Rethinking Instagram

How I’m negotiating the pros and cons of my favourite social media platform

I love Instagram. I love being able to collect and curate a grid of my happiest moments and scrolling back through them weeks, months, even years later. However, I am also keenly aware of what it means to curate only the ‘aesthetic’ moments. It makes for a satisfying grid, yes, but it also makes for a warped perception of what life is actually like.

We talk a lot about how following influencers (or even visiting the Instagram explore page) can wear away at our self-confidence. We see seemingly-endless swathes of people living their ‘best lives’, and compare their highlight reels to our outtakes. The whole concept of an Instagram ‘grid’ (the way your profile is laid out) encourages at least some consideration of aesthetics, whether that’s filters, colours, subject material, or anything else.

Influencers appear to be on a perpetual holiday, have perfect skin, and are always surrounded by loved ones. We are not all ‘influencers.’ And, in reality, this is a product of delayed and spaced-out posting, filters, and selective information. Of course I’ll say my Christmas is perfect – no one wants to hear about the bad bits on Instagram.

Influencers appear to have perfect lives, when the reality is that we’re comparing their highlight reel to our outtakes. Zoe Sugg adds a disclaimer to the bottom of her post that she won’t actually be this dressed up for Christmas, but, regardless, she needs it to at least appear this way.

We see this everyday, and so we subconsciously begin to curate our own lives, too. However, in ‘curating’ our own grids or feeds, we trick ourselves into thinking that our lives are also perfect (or, this faux representation of perfect that doesn’t actually exist at all, for anybody, anywhere). At the least, we think that our past lives were perfect – the moments we posted about – and then we feel guilty for not feeling perpetually Instagrammable.

My current ‘grid.’
A picture from my Instagram feed. Unfortunately, my life is not all sunshine and pedalos, but apparently I like for my followers to think that it is.

Obviously, we don’t all feel this way. It’s a self-directed, self-determined and self-created environment, of course, and no one is explicitly telling me to feel or behave in this way – to consider what I post on Instagram so thoroughly, or to analyse my engagement so completely. However, it takes a really strong willpower to ignore the grip that Instagram develops on your self-esteem, especially as a young, 21st century woman.

I first downloaded Instagram in 2012, back when it was still dominated by photo challenges and oversharing (not too dissimilar from Facebook). It was a place of experimentation: people were still figuring out what Instagram was going to mean to them, the place it would fill in the market, and the time it would fill in the day.

The kind of content I like to see when I’m scrolling through Instagram.

For me, it’s morphed from such photo challenges, to low-quality photos with friends, to more of a curated feed. I wish it was messier, just so I could write this post and be the perfect guru. I’m not, and I do still think about my posts: I’m not as comfortable posting as frequently as I used to, or as candidly. In fact, all of those previous posts were deleted back in 2017 when I started my Instagram over.

It does, unfortunately, still make me slightly uncomfortable when I don’t get as many likes as I was expecting. But this is something I’m hoping my new approach to Instagram will help remedy.

At present, Instagram is still widely considered through this lens of self-esteem. That doesn’t mean to say, though, that Instagram is only for influencers, or for curating a profile that is similar to one of an influencer. People still use Instagram as a centre for their creativity: for art, photography, meme-sharing/creating, comedy sketches, even inspirational posts. The rise of the ‘Finsta‘ proves that Instagram is undergoing change, or at least that people are looking for something else within its ‘aesthetic’ boundaries.

Hence, I have decided to rethink my whole concept and use of Instagram.

Trying to feel ‘at home’ on Instagram

Stop thinking in numbers

My 2020 Top 9. It’s a quick and easy way to rank your year through other people’s eyes and opinions. (i.e. it’s useless)

By abandoning any concept of ‘likes’ and what they ‘mean.’ They don’t, actually, mean anything. A lot of people just scroll and like automatically. A lot of people don’t like anything at all. Instagram’s weird algorithms (which is something to think about and tackle if you’re a business on Instagram, but not really if you’re just a person) mean that your post could be missed by a lot of people for literally no reason. It doesn’t matter.

I used to think that certain posts were more ‘likeable’ than others: that photos with friends and groups would perform better than solo shots because they proved I actually have friends and a social life. In reality, 7 of my ‘Top 9’ Instagram posts were pictures of me alone.

A private account

I made my account private about 2 years ago. One day, I came to the sudden (and jarring) realisation that I was broadcasting my life to whoever was interested or even whoever accidentally stumbled across my profile. I’m not trying to monetise my Instagram, so I really have no reason to be public. I reject friend requests on Facebook if I don’t know the person – why should Instagram be any different?

Taking back control of who follows me

A ‘deals’ account that used to follow me. Used to.

Recently, a new app update means that you can now ‘remove’ followers from Instagram. I am in love with this feature: finally, that ‘audience’ can be completely controlled by me. (Privatising your account doesn’t give you control over people who already follow you.) However, to get comfortable with it, I first had to get comfortable with that first step: to stop thinking in numbers. It’s so easy to get bogged down with counting how many followers you have, and how that correlates with likes. At the strong risk of sounding shallow (but also, if I’m completely honest), the first time I removed a follower, I instantly thought about how that could be one less like on my next post.

Then I realised that I need to stop buying into this rubbish, and that I really don’t care.

It’s a mammoth task to remove all the random people who follow me – inactive accounts and spam accounts galore – but I’m doing it bit by bit to clean up my Instagram and to make it a virtual space that I actually feel comfortable in.

New reasons to post

With my shifting relationship with Instagram has come a shift in how I treat it. I still consider my grid to be a highlight reel, in a sense – but I’m less scared of the repercussions of what I post now (the bikini picture was a step in the right direction in terms of filter-less body confidence). My story has actually become a great place to express myself, and broadcast more Finsta, less grid-worthy style things (namely, me trying to blink at 6 seconds).

I never used to post on my Instagram story because I felt like I was broadcasting my posts to a wider audience than my grid posts ever reached. Where the number of likes determines the (arbitrary) success of a post, the views determines the success of a story. However, stories are such a beautiful creation: I can document quick moments and look back on them later. I documented a whole 3-week Interrail trip on my Instagram stories, and I can catch up on the moments I forgot all about:

Like spontaneous club nights in Budapest…

…or cute coffee dates in Vienna…

…or random, funky signs in Budapest.

Having access to this bank of memories made me fall in love with Instagram all over again. I think it’s an incredible platform, but it does, granted, nurture toxic behaviour (like counting likes and comparing yourself to other people). I want to continue rethinking how I interact with platforms like Instagram, because doing so actually exposes a lot of underlying, personal problems: issues with self-esteem, with external persona, with obsessiveness, with overly controlling the controllable so that the uncontrollable doesn’t creep up on me.

I just don’t want a manicured Instagram, anymore.

Published by Liv

My name’s Liv, I’m 20 years old, and I’m currently studying English at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. I'm a journalist alongside this blog. Visit my home page or for more.

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