Foreword: This article was not written to try and convince you to join the anti-social media club, nor is it an article to say you are wrong in having and maintaining a social media profile. So don’t get defensive, because I know I did when people would try to tell me that Instagram is evil. What this article is is purely an analysis of the causes that led me to delete my Instagram, along with the effects and differences I’ve seen in my thinking and well-being.
This being said, if you find benefit and joy in using Instagram, please continue using it.
I’ve been an Instagram user for seven years, that is, up until I decided to take a break about two months ago. One morning, I was scrolling through my feed, and it hit me– This is a waste of my time. I didn’t know exactly why, but I felt drained. I later realized the reasons why I felt so tired of Instagram, but to begin, here’s a little history: Since I was just 11 years old, this social media platform has been a significant part of my growing up. At first, Instagram was a innocent place for my friends and I to post silly photos of each other, like when we’d draw Sharpie mustaches on each other at sleepovers. But as I grew older, my Instagram grew with me. I gained over a thousand followers, I posted hundreds of photos and videos– I became very aware of presenting myself “the right way” on social media. By the time I reached high school, I began to post photos of almost everything I did, trying to convince my followers how fun and spontaneous the life of Izzie was.
It is known that most people’s social media only portrays the good parts of their lives. Occasionally there will be a post about the loss of a family member or a tragic accident, which indeed are very saddening and negative things. But I can surely say that very little to never have I seen someone who is open and honest about every little thing they are struggling with. But why would we want to tell the world about the real us? Why would we show the bad side of ourselves if no one else is? To avoid this, many people use apps to alter the way they look, including removing blemishes, whitening teeth, thinning out their waist, removing dark circles– the list goes on. And I cannot say I wasn’t guilty of this, but because of the commonality of apps like this, realistic body image is skewed and people set certain standards for themselves. I don’t mean to sound like every other person who has written an article about how negative social media beauty standards are, but I didn’t realize how much this had affected me until I got rid of the app. If I thought I looked good in a photo, posted it, and didn’t receive as many likes and comments and I though the photo was worth, I’d question if I was really as pretty as I thought I was. This would shave off a layer of my self confidence, because I thought I looked good, but apparently no one else did. That means I’d just have to keep up the good content in order to keep a good like-per-photo average. This is just one of the reasons why I was tired of Instagram. The expectations that I put on myself were a bit overwhelming.
There are very influential users out there who do expose their actual selves, blemishes and all. One of these users that I once followed was @karinairby . Karina is an athletic activist, founder of swimsuit brand Moana Bikini, co-owner of a workout and meal plan called Bikini-Body-Burn, as well as a model, whose goal is to expose the reality behind edited and photoshopped images. This user posts before and after photos of how editing can alter an image. She also is proud of her cellulite, eczema, and stretch marks, encouraging women around the world to take pride in their bodies and not be ashamed of natural things that are societally seen as flaws. She is known for saying that “every body is a bikini body”.
Though there are very real people like this on Instagram, the majority still rests in the picture-perfect world, concealing the flaws and struggles they have. This leads me to the next reason why I deleted Instagram: Validation.
“Everything that you do is subject to discussion and debate and you validate your experiences by documenting them” -Matty Healy, O2 Arena, London, 12/16/16. This quote comes from a live performance of my favorite band, The 1975, where the lead singer Matty would ask the audience to put their phones down for just one, three minute song. He touches on how we find so much credit in our experience by posting it for others to see. I would never admit that I looked for validation in myself through social media, because I genuinely didn’t think that I did. But now that I reflect on my Instagram presence, I realize that I had to post a lot of what I did, in order to feel like it was of important. A common phrase I’ve often heard is, “If you didn’t post it, did it even happen?”. Of course this is a laughable quote, because we all know that is is partially true, but also completely incorrect. But it alludes to how people feel the need to verify their experiences, friendships, and body image through the confirmation of others through social media. Of course this isn’t true for everyone on Instagram, but it is quite common, even though many will deny finding their value in likes, followers, and comments. I wouldn’t say I based my entire worth on my Instagram; it definitely wasn’t that intense. But a part of me felt the need to show my life to everyone. Even in the moment of whatever event it was, I would be thinking of photo opportunities so I could get the perfect post. It would distract me from actually living in that moment, because I was worried about what would look best on my Instagram story or feed. I know this is something active users do as well, because in recent years I’ve noticed people have been keeping an Instagram “theme”, which is where their personal profile is designed to all flow together, whether it be a monochromatic look or photos that are edited very similarly. An example would be the following:
I am guilty of this as well. I would use a certain filter for every photo so when people click my profile, it looks well put together and pleasing. I think themes are really neat and nice to look at. I also believe that this makes people even more image-conscious. It puts limits on what’s “acceptable” to post on their page. I interviewed freshman Holland Keller, who is a very active Instagram user as well as a theme enthusiast. She says, “I use my feed as a ‘gallery’ for my photos. I also use instagram as a virtual journal that I can use to look back on”. She believes that Instagram is important, because “it’s brought me connections to a lot of people: friends, family I don’t see often, and clients for photography. I’ve met a majority of my photography clients from Instagram”. As a freelance photographer, Holland finds a lot of her business on social media. This is one of the positives to having an Instagram account, in fact, it gives people a lot of exposure to potential clients. Yes, I do think there are up sides to Instagram, and this article is not to downplay those advantages. But at the same time, I think it is important to view all perspectives to social media with equal validity.
Freshmen Brennan Ernst deleted his Instagram almost a year ago. Ernst says, “I deleted Instagram because I realized I don’t care about the lives of more than half the people I follow. So I thought why waste my time looking at other people’s lives when I can focus that energy somewhere else. Since I deleted instagram, I’ve used other kinds of social media more, like Twitter and Snapchat, but with those platforms I don’t feel like I’m throwing away my time”. Ernst brings me to my final point. I constantly hear complaints from friends about the annoying people that post all the time, or following people they have never met in real life, and my question is, Why don’t you just unfollow them? This seems like the easy solution, but it was hard for me to do as well. Since being at college, I followed tons of people who go to my school, but that I had never actually seen or met in real life. If they follow you, it’s expected that you follow back, otherwise they will think you’re rude. If you’ve had a single interaction with them, a follow was only expected. On my last day using Instagram, this was the tipping point for me. I was going through my timeline and realized a majority of the people that I followed, I either A) Didn’t care about, B) Had never met, or C) Only followed because they followed me. Then I deactivated my account and deleted the app. I figured that if my friends truly care about me, they could call or text me and not rely on my Instagram to keep updated on my life. Same goes for me; If I truly care about my friends, I will keep in touch with them and not use social media as a means for connection with them. This has helped me focus more on close people in my life instead of relying on their posts to see how they’re doing. I’ve learned that it’s ok not to care about a thousand people, it’s ok to not feel the need to like a post of someone you’ve never actually met. Personally, I want people to know me for who I am and not base my personality on my Instagram feed.
I did not acknowledge the impact this app had on me until it was gone. This is not to say I will never have Instagram again, because I know eventually I’ll want to redownload it. I do miss it at times; I feel out of the loop every once in a while. But my time away has opened my eyes to things that have ultimately helped me grow as a person. And when the time comes where I do want my account back, I’m going to approach it a lot differently. There is no cure to make Instagram a wholesome and realistic community, but I think if we all take a step back, consider how much the app impacts our lives, and make some changes to how we approach it, then maybe Instagram can be a place where there is no need to perform for anyone.