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Have you ever walked into a gallery that steals the breath from your lips and renders you silent in reverence? It’s partly due to the beauty of the individual works, but more impactful, it’s the curation – the way the exhibits have been chosen and strategically displayed to procure that very reaction.

Today we all carry around blue-lit showrooms in the palms of our hands. Social media pages have become our personal galleries, and we the curators of our persona.

Curating is a power; we get to share what we want to share and be seen how we want to be seen. But with this freedom of strategic expressivity comes an increasing peril … it only furthers our distance from the most rudimentary rule of life: don’t judge a book by its cover.

Well, heck, as an author I can tell you one thing is certain: a book is almost always judged by its cover. A cover is a paramount agency in the success or failure of a book. I spend enough time with marketers and publicists to attest to it! And no one is at fault; it’s an innate nature for the mind to believe just what the eye sees. Judgements are drawn immediately based on first sight.

The ability we have now to control our image and our ‘covers’ with social media is only enhancing this case – and it’s reaching unbridled extremes beyond the public eye.

According to the NY Times, the U.S. Government recently proposed that social media accounts be used to determine the eligibility of disability applicants. This means if you apply for disability, the Social Security Administration will take a scroll through your social media posts to decide if you are “truly disabled” based on what you look like and what you are doing in your photos. In other words: judging your story by your cover.

This proposal decidedly dismisses two factors:

1. Grit and Grace
If you post a photo doing something a disabled person “shouldn’t” be doing, your claims of disability might be deemed fraudulent. That means it is assumed that someone with disability cannot actively participate in the joys of life. Well, the proposal certainly doesn’t take into account the grit and grace within all of us.

For example, I recently posted about my favorite hikes. The doctors told me I wouldn’t walk again though, so I “shouldn’t” be hiking to the top of the peak, right? What pictures don’t show is that the climb and the conquer is not without pain, but despite pain.

2. Curation
We all curate our self-image to some extent on a daily basis, and social media takes this to the next step. Few people are going to whip out their phone to do an Instagram live during another surgery, or post a photo at their very lowest point. People share photos of themselves at their best.

But even if your cover portrays a raw and truthful representation of your story, still only a miniscule portion can be revealed. Take my Instagram, for example.

A few weeks ago I came down with the same sickness that my daughter had and in between taking care of her, I was in and out of the ER. That same week, however, was a dream come true. I stood on that famous red circle and gave my TED Talk.

I chose what to share with you, and I certainly shared more about TED than the ER. First, because I chose not to focus on the negatives. I suppose I curate even my thoughts, picking out the incredible ones and pushing beyond the difficult ones. Secondly, because I love sharing with you the joys and triumphs and hopes of life, and there are so many when we allow them.

But because I smile. Because I hike. Because I laugh. Because I explore. Because I love. Because I live life fully, I, like many others, often fall prey to the assumption that my life is pain-free. “You don’t look sick,” was the response thrown at me time and time again.

You never know what someone’s going through, but everyone is going through something – even if doesn’t look like it.

Because amid all the dairy-free, sugar-free, and gluten-free trends, pain-free is not an option. Challenges are ingredients of life that just can’t be omitted.

Whether scrolling through social media or glancing at someone in person, what is first seen is never the complete story. Before accepting any judgments that leap to mind when you next see a photo or pass someone on the street, take a moment to remember there are millions of words, pages, and chapters alive beneath each cover.

AMBERLY LAGO