The Marmite Effect of Instagram

Social Media FOMO + Addiction

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Instagram – are you a lover or a hater? Chances are if you love Instagram, you’ll be wondering how anyone could hate the marvellous social media app with those little addictive squares – it’s all so pastel pretty. You can scroll and scroll (and scroll) through endless inspiration for your home, your wardrobe, your mealtimes, your make up skills and your garden.

Where would we all go on holiday next or choose a restaurant in NYC, if we weren’t influenced by other people’s stunning holiday snaps?! It’s a great way to keep in touch with your mates too – and even get to know more about the lives and loves of your favourite celebs. There are accounts full of motivational images to get you through your hard times, or even just a Monday morning. Step up your fitness routine with the help of the latest on-trend guru, educate yourself to the latest issues impact female equality, or simply connect with like minded souls that you’ve found via your shared love of a particular hashtag.

All of that, before I’ve even mentioned that it’s a fabulous way to look at the work of some incredibly talented photographers and artists from across the globe. With so many countless reasons to absolutely love it – why has it left me feeling so cold of late?

I have always loved photos and photography – as a child, I would happily look through anyone’s photo albums (as long as people were in the photo, I wasn’t so keen on landscape back then) and as a teen I rocked my way through many a roll of 35mm film – eagerly awaiting the return of my developed images, most of which were grainy, blurred or heavily featured a fingerprint! Luckily over time, cameras have improved and so have my camera skills. Therefore, Instagram is naturally a habitat that appeals to me.

I love looking at all the beautiful images of people and places, seeing how they have been composed and learning a little about photography and composition skills as I go. Sometimes I’m even inspired to buy stuff, try a new recipe or a different way of styling a shelf (#shelfie, anyone?) I’ve just had a look, and I uploaded my very first photograph to Instagram in October 2011. It’s an image I took of my then seven year old daughter as we sat watching tv and it received 5 likes. In the last six years, she has grown – a lot – and so has Instagram, and my fascination with it.

However, I can’t help but think that as it’s grown, it’s left me behind.

I’m not saying this happens all the time, but often, with the larger accounts, once those unattainable follower numbers are achieved, the sponsored posts kick in with such regularity that, it feels like the account has lost its soul – like the original uniqueness and quality of the posts has become diluted with a marketing message and the feed no more than a string of promotions. You could say there’s been a rather seismic shift towards real, maybe slightly imperfect, Instagrammers that I follow over the past few months.  People I feel I would be drawn to in the real world. People who are nice, chat, share emotionally and most importantly engage. I want, no, I need a conversation – an authentic connection of some kind.

We’ve enjoyed a couple of discussions about Instagram and social media over in the A Life Loved Facebook group (a closed and moderated community that I feel safe within), and, on the whole, people reported finding Instagram a useful source of inspiration – a way to connect with fellow teachers/illustrators/whoevers. However, virtually everyone had experienced some kind of negative feeling towards it at some point. Sometimes, it’s simply the amount of time that they ‘lose’ scrolling through their feeds – time that could be better spent (on a zillion more rewarding things), to feelings of inadequacy and low self worth.

This might be because they struggle to attract new followers or discover images that made them feel shit about some aspect of their own lives.  That they are somehow failing at life because their Instagram feed is not as shiny as another, that their holidays aren’t as adventurous or their clothes aren’t as cool and they don’t now about the latest cool pair of clogs, or something.

That there is an invisible pressure on a whole generation of people to produce a continuous stream of colour co-ordinated, exciting, visually wonderful snapshots of ‘life’, when in reality, most of us go back and forth to work under this grey, British sky – is quite a thing. We all (in the Facebook group), agreed that these mega accounts with their perfectly arranged shelves, jaw-dropping bodies or jet-setting lifestyles are only doing their job, of course.

They’ve made a life from their profile and fair play to them. Boy, does it take a lot of time and effort to make perfect look so effortless and to work in this 24 hour, 7 day a week business. We all said that we know that it’s not ‘real life’ and that these ‘grammers are not doing it to make us feel bad. Only we have the power to make us feel that way! I too have been that person that has photographed her lunch, taken photos of the one perfectly tidy little corner of my home (when the rest looks like a complete shit-tip), happy holidays and Gloria, the cutest of dogs.

I don’t think that you can help but fall into that trap when you become an active user of Instagram. Hell, if you look at my Instagram profile, I’m sure it could make some turn a pale shade of green, but that doesn’t make me feel good.  In fact in the last six months alone I’ve lost a real life friend because of my account and been unfollowed by people I’d been having a right old insta-friendship with – so it’s obviously off putting to some. And I know that shouldn’t hurt, but it does. Regardless of what my Instagram images portray, I still have a sky high ironing pile, a crumbling body and hospital appointments. I still cry when someone is mean, worry about my family and some days I just want to stay in my pyjamas and not wash my hair at all.

But – I don’t ever lie. And I’m actually pretty open on there. Beyond changing the colours a little with filters, there is certainly no Facetuning on my account, no magic body shaping. In real life, I wear my heart on my sleeve and fly by the seat of my pants. Most of the time, I’m just about holding it together on a daily basis, no matter what my photographs might suggest! The images I share are purely and only a tiny fragment of my life – a showreel of the highlights.

And I think that’s what we all have to remember all the time. Instagram is the highly edited moments of our lives. Lots of images, faces and bodies are Photoshopped and/or Facetuned, the ‘casually’ posted selfie was quite probably image number 48 of the 76 taken, and the carefree ‘what I’m doing now’ poses were likely perfectly staged and re-shot – more than once. And let’s not forget too the issue of fake/purchased followers.

Yep, people really, really do that. Even with all this knowledge, I know that there will still be days, when I will spot something or follow some virtual path that will end up leading me down an Instagram rabbit hole and end up making me feel like crap. But at least I’m a lot more aware of it. FOMO (the ‘fear of missing out’) is real when you’re a heavy user of social media.

I’m trying to spend more time away from my phone and not put pressure on myself to post all the time. I’m trying to be more aware of the triggers that set off that critical voice in my head – and when I hear it,  I know it’s time to to step back a bit. I seek out the professional photographers that I admire and the amateurs that I can learn from. I love the bunch of fabulous #IgersBirmingham who bring out the best of my much maligned city and the #ALLlovelies (members of our closed Facebook group) who are simply the most supportive bunch of ladies in the whole wide world who tend to post random crap, and real life stories that I warm to much more than the endless perfect shots.

I guess I’m okay with it all, as long as I stay away from the perfection and find people to actually and authentically connect with.  That is, of course, until I snap my next highly Instagrammable image – by which time, I’ll be back with a vengeance 😉

Am I alone with these feelings or has anyone else felt the same? Are you a lover or a hater? A secret stalker or a 20-a-day poster? Do you feel pressure to only post the very best or do you spamalot? Do you have any words of Instawisdom?

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17 Comments

  • Life is way too short to “stage” instagram shots. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever made more than 2 or 3 attempts at a photo. My best “insta moments” are probably the ones I DONT post, cos I’m too busy living them!

    • Thanks for joining in Harriet! I always go on about ‘living in the moment’ rather than trying to capture it for social media but I am *so* guilty at times. Sometimes you can successfully manage both – like yesterday, Birmingham had the most snow that it’s had in seven years so I couldn’t resist adding it to my story, but then put my phone away and enjoyed the walk and the view with my husband!! Sounds like, you have your Instalife sorted!!! xx

  • More and more I find myself skipping those carefully curated grids and only watching people’s “stories”. I feel they are more genuine… perhaps because they only last for 24 hours people are less concerned of whether it has the right aesthetic to “fit” in to their feed.

    I’ve actually made an early New Years resolution in relation to Instagram. Having changed my handle recently to reflect a career change my feed looks very minimal right now but as I build it back up once a week I want to give a little “imperfect story” to the world to show the “real” me and my “real life” at least once a week, the beauty is in the imperfections after all!!

    Also, I just had to say Kate, you dog is gorgeous!!

    Helen xxx

    • Hi Helen, I agree. I LOVE stories! They are my favourite form of social media. I love making my own because I definitely don’t have to worry about whether something is ‘good’ enough to go on my permanent grid and I love watching others. (I’m currently trying to be braver and talk more on mine, but the sound of my own voice means that many get deleted!!) They are definitely more real and I love real and I’m always attracted to real people – those who share the good, bad and amazing. Perfect just isn’t me!!

      And yes, Gloria is absolutely gorgeous, inside and out. She has such a lovely nature! Thank you xxx

  • Katie I definitely get where you’re coming from, I have had my instagram set to private for a while now as I didn’t like the lack of control I had over my followers. Every now and then the request comes through from a user with 10,000+ followers (they want me to follow them I assume!) and more often than not, I click delete because their feed doesn’t appeal at all. An ordinary person with a few hundred and mish mash of pics from holidays, home decor etc and I’m there.

    • Thanks lovely!

      You just know that when you get a request from someone with a load of followers, but very few people that they follow, that their interest in you is going to be incredibly short term!! 😉 I try to be an ‘ordinary’ person but know that it doesn’t come across like that so much now that it’s also a profile belonging to a model. It’s a constant battle of trying to be ordinary but also trying to potentially get work from it too!!! The struggle is real hehehe! xx

  • Oh I cannot be bothered to stage things! And I’m not that interesting. My feed is excellent for this who like fluffy cats and food. I was private for a long time but opened it up to public when I joined the LMD Facebook group so that I could hashtag and join in the love. And have no regrets now 🙂 I love following you Katie, you’re always honest and I appreciate that in a feed! Zx

  • I love Instagram, love posting my photos and looking at other’s posts.
    Just lately though I have tried to only follow ‘real people’ (like the #ALLlovelies) as I found that my feed was looking so fake and boring!
    I love the story feature and have started using this a lot, I do feel it is more ‘real life’.
    X

    • Thanks Amy. Definitely another vote for stories for their lack of perfection and more ‘real’ nature. I have deleted nearly all the people that aren’t ‘real’ now as it leads to happier scrolling! xxx

  • I absolutely LOVE this article Katie – thank you for expressing so eloquently what I imagine a lot of us Insta-addicts (self-confessed one, right here!) feel about it. As someone who is a massive people person, I love the life story element behind Instagram, but I can totally relate to your notion of knowing your triggers and turning off that voice in your head – it’s certainly an art to not allow yourself to fall victim to those perfect-looking feeds without remembering the effort that would’ve gone into taking that one photo.

    Whilst it does make me sad that even though those of us savvy enough to know there are manufactured elements to Instagram are still sometimes made to feel like our lives and looks are less superior by certain feeds, I actually feel more sorry for those who spend their lives crafting the perfect picture in return for a few thousand followers. It must be a huge pressure, take a lot of enjoyment out of whatever it is they’re doing that they want to document and I imagine it has a significant impact on self-esteem too. It’s something I find fascinating and I would love to hear from ‘successful’ Instagrammers about. Inspo for a future ALL post perhaps, if it’s not already in the pipeline that is 🙂

    As much as I love Instagram, I do fear it has lost its way due to the business aspect of Insta-blogging. I follow a few lifestyle bloggers in my area (they’re great for finding out about lovely local businesses!), some of whom have recently become absolutely shameless in posting ads. I get that it’s Christmas, I get that it can be a nice bit of cash for essentially taking a photo but it’s something I will never buy into – one of the girls I follow, who classes herself as a lifestyle/fashion blogger, posted an ad last week for that poo spray and a Crunchie bar (like we don’t know what Cadbury’s is already…). She even put on her story apologising for ads but ‘I’ve got a wedding to pay for’. I almost feel taken advantage of when I see posts like that and it’s so off-putting. I signed up to this to connect with those around me, not to be told I need to buy chocolate and bloody poo spray!!

    On a side note, I love Gloria too – she is the most gorgeous thing! And another vote for stories too – amazing feature. So much more genuine! x

    • Genuine. Yes, that’s the word Lou! Stories allow you to be more genuine and I like genuine. (The more I’m looking at that word now, the more it looks weird!) Thanks so much for adding your comments. I think the search for perfect photos must be a full time job for some.

      When I was on holiday in Croatia in the summer I spotted two women who spent their whole day taking photos of each other in Instagrammable poses, it was actually very amusing to watch but a bit sad as they were missing the glorious views and experiences. I also know someone that will delete a photo if they don’t get over 200 likes and will be pissed off for the rest of the day for pretty much ‘failing’ at life!

      And, yes, Gloria is easily the most Instagrammable thing I have around. If all else fails – post a picture of the dog 😉 Katie xx

  • This is so spot on. I feel so conflicted with Instagram. I recently started following a spate of fashion bloggers and to be honest it all just seriously depressed me. The daily pressure to keep followers & get likes must be insane. But I also love how it can be a successful outlet for small online businesses and the instamums/dads who can have a shot at working around their children/families and if they can make a living out of it then great. We’ve all gotta do what we gotta do to survive.
    But I agree, the *honest* people are the best! xx

    • Thanks Camilla, like most things in life, there is good and bad in everything, including Instagram! It’s a wonderful thing and great for businesses as long as we don’t allow any of the negative things to get to us 😉 xxx

    • Couldn’t agree more Camilla – I have a constant love/hate fluctuating relationship with Insta. I love it so much for connecting me with inspiring people, creative accounts etc, but do feel down seeing the same rinse and repeat style accounts that have thousands and thousands of followers. So many of them look the same – they are just too contrived. I realise that won’t make me popular saying that! I do love it though for helping to spread the word of positivity – we’re going to try to harness it for that purpose to share great content on A Life Loved. It’s also absolutely assisted my business and that’s a great thing. The FOMO struggle can be real though sometimes – and that’s SO unhealthy.

  • This is a really interesting read – I’ve got into instagram recently to try and stimulate a new avenue of work but also to record my travels with my daughter. I’ve very quickly got bored with all of the ‘perfect’ travel insta accounts with yet another back of a head shot of a woman staring out at an amazing landscape. There are so many of them and although they might be ‘inspirational’ they’ve actually got nothing to say. The people I’ve found that I really enjoy following are those with a strong opinion or something to say. There is a very controversial woman on insta called ‘Hownottotravellikeabasicbitch’ who writes hilarious travel posts though she often annoys me as well as entertaining me

  • I haven’t been an instagram user for long and it’s still all relatively new territory for me.. technophobe and dinosaur that I am:) I see it as a necessary publicity platform for my work and enjoy choosing photos to feature but could never share my personal life in images. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or just who I am.

    I’m not really a bright young thing… hot flash just appeared as I wrote that… body must have understood! Those who look stunning and seem to lead exciting lives full of travel and perfection have my admiration… but I’m not exciting enough to put myself out there:)

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