I hate how much Instagram still controls my life. I can fool myself into thinking it doesn’t anymore, that I’ve grown out of the teenager who used to consistently upload photos in an attempt to feel liked and wanted. I can pretend that I’m not posting because I don’t care or because I don’t have anything to share right now. But when I look at the amount of time spent on the app, the way it makes me feel once I put my phone down, the number of posts gathering dust in my drafts, the truth is unavoidable.
Instagram makes me feel like shit. It’s as simple as that. It’s one of my favourite social media platforms and where I spend most of my time on my phone, yet it feels more like a foe than a friend. I quickly become torn between wanting to just post things without doubting them and not post at all on this frivolous platform.
It’s such a petty thing to get worked up about, an app that could be deleted in one quick click, and yet it represents so much more than that.
I remember when Instagram first began to gain traction. This was long before Instagram stories were introduced, when we still used Snapchat religiously and obeyed the laws of the Snapchat streak. I downloaded Instagram to follow everyone I knew and quickly started posting photos. The photos weren’t anything remarkable; I even scrolled back to check that. They were heavily filtered and accompanied by far too many hashtags. But they were moments captured. Friends together at a party, a photo of my dog, a nice sunset, and every other moment that contributed to my simple adolescent existence. The photos were far from perfect, but they also didn’t have to be. The standards weren’t that high; it was just about sharing photos. I would post several times a week, others would do even more, and it was just about having fun, liking and commenting on each other’s photos, enjoying the collection we unwittingly built up.
I remember the first fitness account I started following. I was struggling with my eating disorder at the time and obsessively exercising, and her thinspiration certainly fuelled me further. I actually still follow that account, but she’s transitioned so much over the years and now recognises how damaging she and others were. These kinds of accounts started popping up on Instagram a year or two in, entire accounts dedicated to a theme, whether that was cooking, baking, fitness or photography. They were simple, they were still far from the norm of Instagram, and they hadn’t morphed into today’s influencer platform.
The influencer takeover of Instagram didn’t happen overnight, even if it feels that way. At first, influencers were a rarity on Instagram and often mocked for it. They seemed so separate from the way everyday people were using the platform, we were screenshotting our life whilst they were posting photos of themselves.
But as more and more of these celebrities and influencers began to share incredible photos of themselves and their glamorous lives, often highly edited, we began to shift towards this. Suddenly Instagram became a place for sharing photos of yourself, the best photo you could find. You wouldn’t just casually have someone snap a picture or take a selfie; you’d take at least a dozen and then find the best one. You’d adjust the settings, maybe even edit it, and try to mirror the influencers that were stealing this platform.
I remember feeling the pressure to post something if I hadn’t in over a week. I’d put on makeup, change my outfit and take several photos until I was finally happy with one. Then, I’d post it and be anxiously waiting for likes and comments, maybe even delete the photo if I didn’t get them. I’m not proud of this; in all honesty, I’m pretty embarrassed to be admitting it, but I know that I’m not the only one who got sucked into this selfie vortex. We felt the need to prove that we were beautiful, that we still existed. It wasn’t about competing with the thin, gorgeous women that commanded the platform but showing that we tried to be on the ladder that led to them. Instagram became a place of recognition, and likes were the currency we’d starve for.
In the years since, Instagram has only spiralled further into that world, and influencers primary influence seems to be on our self-worth. Instagram has attempted to rectify this by having influencers acknowledge when something is an ad or paid for and adding warnings to hashtags centred around eating disorders and self-harm.
As rational adults, we recognise that Instagram and other platforms are merely a highlight reel of someone’s life. We know that several photos are taken before one is chosen and edited. We know that photos are taken before someone bloats after a meal or with the right angle to hide a fat roll. We know all of this and more, and yet it doesn’t translate into our emotions and thoughts around ourselves. We continue to take their highlight reel to be the entire film; we continue to measure our lowest points to their highest climbs.
I spend too much time watching stories and scrolling through photos, thinking that my life isn’t good enough. I see people taking trips to exciting places, going to new clubs, eating at glamorous restaurants and wearing gorgeous outfits. I then catch my reflection on my screen, the double chin as I look down at my phone, the face bare of makeup, the sad person who hasn’t left her home today, and I feel like I’m wasting my life away. But do I then put down the phone and attempt to enjoy what I have? No, as I can’t manage to connect the two, I can’t manage to understand that their successes don’t have to be mine.
During the lockdown, a new trend emerged on Instagram. We had been trying to ignore the #girlboss culture clawing its way onto the platform when suddenly people began posting photo dumps. But what is a photo dump?
“The idea of a photo dump is that it lets people share photos that might not fit into their curated aesthetic or may not be current.” - Liz Sommar, StayHipp.
It’s a collection of photos posted as a carousel. They can be from a single event or taken over months. People started posting them about their time spent in lockdown, capturing the months and the gems that emerged from it. But now it seems that photo dumps are here to stay, as we continue to see people sharing collections of photos.
Photo dumps could be the solution this platform needs. They remove the need for that single perfect photo, as it isn’t about one photo, it’s about several. They’re about collecting moments, just like we used to, and sharing whatever makes us feel good. You don’t need that one witty caption that you’ll spend too much time on because you have so many photos for your viewer to consider. You don’t have to look at your Instagram feed as a whole entity, to worry about aesthetics or continuity, because we know that life doesn’t have either.
A photo dump makes me feel less scared to post because it isn’t one photo that will be scrutinised. I can choose several photos that I usually wouldn’t consider to be ‘good enough’ for Instagram. I can be imperfect, I can have rolls, I can have squinting eyes, I can have hair mussed up the wind. In the quantity of photos, I feel safe to be myself.
The obvious solution would be to leave Instagram, delete the app and never return. To put my phone away and start communicating by pigeon. But when have we ever done the things that we should, even when we know they’re so much better for us? We have that self-sabotaging streak running deep through our veins, the one that makes us look up our ex to see if they’ve moved on or try on a pair of jeans in a mirrored changing room with unflattering angles. So, for now, I’m staying on Instagram, and I’m merely searching for ways to regain my place on the platform. I want to get back that feeling of using Instagram to share the little moments, particularly with people who have since moved away or when contact has dwindled. I want to build a collection of my life in photos rather than a library of selfies. I want to post on Instagram without doubting it for an hour first. I hope photo dumps can be the path to this.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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