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What I Learned From a Year Without Instagram

On November 11, 2020, I deactivated my Instagram account. I know the exact date because it was such a big move that I felt the need to record it in my diary. After all, I had used the app almost every single day for seven years. To me, it was not so much an app as it was a place that granted me access to virtually every single person I knew, and also where I could curate a version of myself that I wanted to be perceived as. 

I deactivated for a myriad of reasons; first, Instagram – and most social media in general – is known to do more harm than good. I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you that. Instagram is a highlight reel of other people’s lives and it’s very easy to fall into the trap of comparison. I can’t recall ever feeling better about myself after using the app. 

Second, Instagram had become oversaturated with ads and sneaky influencer marketing. Influencers – strangers you admire online – distort our reality by posting photos of what we are led to believe are their real lives, but are actually just very subtle, pretty advertisements. It’s unethical and it promotes overconsumption – no thanks! 

Lastly, it had been several months into a global pandemic and I was, simply put, energetically depleted by the internet. When you take the events of the past year and mix it with a population forced to stay inside with little to do but doomscroll, the end result, as you can imagine, is hardly positive.

I told myself that I’d reactivate after a certain amount of time had passed, but it’s been a year now and I have zero desire to return to the ‘gram anytime soon. Here are some of the invaluable lessons I learned after going insta-sober:

  • When I’m not constantly comparing myself to other women on Instagram, I actually kind of like the way I look. I am 5’1 on a good day and may or may not occasionally shop at Zara Kids. Let’s just say, no one would ever describe me as “slim thicc” or comment a peach emoji on my photo. But when you’re not constantly being shown what you lack, the pressure to have it tends to fade away. Did I ever actually want to look like Sommer Ray, or had I just been tricked into thinking that her beauty is the only kind that is desirable? These days, I genuinely feel beautiful in my own skin and I think it’s because I stopped trying to look like other people and focus on what I like about myself.
  • Instead of needing to depict how much fun you’re having, you can actually just enjoy yourself. When I used Instagram, I really liked posting stories because I could look through my archive later and re-watch them all like a digital scrapbook. More often than not, I would think to myself, “Wait, that night actually sucked. Why do these stories make it seem like I had so much fun when I was miserable?” I realized that I had an almost compulsory need to document my life through a happy lens in order to give the illusion that I was always having fun – even when I wasn’t. When you’re really enjoying yourself, you forget the need to broadcast it at that same moment. Life is more fun when you don’t feel like you have to prove it to anyone. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”
  • You will forget about the people who don’t matter. Similarly, the ones who want to be in your life will make the effort to keep in touch. My main hesitancy in deactivating Instagram was that I would lose touch with people I was not close enough to talk to on a regular basis. Later, I realized that this was actually a benefit, not a disadvantage. The psychologist Robin Dunbar theorized that you can maintain meaningful relationships with approximately 150 people at most. To most Instagram users, 150 followers sounds pretty small. One might not care about having meaningful relationships with every follower, but then – what’s the point? There is no value in collecting people like Pokemon cards.

Although my social life was relatively quiet for the first few months, casual friends began to reach out the old-fashioned way – text messages – proving the age-old adage, “If they wanted to, they would.” The hard truth is that if Instagram was the only reason someone kept in touch with you, they probably didn’t care very much to begin with. 

When I feel that occasional twinge of FOMO, my friends suggest that I make a “finsta” account. If you’re like me and unfamiliar with the term, I’ll save you a Google search: according to Merriam-Webster, “finsta” is slang for “fake Instagram – an account made so that a user can post images and interact with other accounts in a more private way, usually reserving the account’s followers to close friends.” Even Merriam-Webster knows how artificial we can be on Instagram! In a world full of staged authenticity and superficiality, we should strive to be our true selves, at the very least on our social media accounts. 

Although I have no plans of returning to the ‘gram anytime soon, my account is not permanently deleted. In a year’s time, I have learned to see the world through a clearer lens; I don’t doubt that my thoughts and choices are my own and each moment is savoured for my own gratification. Perhaps when I can stop thinking of Instagram as a résumé instructing the world how to perceive and value me, I’ll consider reactivating.

Camille is a Communication major at Simon Fraser University. As a kid, she wanted to be like Miss Honey from Matilda and entered post-secondary with dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. After teaching preschool for three years, she realized that she enjoyed connecting with people of all ages and decided that studying communications would open up more creative doors for her future. When she is not typing away at her MacBook, she can be found making TikToks with her cat or re-watching Mamma Mia! for the 700th time.
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