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The casual aesthetic is not casual

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Washington chapter.

Recently, more and more users of social media, specifically photo posting apps such as Instagram, have been using their accounts to publish more unposed, less filtered pictures.  This trend was established as a means to push back against the toxic pressure that surrounds posting and having to display a perfect life for the world to see.  However, this “casual” posting is anything but casual.  

A recent compliment I received in regards to my personal Instagram account was how “genuine” I seemed, and how much my feed fits my character.  At first I appreciated that statement – the affirming “yes, you do seem like a cool person online.”  However, after reflecting for a few days, I realized how this “genuine” version of myself was not actually genuine.  Nobody actually sees me going through my camera roll, deleting all of the unflattering pictures of myself just to find a singular photo that passed the social media check.  One photo of hundreds, only to receive some virtual validation through likes and comments.  I have to perfect my online facade to ensure that my followers perceive me in a certain image – as the happy but hot, cute but creative, social but sentimental, girl.  

This pseudo reality where the pretty parts of real life are posted in a photo dump is an attempt to show that the individual does not care.  In this day and age, the concept of appearing unproblematic or easygoing seems to be two of the most desired personality traits to exemplify on social media.  This is a subtle manner to adhere to the “one of the boys” persona, rather than appearing to be too high maintenance *cough cough* – internalized misogyny.  High maintenance in society is almost synonymous with feminine, and therefore will be treated as a subpar trait.

Yet this notion of casual Instagram is still to prove something to followers – an ideal to live up to.  Posting should theoretically be a place to share refreshing, fun photos, yet in practice it is a means to be “different from the other girls” and somehow stand out from the crowd and feed of filtered images.  Instead of being obvious that the user tends to their social media account, they do it in more subtle ways as an “even more conscious way of trying to be effortless,” as UW freshman Grace Buckman states.

Both are curated aesthetics; casual Instagram just appears more authentic.  It is still an attempt to achieve a specific aesthetic.  

And no matter what anyone does, Instagram users will almost always be shunned for their feed.  Too filtered?  She’s fake.  Too much skin?  A sl*t.  Too casual?  Trying too hard to be quirky.  These kinds of comments are limitless.

Side note – understand how it is implied that the social media user here identifies as female.  This further alludes to the underlying misogyny that is concerned with posting on Instagram because no one is questioning the aesthetic of any male-identifying individual’s feed.  Nonetheless, this discussion about social media and feminism is for another article.    

The solution?  Well, to me, there seems to be none.  No matter what we do, the digital age has ingrained in our minds that we need to create a guise to be liked by followers whom we probably do not think twice about.  Why do I care about the opinions of my mutuals from middle school who still follow me?  But for whatever reason, I do care.  Society has edified that appearance on social media is the end all be all for our purpose in life – to show the happy moments whether or not we are truly happy, but we give the impression of being so. 

However, I think to create a healthy relationship with social media, users who struggle with curating their feeds should accept that everyone else’s feeds are also curated in their own distinct ways.  

So, yes, my feed is heavily cared for.  I realize that I subconsciously attempt to achieve a carefree, “girl next door” aesthetic in order to execute my ideal perception for others to have.  I do want to seem like the cool girl everyone should be discerning for me to be online.  I put a lot of time and effort into my Instagram, making sure I am laughing or smiling or being somewhat genuine.  And, then I edit the photos to be vibrant so other people can remember me on Instagram.  Yes, I do care.  

At the end of the day, we cannot change Instagram or the culture that surrounds this app.  But we can understand that our entire feed is curated, and as long as we are satisfied with our own choices without adhering to the toxicity of social media, then that’s all that matters.

Maggie is a junior at the University of Washington from San Francisco, California. She is majoring in Public Health - Global Health, and doubling minoring in Data Science and Nutrition. Maggie is a tour guide for UW and the social media coordinator for the Food Pantry. She is super excited to continuing on this project as a writer for Her Campus this year, and be able to share her writing pieces with other like-minded women!