Smeared mascara selfies, blurry photos of beer bottles, the occasional meme — I’m scrolling through the Instagram feed of a girl who worked with me one summer. If you searched her name, though, these would not be the pictures that appeared on your phone screen. You would instead find perfectly saturated images of her at the beach or with her dog. This is because the feed I’ve been stalking is from this girl’s finsta.
Even if you don’t have a finsta yourself, you’ve probably gotten a follow request from or stumbled upon the profile of one. The characteristics of a finsta account, popular among us young adults, are typically universal. It’s a private profile with a funny/punny username based on that person’s true identity and a profile picture that you have to squint at to discern who’s in it.
At first, the whole point of a finsta was to be funny. On the first finstas I saw while I was in high school, people posted silly pictures and videos of themselves and their friends. It was also a place for them to still get likes on partying pictures or posts with certain four-letter words without their moms seeing them. To some extent, finstas are still used in this way. However, there’s been a shift in the primary focus of finsta posts. The end goal is still the same: validation.
Now, when I scroll through finsta posts, the picture is largely irrelevant. It’s the caption that matters. They’re huge blocks of text venting about the rough time that person is having. It can be a laundry list of everyday complaints (parking citations, failed exams and messed up Starbucks orders) or something more serious, like feelings associated with anxiety or depression. Sometimes there isn’t a wall of words. “I only cried once today, so there’s that,” a caption I saw on my feed once read.
The shift in finsta posts remains true to the definition of the account. It’s a place where people can post things that aren’t acceptable to share on other forms of social media. While for some this takes the form of red solo cup pictures or Snapchat selfies, for a majority of others, it’s in the expression of raw feelings. In a generation where mental illness and even just stress are so overwhelmingly common, a caption on a “secret” Instagram account is the only relatively public place where people feel like they can release their emotions.
When I was once explaining the concept of a finsta to a friend’s mom, I said, “You can post whatever you want, whenever you want and however often you want.” She replied, “You can do that on any social media account, though.” I realized that she was right.
Technically, we do have the ability to share our emotional, oversharing posts on any account and on any platform. In practice, though, we don’t. The idea of posting about the weeklong depressive episode we’ve been in or how we don’t know what we’re doing with our lives where everyone can see it makes us cringe. We don’t want to ruin our color-coordinated grid because we can’t find a picture that conveys our anxiety attack. We don’t want our aunt who we only see on holidays offering advice we’ll never take via a Facebook comment.
What the teenagers and young adults with finsta accounts really want is to express their feelings without consequence. They know when they hit post on their long rant about their life, they’ll get validation in the form of likes from their followers, and that’s it. What does it say about us as a society that we feel the need to keep such a simple request hidden?
Communicating your feelings is a good thing. That’s not so hard to process. Social media shames us for the overshare, though. We lose followers and see subposts that read “You don’t need to make a post about everything.” There can even be real-life fallout — “Did you see what she posted?”
However, on a finsta, oversharing is accepted if not actively encouraged. The culture of a finsta feed is truly bizarre. I’ve followed detailed accounts of the dating lives of people I haven’t spoken to since I graduated from high school. I’ve smiled at someone as I passed them on my walk to class, knowing I read about their mental breakdown on their finsta the previous night.
Finsta followers are often a mismatched bunch. They can vary from a person’s closest friends to someone they’ve never spoken to face-to-face. This speaks even more to the dire need for expression. Venting to a group text with our friends just isn’t good enough. Perhaps it’s the flexible permanence of a post. We can delete it if we regret our oversharing. We can also let it be part of our page forever. Maybe it’s because no one feels required to directly respond to a post. Getting all your feelings out to your friend in a text only to have them leave you on read? That stings. No one has to comment on a finsta post, though. A like is enough engagement. Even knowing people saw what you had to say can be validating.
So, are finstas ruined by the transition into unfiltered emotional expression? The gut reaction is to say yes. The fun of a finsta seems to be over. Yet, venting posts are true to what made finstas so appealing in the first place. It’s still an account where you can post whatever you want without fearing judgmental comments or bringing down your aesthetic. If anything, the abundance of catharsis from posting about feelings you would normally keep bottled up is healthier than any other kind of post.
It’s not just hard to be authentic on social media; It’s almost taboo. As I scroll through the finsta posts on my feed and read the different captions (“Is this pic good enough for my main account?” and “ugh, my mom pisses me off so much sometimes” — a classic homage to teen angst), I think that this might be as true as we young adults get through a phone screen: real, expressive and unfiltered.