chasing authenticity

It’s the word that’s launched a thousand profiles: Authentic. Or should I say, HashtagAuthentic. At one time, it was a word as simple as genuine, honest, real, true. But now, there’s a backlash against it. Because as more and more people try their damndest to be “authentic”….more and more of us are learning to question what exactly authenticity means. And if one is really, truly an embodiment of this concept, then why so much need to announce it? Why make it such a quintessential part of your unique branding strategy when everyone else is, too?

#Authentic tree stump in downtown Franklin, TN

I’ve had several encounters with this idea of Authenticity over the last couple of days. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it for the last several months, ever since I read someone else’s diatribe on why being authentic is already over. I mean, I’ve always liked to think that I’m authentic – and I hope that others would see that too – but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was going to need to dig a little deeper into what this word actually means, why it’s trending so heavily, and why we’re beginning to rebel against it – not as a concept, but as a strategy.

So let’s start with the basics: What does it mean to be Authentic? “Of undisputed origin, genuine” a Google search will tell you. “Being actually and exactly what is claimed“.

Right. Mmhmm.

But here’s a kicker for ya – another definition from Merriam-Webster says it might mean “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features,” such as an authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse.

So sure, being authentic can mean that we are really, truly, indisputably good at being ourselves. But it can also mean we’re really, truly, indisputably good at being exactly like something else.

BOOM.

I think when most bloggers, Instagrammers, writers, artists, etc brand themselves as being “authentic,” they really want you to believe that they’re being real with you. And yes, I’m sure many of them are. We’re all authentic in some way, whether publicly or privately. I mean, I’m being authentic with y’all in investigating this journey into a word that I really like but am afraid to use anymore. And I will undoubtedly hashtag Authenticity to promote this post.

But think about it: while everyone is out there trying to emulate this same idea of authenticity, they’re using the same color schemes, the same buzzwords, the same depictions that will help them fit into the concept of what authenticity looks like. And thus, authenticity ends up becoming a new version of sameness.

Being “authentic,” which should in some way equal being unique, is not authentic or unique at all. Just like hipsters.

And people are writing books on this. Books on how to achieve authenticity in the filters you use on Instagram and the captions you write. But if we’re all just following the pretty pictures in this book, what’s the use in even trying to have our own identities, right? Sorry, Sara.

Please note, I have not read this book and my reactions are based on flipping through the pages. If it sounds of interest, please read it. I’d love to hear your opinions!

In trying to be authentic, we don’t need to take perfectly framed photos of riverbanks and dress in pleasing shades of grey and white. But we should be using ideas like this checklist of attributes from Psychology Today:

  1. Realistic perceptions of reality.
  2. Accepting of themselves and of other people.
  3. Thoughtful.
  4. Non-hostile sense of humor.
  5. Able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
  6. Open to learning from their mistakes.
  7. Understanding of their motivations.

As you can see, these aren’t things that we can capture in a picture. These are things we need to capture through our words, through our personalities, and through the way we act towards others. Being authentic isn’t something you “turn on”. It’s something you develop, something that is a great marketing endeavor when it’s actually true to you. But boasting about being authentic? That’s just a load of bullshit.

I’ve got one more example for y’all to think about. It involves a country group called Midland. In looking at their style, listening to their music, you will have no question about the fact that they are, indeed – in a world of country music that no longer sounds country – a country band.

….But almost to a hokey extent.

Over a year ago, I read an article about the roots of this band. One of the members was once a music video director for Bruno Mars. BRUNO MARS. The lead singer was an underwear model. And the third one, well, I don’t know about him. But all of a sudden, these three guys rose up out of nowhere with a sound that was actually pretty great. They got a deal with Big Machine and proceeded to put out some Number 1 singles.

Despite learning this contradictory information, Webb was interested in their sound, and so I bought him a pair of tickets to their show at the venerable Ryman Auditorium for Christmas. This past Sunday, we finally got to see/hear what these guys were all about. And you know what?

They just freakin’ LOVE country music. They can sing, harmonize, play instruments, and have a good time while doing it. They look the part, they sound the part, and they’re convincing in proving just how much all of it means to them and how deep the roots of country music stretch into their past. They even got Brooks & Dunn to come out and play with them. (Granted it was probably good PR for both parties, but who cares? It was fun.)

In a world where “country” has decidedly become skinny jeans, tight t-shirts, and ball caps, these guys don’t seem real in comparison. They seem like they’re putting on an act, because as a public, we’ve learned not to trust anything that’s so drastically different from what we know. A young country trio that wears Nudie suits and sings about honkytonkin’ without autotune backdrops? That can’t be right, can it?

(just LOOK at those jackets)

Well, maybe it can. I spent a long time at that concert trying to figure them out, trying to work out if they might be putting on an act that was greater than the performance they gave that night. And sure, maybe they hammed it up a little bit. But they did it because that’s what their heroes did. That’s what they love and that’s what they want to bring back into the folds of the genre. Maybe they’re just an “authentic representation” of artists long gone, but they are authentic. Just like T Swift, they’re embracing who they are – and we can take it or leave it as we please.

So, after this long and winded exploration, I want you to ask yourself: What is it that makes you authentic? Is it the succulents you took a picture of in your window? Or is it the dirt that still sticks under your fingernails after you planted them?