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?