What Instagram Does to My Self-Esteem: A Response

Last Saturday, I had to take an online defensive driving course to clear a speeding ticket I got over the summer. It took me about six hours. Somewhere in the middle, I decided it was time for a break, so I put down my fluffiest blanket and set the stage. My laptop keyboard, a bowl of raspberries, a chocolate chip cookie on a plate, pink lemonade in a mason jar. A second to resurvey, and a decorative pillow was thrown into the mix. A thin blanket in front of the window to smooth out shadows but keep as much natural light as possible. I sat up on my knees and took five or six pictures, my phone camera parallel to the ground. Every angle was considered in relation to the others, each color spaced out as specifically as possible—all to make it look as effortless as I could. And, all of this before I even started editing the photo.

My life is full of inconsistencies. Instead of having a regular coffee order, I try a new blend of flavored latte syrups every time I go to Wiggin Street Coffee (More on that later). My penmanship switches from cursive to print constantly, oftentimes within the same sentence. I can jump from wearing dresses and heels every day for a week to not leaving my room in anything other than black jeans and a giant denim button-down. And I can’t keep an Instagram theme consistent for more than a month.My journey with curating an Instagram feed started about two summers ago. I started working for the marketing department at a local car dealership the same day as Megan. Two weeks later, she asked me if I wanted to go to a Lumineers concert the day before the concert. The rest was history. We immediately established the rule that neither of us would ever judge the other for how much effort we’d put into getting a good photo. The summer became full of lunch-break coffee runs and borrowing each other’s phones to take pictures of each other, and I was constantly inspired by her beautifully cohesive Instagram feed, all the lakeside evenings and potted plants and white countertops and farmers’ markets, all pieces of Megan’s life that fit together so perfectly and always reminded me how totally-pulled-together my new friend was. She could make even our mundane little windowless office space look like a trendy young professional’s dream. It wasn’t long before I started to prioritize my own Instagram aesthetic as well.

Needless to say, Maddie’s article last week about how Instagram, every once in awhile, can really start to get to her, hit home for me pretty strongly. It’s unbelievable how often I find myself scrolling farther and farther down into somebody’s Instagram feed, waiting for them to post something that “trips them up” or doesn’t look good with the rest of that person’s images. It doesn’t seem to happen. I seem to stumble upon so many other users with perfectly consistent lives, whose colors all fit together, whose lines don’t intersect at unappealing angles, who only go to absolutely fabulous artistic places that suit their absolutely fabulous artistic lifestyles. Do you think they ever order a latte that isn’t perfectly designed on top? Do you think they ever leave the house in athletic shorts and a big t-shirt? Do their kids cry, are their boyfriends ever not super interesting and also completely and totally devoted to them? Have they always liked salad, or did they need to grow into it? Do you think they could teach me how to like salad? Do you think they could help me choose just one color scheme to stick to forever? Did they ever feel like they didn’t want to create either? Was life so easy for them just because of how beautiful they are, or are they just so fulfilled all the time that they can afford to also focus on being beautiful? The thing is, even as someone who hasn’t quite mastered minimalism, even as someone whose most current feed is sort of an unsettling mix of clean whites and lowlight photos that I’ve attempted to make fit with the whites, with far too many colors and a nowhere near uniform enough collection of textures, I know how much work goes into being the kind of person whose Instagram always looks nice. Almost all of my posts go through at least three distinct editing software before I feel ready to put them online. My friends have so many pictures of me contorted into strange angles or standing on tiptoe with my camera high above my head, trying to capture an angle the way I want it. And I wouldn’t change those things for anything—I’m more than proud to be someone who can see something beautiful and do everything I can to represent it as beautifully as I see it. But, even with that in mind: really, it does take so much effort to keep up any kind of social media image.

I think what I’m also noticing is that, most of the time, in my happiest moments, I’m way too wrapped up in what I’m doing to think about taking a picture for Instagram. When I’m at my most joyful, feeling as happy as the girls on Instagram that Maddie talked about look on their profiles, my phone isn’t even out. Honestly, I think the stretches of time where I’m at my genuine happiest are the periods when I’m not posting very often at all, or when my posts are inconsistent with each other and more isolated. So, it’s hard for me to say that just because somebody was around and ready to take the picture of someone else’s joy, it must have been more genuine or beautiful or legitimate than anyone else’s.

I totally get it.  I’ve been the kind of person who will gauge my successes by the success of my Instagram profile. I compare my own feed to other people’s and conclude that if their online aesthetics are really that much better than mine, they must also be more artistic, more adventurous, more interesting to be around. It’s discouraging. It really really is, and it can make you feel like there’s no way you’ll ever be enough. So, in a way, Maddie, I’m absolutely the person you were looking for in the conclusion of your article, here to say that I feel the same way you do, and I don’t know some days how to make that better, and that it was reassuring to hear someone else feeling the same way about looking at anyone else’s lives through the lens of a social networking app. But, also, I couldn’t just read the article and move on from it without needing to say that life is always so, so much more complex than anything we’ll ever be able to showcase in eight megapixels.

 

Image Credit: Annmarie Morrison

 

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