A few months ago, I was stuck in an Instagram K-hole. You know the one – you’ve been scrolling for a ridiculous amount of time, looking at people living these spectacular existences, having The Most Perfect Christmas Ever while you’re slouched on the sofa with the crumbs of a Quality Street no one wanted (FYI the coffee one) around your mouth.
I was looking at this gorgeous woman’s feed – she lives by this white sandy beach in Australia, she has the body of an Amazonian goddess. Each photo is stunning beyond words. Basically everything and everywhere I wasn’t.
What I noticed, was that this woman’s feed, like so many others I followed, continued to not only make me feel bad about what I didn’t have, but crucially ignore the things I DO have.
Then this beautiful woman posted a message revealing that she battled mental illness and that though her pictures suggest she lives a perfect life – pictures she intensely curates, by the way – she actually struggles like everyone else. I’ve seen this happen a lot – where personal trainers, bloggers etc put up a ‘real’ post in between this relentless conveyor belt of impossible aspiration.
And although this post was great, and I understand how hard it is to open up about your struggles with mental health, I have to call bullshit on it. Because one genuine post in a sea of other posts that unfortunately aren’t real life, is not going to cut it.
I love Instagram and the solution for me here wasn’t just to stop using it. What I had to do, for my own sanity and self worth, was to be ruthless about who I followed and what message they were putting out there. If someone was simply perpetuating impossible life standards, then it was gone from my feed.
Because being only human, I couldn’t help but be influenced by what I was seeing.
Then, I finally saw behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, and Instagram quite frankly will never be the same for me.
I’ve been travelling alone for the last month or so, and when you are a solo traveller you notice things a lot more. And man, did I notice how practiced and contrived these seemingly nonchalant Insta photos are.
Me being a wanker on a beach…but an honest wanker
I saw people frolicking in the surf (and falling on their arses) countless times on the beach. I would watch to see whether they then sat on the beach afterwards to read, or went for a swim. They mostly did none of these things – the beach was merely to facilitate the idea that they were having fun on it, when the reality was they did their business and then buggered off.
There were rope-swing photos, hearts set against the sun. Friends barely speaking to each other who would then put on a practiced smile in a bikini. A woman in a cape artfully caught by the wind. A man with baggy pants artfully caught by the wind. I took a wrong turn on a beach and ended up in a little bit of jungle land to come across a woman conducting her own photoshoot with her phone propped up against a tree stump.
This happened over and over again, and what I have to say is that though I love Instagram and what a wonderful thing it has been to connect me with people all over the world, I find the sometimes artificial nature of it deeply off-putting.
I’m not talking about taking selfies, or posting pictures of you having a nice time, or any of that. I’m talking about the gulf of genuine experience and emotion, and these strange templates we ascribe to for showing people we are having a good time. My promise to myself is that I’m not going to post any fake shit – I’m just not, because doing so just perpetuates and feeds the worst aspects of Instagram.
I realise I don’t have anything to lose – I’m not someone who makes money or builds my brand through Insta, I’m just on here to have a good time, share some thoughts and have conversations. But wouldn’t it be wonderful and refreshing if someone who did actually have a ton of followers, decided to put something different and bold out there? And by doing so, that then creates a ripple effect of some more genuine feeds and content that don’t, by default, make you feel inadequate about your life?
For now anyway, I have a rough guide to people I follow on Insta, and it’s serving me well so far.
I don’t follow fitness people who push slimming products, or who are a lot younger than me – unless they post how-to videos of new exercises. Inspirational photos that make me aspire to try experiences are great, but not ones where I can’t change certain aspects of myself eg my skin colour or my age. And they’ve got to have something to say for themselves – no more accounts with batshit captions like ‘They Wanna Hate But I Do My Own Thing’. If you want to pose in your undies, fine, but posting it alongside a fakey existential message that has nothing to do with the photo…I’m just over it.
On the other hand, there are still tons of amazing people from illustrators to tattoo artists, from writers to wet-myself-laughing comedians, from fitness people to feminists doing wonderful, inspiring things that I love learning about. So, happy scrolling!