Instagram is a both a blessing and a curse.
The photo sharing app first gained popularity back in 2012. I was just finishing my last year of high school, and at the time, Instagram was a fun distraction – but Facebook was still on top. We all spent lots of time comparing ourselves to our “cooler” peers who went to more parties, had better profile pictures and more posts from friends on their Facebook walls.
I’m not sure how or why Instagram took off in such a major way, but I’m guessing that it had a lot to do with the idea of personal expression and posting pictures that YOU took, that YOU like and that represent who you are or who you want to be. At first, Instagram was “artsy” and something a few people had in addition to Facebook. Over the past few of years however, the Instagram craze has become more and more prominent, and in 2017 it has gotten to a point where I find it overwhelming.
My journey began after my first year of University where I decided to finally download the app and see what it had to offer. My first ever post was very innocent – just a picture of my feet and my messy room with the caption “Can’t believe I finally got this.” I had no idea what was in store, and how this app would change my life and affect my self worth in the years to come.
At first, my Instagram activity was very sporadic and definitely the mark of someone who wasn’t really committed. I posted a picture every few months when I remembered that the app even existed on my phone, and all my first pictures (which are now mostly deleted because they were sufficiently embarrassing) were of random things that I saw and found interesting. I had a nice collection of cottage scenery, animals at the zoo, and art gallery finds all in varying shades of the very primitive “valenica” and “amaro” filters.
That’s what I thought the app was meant for back in 2013 – simply sharing pictures of things that you thought were cool-looking. Clearly, I didn’t have the whole ‘Instagram is made to market yourself and show everyone how hot and fun you are’ thing figured out yet. But I soon learned, as I saw my friends were posting selfies while out at party after party. I realized that Instagram was less about the bouquet of colourful flowers you saw yesterday, and more about saying “Look everyone, I’m pretty and fun and you definitely want to be friends with me.” This is when the pressure started to set in.
As someone who enjoys spending time alone and doing things alone – and who feels extremely awkward asking people to take pictures with me no matter how close we are as friends, the pressure to constantly be posting group photos was wild. I had to though, otherwise I would look like someone who has no friends and that was something I desperately didn’t want. I couldn’t have too many pictures with the same friend either, because then it would look like that was my ONLY friend.
I started having anxiety, looking at other people’s Instagram feeds and seeing how many more friends they had, and how much more fun they were having. This was back in 2014, and it was just the beginning of a cycle that would only get worse.
Around mid-2015, Instagram hit its peak. What started as an innocent way to share a picture with friends had turned into a marketing tool. At this point, people on Instagram were starting to use it less for fun, and more for personal branding and even business. The face of social media was forever changed. The fashion and entertainment industry had been turned upside down, and millennials such as Kendall and Kylie Jenner were now building empires for themselves, profiting from every single post as their following grew into the multi-millions.
It was around this time that instagrammers started promoting lip injections and eyelash extensions, weight-loss teas and hair-growing vitamins. Kim Kardashian even promoted wearing a corset-like contraption to thin out her waist! I started to internalize the fact that in order to be considered “attractive” or to stack up on Instagram, I needed to have makeup that looked a certain way, a certain figure, a particular kind of face, and a life that seemed entirely unachievable.
Instagram started to become a major source of anxiety for me – and even depression. I felt like I had none of these things that other girls had. I wasn’t thin enough, definitely wasn’t put-together enough, my hair wasn’t nice enough, I didn’t have the right clothes, my food didn’t look as good as other people’s food, I didn’t have enough friends, and I definitely didn’t go on enough vacations. I found myself spending hours scrolling, and comparing myself. “I want to look like her,” “I want to buy that shirt,” “I want to take a picture that looks like this too.”
The crazy thing is, even if I did take that picture or get that really good selfie that I thought was finally worth posting, STILL it was never enough. I would look at other people’s Instagram feeds, and they were already so far ahead of me and so much better than me that I couldn’t ever catch up. In my mind, I would be forever inferior.
The more social media becomes incorporated into our everyday lives, the more we feel like there’s really nowhere and nothing we can do to escape it. I’ve tried disconnecting to clear my head, and I’ve tried to live an Instagram-free life just to see if I could get away from the negative mindset it often puts me in. The thing is, I know that I’m just going to go back a week later because there’s a part of me that feels like I have to.
I’d be lying if I were to say that I didn’t spend a good chunk of time each day scrolling through my friends photos and the explore page, looking at everything from beautiful girls who are constantly at the beach, to silly videos of animals, and of course plenty of memes.
I haven’t yet figured out how to navigate Instagram or social media in a healthy way, so I can’t share any advice, but I do think it’s something that needs to be talked about and addressed seriously. Having had a somewhat social media-less childhood, I can’t imagine how adolescents of today deal with all this pressure.