My new favourite phrase is “If I’m being completely honest with myself [insert confession here].” Should you require confirmation of that, look no further than my poor housemate, upon whose ears this statement has fallen on frequently of late. During one such ~soul outpouring~ we got to discussing social media, and in particular the complex and problematic relationships we have with Instagram. Sure, it’s an infinite well of inspiration and a way to acquaint yourself with the perspectives and opinions of a wide-ranging assortment of people from disparate corners of the world. But recently, I couldn’t help but go all Carrie Bradshaw on myself and my roomie by wondering, When inspiration morphs into comparisons, when the people we choose to follow exacerbate our anxieties instead of enrich our minds, and when we spend a good chunk of our mental energy intricately crafting together a *personal brand* that we hope people will ‘like’, are we really able to control the effect Instagram is having on our lives?
BoF recently published a brilliant op-ed about the dark side of social media, written by Dazed’s digital head of fashion, which I ~ironically~ found while mindlessly flicking through Instagram stories this morning. It opens with a fairly shocking admission, but one that I (if I’m being completely honest with myself) can wholeheartedly relate to:
“A weird thing happened to me recently. I was daydreaming about hanging out with someone I’d met, someone I liked, when suddenly I had a realisation: I wasn’t just imagining us together. I was imagining how we’d look together if another person was watching footage of us on Instagram Stories.”
I agree, in that I feel like we’ve gone above and beyond just curating an image of ourselves online. We are now active audience members in how our online narrative plays out, and I’d be straight up lying to myself if I said that my fantasies didn’t sometimes follow a similar trajectory, or that I didn’t engage in activities with Instagram ~content~ in mind. It’s becoming increasingly hard to separate our online *personal brand* and our everyday selves. If you have a minute, I highly recommend you give it a read.
Towards the end of 2017, I went on a three month sabbatical from Instagram, after a photo of my ex-boyfriend threatened to dismantle the house of cards I’d built for myself over the six month course of our breakup. The image was fairly innocuous in nature, but it completely rattled me nonetheless. I was removed from my immediate surroundings—a particularly pleasant day spent bushwalking in the Byron Hinterlands with my best mates—and into a dark mind tunnel that saw me anxiously trying to piece together the photo’s gaps (Who is he with? Does he still feel a bit sad even when he’s happy, like me? What did he eat for breakfast this morning? Is he currently hooking up with someone I know?). I deleted the app off my phone, asked my friend to change my passwords (I couldn’t hit detonate on my Instagram, that would be crazy), and decided to go offline for a few months to re-evaluate my relationship with Instagram.
It was truly great. I felt free. But that freedom was intermingled with a sense of loss and boredom. I missed seeing all the dumb shit my friends were up to and I felt very out of the loop, professionally. I wrote myself a few house rules (mainly around usage and oversharing), ruthlessly culled anyone who featured my ex routinely, and then begged my friend to let me back into my account. I (thought I) was ready to add ‘moderation’ into my vocabulary.
But you know what they say about best-laid plans… Despite the restrictions I put on myself, I still often feel trapped by Instagram. For every good thing that comes from Instagram (sourcing exciting young photographers, laughing at a friend’s story, finding a thigh-slapping good meme, stumbling upon a cute new ethical brand), there’s an ugly side (feeling inadequate about my life and the possessions that fill it, diluting quality one-on-one time with people by mindlessly checking-in during our catch ups, being veritably yelled at by brands I don’t like to buy stuff that I don’t need, wasting mental energy crafting a false reality of myself and my life that lends itself to judgement and ultimately determines my own self worth, etc). It’s tiring stuff…
Which leads me to my question: if you are being completely honest with yourself, how does Instagram *actually* make you feel?
Talk it out in the comments section, ’cause I’d really love to know.
Words, Madeleine Woon