’s as if the latter is a reaction to the former. But here is a thought: when we define genuinity according to how it looks in our own lives, then project that definition upon the lives of others, have we not destroyed what it means to be truly authentic?

To be authentic is to be real, and “real” is defined as “not imitation or artificial; genuine”. So here’s the hard truth: what’s “real life” for one person is not “real life” for another. This means that being authentically you is going to look a lot different than being authentically me. That’s the beauty of individuality.

Somewhere along the way we decided that authentic could only look one way: that it was only okay to share your rawness if it fits a certain Christian-ese definition. That if you had a clean floor and happy kids you are somehow disqualified from sharing about it because it isn’t “realistic”.

But authenticity can’t be universally defined. We aren’t a bunch of SoCality Barbies outlined by the same set of social standards for life and family. Somehow we’ve all gotten trapped in a pendulum swing of comparison, where you can’t be too messy, but you better not be too “perfect”, either. The same insecurity that shuts up the struggling mother of toddlers silences the woman who enjoys French breakfasts and mountain sunrises.

We’ve made it socially acceptable to share our struggles in a public forum, from messy houses to raw emotions, and this progression has served to unite women based on the unifying element of common difficulty. But in the same way we accept one another’s difficulties, we should also embrace the authenticity of one another’s achievements. In a quest to preserve reality in a world of best-face-forward, we can’t limit grace only to those we think most deserve it. The girl with the ‘perfect life’ should receive as much grace from fellow women as the one without, because no matter how unrealistic she may seem, that part of her life may very well be real.

Last month my cousin went to France. She ate beautiful breakfasts and climbed amazing mountains. I saw her pictures and was able to share a little bit in the excitement of her travels. I know her life isn’t perfect because no life is perfect. It is that security that allowed me to rejoice in her adventure instead of envying and demeaning it.

That’s easier to do when you know the person. But with the strangers we see on the internet we are much quicker to judge them as disingenuous. This is especially common among moms, a fact I discovered both during and after pregnancy. I was repeatedly told I would neither sleep nor shower ever again once my baby was born. I was told I wouldn’t be able to handle a natural birth. And I was told my house would go down the tubes with a newborn around.

But in the month since my baby was born, I’ve taken a shower every day, walked her in the stroller each morning, kept the house clean and been able to go about almost all of my regular duties. But there is a backstory. There are certain factors that have made this possible: I had an unmedicated home birth – and thus a quick recovery; I can operate well on little sleep – and always get up before the baby; my daughter is not colicky; and I schedule out each day the night before. So this is not my reality because I’m so much better than other women: it is because I have certain priorities for my life that work for me and my family. It is neither better nor worse, and it’s certainly not perfect. But one thing it definitely IS: it’s authentically me.

Just as we don’t need to hide the reality of our struggle from fellow women, neither do we need to hide the reality of our victories. Personal insecurity prevents thriving relationships; taking on the insecurities of others prevents community. A thriving community of women is not threatened by the appearance of its members because it accepts each woman for who she is, whether her floor is covered with toys or her house could be the cover of Southern Living. Accepting the success of others allows us to learn and grow in ways our failures can only hope to develop us. But to truly grow, we have to disbelieve the lie of the “perfect life”.

Perfection is a yardstick that does not exist, yet we believe other women somehow possess its unachievable measure. Insecurity causes us to doubt our own worth in the face of the standards we think others hold us to, and there we stand: women, not rejoicing with one another in our cumulative successes of life and home and children, but writing one another off as unrealistic, disingenuous and inauthentic. Instead of rallying around one another, asking “How do you do it?” we look at one another’s lives through the lens of insecurity and our “How do you do it?” is less a real question than a cry of despair.

We need to stop. We don’t need to apologize for our “perfect lives” because there is no such thing. We should feel safe to celebrate our successes: our clean floors, our happy marriages, our birth stories, our weight loss, our non-scale victories. These are just as authentic as the rawness of struggle and difficulty. Both are genuine. All are real.

When we are secure enough to celebrate with fellow women in both the beauty and the burden of daily life, we find a level of joy and contentment unequaled in the competitive relationships of the world. Instead of measuring your cooking skills against the friend who is a gourmet, ask for advice and recipes! Instead of judging your organized acquaintance as unrealistic in her approach to home, ask her for tips on cleanliness. Instead of competing and comparing natural birth to C-section to hospital to home birth – celebrate the fact a new life was born into this world, regardless of the mode of entry.

No woman’s life is perfect. But one thing it is: it is perfect for her.  So instead of measuring our lives against the realities of the women around us, we should throw away the yardstick, embrace our own reality, and free ourselves to celebrate theirs.