When I first created my Instagram account in 2014, it was — like many other things in my teenage years — solely because of One Direction. After attending my first 1D concert, I desperately wanted to share with the world that I’d breathed the same air as my favorite boy band, so, I did what everyone was doing at the time: I took a few selfies, quickly chose the one I liked the most and uploaded it to Instagram. Voila! It was my first-ever IG post. Back then, I wasn’t familiar with the anxiety that comes with posting on social media or the “casual Instagram” aesthetic that’s now taking over the app. But if there’s anything I’ve realized, it’s that over the years, Instagram has drastically changed the way we present ourselves to the world.
According to Business of Apps, as of 2022, there are approximately 1.4 billion Instagram users worldwide. Instagram Business Statistics reports that there are about 200 million business profiles on the app and around 500,000 active influencers — many of whom are known for having highly-curated, aesthetically-pleasing feeds. Over the years, many creators have worked tirelessly to maintain a certain “vibe” on Instagram through intentional editing, filters, posting schedules, and more. This is a far cry from the early days when we’d post unpretentious selfies at 1D concerts and overly-edited close-ups of food and nature without judgment.
Recently, however, there’s been a shift in how creators are using Instagram. Instead of having perfectly-curated, cohesive feeds, many users are opting for mismatched photo dumps, funny “sh*tposts,” and haphazard shots of everyday items. The vibe is messy, nonchalant, mismatched, and weirdly authentic; it looks like “casual Instagram” is officially here.
What Is The ‘Casual Instagram’ Aesthetic?
Instead of having a perfectly-coordinated Instagram feed, embodying “casual Instagram” is the opposite. Instead of posting only glam shots and killer selfies with flawless makeup, you might post photos of normal moments from your daily life, like a selfie with your sweatpants that usually don’t see the light of day or your not-so-photogenic lunch. The casual aesthetic is meant to be a more relaxed version of approaching social media — perhaps a rebellion against the curated feeds we’ve seen for so long.
When it comes to “casual Instagram,” all of the cool kids are doing it. Emma Chamberlain, for example, is a pro at the casual aesthetic, as demonstrated by her random photos of garlic and zoomed-in pictures of her cats. Charli D’Amelio posts her messy kitchen and unedited pics with her dog, Timothée Chalamet randomly posts his Cup Noodles meal, and Maude Apatow uploads an unfiltered photo of herself sleeping. For celebrities, a “casual” Instagram account (or even just a few casual posts) might be a strategic way to appear relatable to the outside world — or, it may simply be a sign that curation is no longer a priority on IG.
adopting a more “casual” approach to Instagram could benefit your mental health.
According to Lexi Joondeph-Breidbart, LMSW, a therapist, social media expert, and founder of the Lonely Hearts Club, posting casually on Instagram can be helpful for those who tend to feel anxious while using social media — and might lead to greater enjoyment of the app.
“Instagram started out as a personal app, so the idea of a casual Instagram is nice because it isn’t curated,” she tells Her Campus. “It isn’t meant for entertainment or meant to sell the user a product or lifestyle. A casual Instagram shares moments from someone’s life that they want friends and family to be a part of.”
However, Joondeph-Briedbart points out that even casual posts can come with pressure to perform and compare yourself to other users. In other words, if you feel like even your “casual” posts have to be perfect, this can be equally as damaging to your mental health.
“Continuously taking in images of ‘perfect’ bodies, meals, decor, and overall lifestyle leads the user to compare their own life to the ‘perfect’ one they are constantly being fed to see,” Joondeph-Briedbart tells Her Campus. “The pressure to come off as someone very different than your authentic self can lead to anxiety and depression.”
It’s no secret that social media can be detrimental to your mental health in many ways. A 2016 study published in Depression and Anxiety found that social media use was closely associated with depression in adults ages 19-32. Another 2016 study published in Media Psychology found that Instagram, in particular, adversely affected the body image and self-esteem of young women, and Instagram use has been associated with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Constantly viewing others’ highlight reels and comparing our lives to others’ intensely curated feeds can create unrealistic standards that seem impossible to follow.
“Instagram naturally influences people to judge themselves, compare their posts to other feeds, and never feel satisfied with the amount of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ they get,” Joondeph-Breidbart tells Her Campus. Even with a seemingly “casual” account, the pressure of having quality photos and racking up a ton of likes can still make Instagram feel toxic.
Is casual Instagram rooted in privilege?
At a glance, “casual Instagram” might appear to be leveling the playing field for social media users. However, who is the trend actually for? TikTok creator @cozaakili posted this video exploring “casual” Instagram, what it means, and why there might be more to the trend than meets the eye. For example, do casual posts represent a shift toward authenticity online? Or have celebrities and everyday creators like me simply given up on curation?
Diana*, 22, feels that the casual aesthetic can be difficult for everyday Instagram users who aren’t celebrities, influencers, or people with access to fancy technology. “I feel like there’s so much pressure — even for people who have casual Instagram accounts — that if you can’t afford the newest phone, for example, your Instagram won’t have the ideal aesthetic,” she tells Her Campus.
This begs the question: If you don’t have a trendy film camera or an iPhone that takes high-quality photos, can you still achieve the cool-yet-casual Instagram aesthetic as celebrities do? If your backdrop isn’t Los Angeles — rather, a small dorm room you share with roommates — can you still capture the cool, relaxed-looking feed? Maybe, but chances are, it’ll take effort. (So much so that the photo-taking process no longer becomes “casual”). Even so, the emergence of new apps like BeReal, which encourage unfiltered, low-pressure posts might be a sign that social media norms are changing.
What does Gen Z say about “casual” Instagram?
According to Sprout Social, 31% of active Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 24, and although TikTok continues to be the fastest-growing platform for Gen Z, many college students and recent grads are still on Instagram. So, what do they have to say about the “casual” aesthetic?
Diana, who identifies her Instagram feed as “casual,” tells Her Campus that she typically posts photos of artwork, her dog, and her family, and claims to not overthink the process too much.
“I like to think of my Instagram as a photo album of my special moments,” she tells Her Campus. “I enjoy looking at my account and seeing lots of happy memories…I post the photos I like and don’t really think about what my followers will think.”
Diana believes that her relationship with Instagram is healthy and admits to only checking the app occasionally. “This week, I only checked Instagram twice,” she says. She used to spend a long time scrolling through her feed, but stopped when she noticed it was negatively impacting her mental health and creating pressure to post certain types of content.
“I noticed that every time I uploaded a photo of myself looking pretty, I got so many more likes than my other ‘casual’ posts,” Diana says, which speaks to the ongoing pressure that many young women face on social media.
Betty*, 24, also took a step away from Instagram to improve her mental health. “A while ago, I unfollowed many accounts that made me feel anxious, which made a huge difference,” she tells Her Campus. Like many other members of Gen Z, she has also adopted a more “casual” look for her Instagram feed.
“Most of my photos on Instagram are taken by me or my friends. They’re not posed or glamorous at all,” Betty says. But even though her relationship with Instagram is reportedly “healthier than it’s ever been,” she still struggles with anxiety about posting.
“I think about posting something on a weekly basis, but always get discouraged for some reason,” she adds. “I have a lot of cute photos, but after looking at them for so long, trying to figure out if I should post or not, I end up finding an excuse not to post it.”
Jaize, 19, has an aesthetically-pleasing Instagram account that features a mix of beautiful makeup looks, collages, and artsy photos. Although her feed isn’t entirely “casual,” she has managed to maintain a “mostly healthy” relationship with Instagram and uses the app as a platform to express her creativity.
“I personally enjoy the way my feed greets people with color, layering, and a plethora of stickers,” she tells Her Campus. “While my aesthetic isn’t as strict as that of many others, I’m a multifaceted person and believe my feed should reflect that.”
Although Jaize’s relationship with the app is positive overall, she mentions that Instagram can still create a lot of pressure — citing comparison culture, the app’s impact on body image, and the constant flood of heavy topics and posts that certainly get to her — especially as a woman of color.
“In a world where I’m constantly forced to validate my racial trauma, it can be extremely exhausting to see antiblackness, bigotry, and police brutality consistently on my timeline,” she says. “While I take pride in spreading awareness about instances of inequality, an abundance of pessimistic headlines and videos of racially motivated violence can take a toll, leaving me feeling helpless.” When that happens, she takes a break from scrolling and tries to channel her emotions into writing.
You can have a healthy relationship with social media, no matter what aesthetic you choose.
At the end of the day, it’s your choice whether or not to pursue a “casual” aesthetic or a more curated one. You might even commit to a certain overall aesthetic while still including an occasional “casual” post or photo dump on your feed, like Emma Chamberlain and Charli D’Amelio. Joondeph-Briedbar says that Instagram can still be a positive, fun experience whether your feed is considered “casual” or not; it’s all about how you approach the app, not necessarily how your photos look.
If you’re currently struggling with social media, Joondeph-Briedbart recommends unfollowing people who don’t make you feel good about yourself. “Remind yourself that it will take awareness and effort to combat the following effects of Instagram: judging one’s self, comparing one’s life to others, and viewing ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ as a measurement of self-worth. But if you can go into the app recognizing this, then you can minimize the negative impacts of Instagram, no matter the aesthetic you follow.”
*Names have been changed. Interviews have been condensed for length and clarity.
Lexi Joondeph-Breidbart, LMSW. Therapist, social media expert, and founder of Lonely Hearts Club.
Kleemans, M., Daalmans, S., Carbaat, I., & Anschütz, D. (2018). Picture perfect: The direct effect of manipulated Instagram photos on body image in adolescent girls. Media Psychology, 21(1), 93-110.
Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., … & Primack, B. A. (2016). Association between social media use and depression among US young adults. Depression and anxiety, 33(4), 323-331.