Hello, lovelies! I know, I know, it’s been a while and I’m terrible at keeping this blog up to date, but I’m on summer break now so I hope to write a lot more!
As a journalism major and teenager I am prone to a not-so-slight social media obsession, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. One popular app in particular comes to mind: Instagram.
When I first joined Instagram a few years ago, I just saw it as a cool way to share photos and moments of my life with my friends. Not once did I think of the potential it had to become a digital juggernaut for photography, networking, and even business. If you’re looking for a social medium where it’s possible to gain a sizable following by posting edited photos, the ‘gram is the place to be. In my opinion, the professional and personal opportunities through this app make it the most exciting platform to use right now. How crazy is it that “Instagram model” is a legitimate phrase and that people can go on amazing trips, get connected to a future employer, or spread the message of a movement, all with a few taps on a smartphone? I see more #sponsored and #ad hashtags in people’s posts than I ever thought possible. Technology is a marvel, folks!
But as with most things in life, it’s wisest to take what you see online with a heavy grain of salt, especially when it comes to Instagram. The harm is done when viewers believe that the photos someone posts on their feed are a completely accurate reflection of that person’s life. Let me stress one thing: This is NOT true!!! And in some cases, relying on likes and follower counts for self-validation can have disastrous results.
One example that comes to mind is the very recent, very public case of Australian teenager Essena O’Neill, who worked her way up the social media fame ladder to become an Instagram star with a following of over 500,000 users. O’Neill once said in a mass email that she had enough money from working with Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube combined to fund travel excursions and live the ultra-glam, expensive lifestyle many people dream of. She signed with a modelling agency, did photoshoots with different products and brands constantly, and even bought her own apartment in LA, all by age eighteen. Yep, eighteen years old. However, O’Neill quit all forms of social media for good in November 2015 and revealed that the digital world she found herself living in was toxic, materialistic, and rested on “perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement.”
Soon after the announcement, she rewrote the captions of nearly all of her 2000+ Instagram photos to show the truth behind her life’s seemingly perfect appearance (before she deleted her account altogether). For instance, one edited shot of O’Neill lifting her shirt to show off a perfectly toned stomach, her hair tousled, now reads: “The only thing that made me feel good that day was this photo. How depressing. Having a toned body is not all we as human beings are capable of.” All the pictures can be viewed on O’Neill’s website BEHIND THE IMAGE, which is the platform she now uses to advocate for safe social media use, healthy self-esteem for girls, and the importance of real life.
When I first heard about this story I immediately thought, “Well, duh…everyone should know that you can’t take Instagram too seriously. Obviously no one’s life is really what it seems online; that’s common sense!” Then I realized — for a lot of people, it is not common sense. If someone posts a picture of a room filled with plants and incense, it’s easy to believe that they’re a chilled out hippie who is all about good vibes and happiness, even if their life is difficult in reality. Maybe we tailor our digital lives to only include the good things because we want to avoid the barrage of negativity in the world today. I’m not quite sure what the reason is, but whether we like to admit it or not, we all care about the image of ourselves that we put out into the world. We get caught up in Instagram themes, filters, and editing techniques that present our individual lives as an “aesthetic” — Lord forgive me if that doesn’t become the most overused word of 2016 — just the way we want it.
Believe me, I am in no way immune to the digital plague and the way it affects my way of life. I check my photos multiple times a day to see how many likes they have. I’m not going to lie, I do feel a little confidence boost when my counts go up, even though I know it’s not healthy to mix self-esteem with social media. I am just as guilty of spending hours playing around on VSCOCam as the next wanna-be photographer. And I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with this; in fact, I personally think Instagram brings out the inner artist and creator in all of us. It helps us see nature and the world from a different perspective, with a photographer’s eye. Colors, contrast, hues, and saturation are suddenly much more noticeable in our everyday lives. Capturing objects from different angles and getting them to fit inside the small square boundaries challenges us to think out of the box. But it is when we let the digital aspects eclipse the real ones that Instaddiction can become a problem. Heavily edited photos and happy captions are okay as long as you remember that what you’re seeing is only one dimension of a person.
So the next time you’re mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and liking every on picture-perfect moment that pops up on your feed, keep in mind that the best moments in life are often unseen, unedited, and offline.
What is your opinion on Instagram’s growth as a platform for business and sponsored posts? Is Internet fame really worth it? Also, leave your username down below and I’d be happy to follow you! I’m @magicalmorganx on the ‘gram.
Stay free! xo