Climb into a world of filtered perfection. A world that papers over our flaws and ties them up in beautiful bows. A world of neat 4 by 4 squares, showcasing faultlessly-executed moments of our seemingly picture-perfect lives. From dazzling white-tooth selfies to enticing a-la-carte feasts, Instagram captures our realities and transforms them into rose-tinted partial-truths. Who wants to live in a world where imperfections are a few? A prettier version of life, minus the scuffs and jagged edges? Sounds tempting, right?
And what a wonderful world it is …
Over to our left, we see an artistically framed Mojito – complete with perfect ice to liquid ratio – consciously embellished in front of a white-sand backdrop. I don’t know about you, but I wish I was sipping on that strategically placed umbrella straw right now! Diverting our eyes to the centre, we see a suspiciously smooth pair of legs sprawled elegantly across a sun lounger, overlooking the crystal-clear waters of some swish hotel’s pool. Jealous? Us? Nah. Our gaze then wanders to the bottom left of our screen where we find the classic #nofilter selfie of some half-faced mysterious person trying to be all artistic. Ah yes. We know what an eye looks like. Thanks for the reminder, though. Once more, our attention is broken. This time, it’s by a bed of clouds gathering above a saffron sunset. “Haven’t we seen this before?” We ponder. Tumblr, perhaps? Oh, look! A cheeseburger and some fries in a vintage filter. “How original!” we scoff. Not as original as the fiftieth cat picture of the day. But wait, this one features a cat in sunglasses, feeling as pissed off as I am exasperated, over the continuous string of Instagram clichés invading my screen.
Let’s get real!
Instagram, Instagram, Instagram. The mere mention of the word has me sighing deeply in despair. “Why?” You may ask.
Are you serious?!
This is, after all, the app that has us spending – at least – 20minutes ferociously trying to capture the perfect picture of our cheese and wine. The same cheese and wine that should be tantalising our taste buds rather than begging us to, “PUT DOWN THE DAMN CAMERA AND JUST CONSUME US ALREADY!”. I mean, why enjoy the moment, when we can just take pictures of it and pretend that this isn’t just any cheese and wine but the greatest cheese and wine of all time? And, oh my! Doesn’t it look just divine dipped in a spot of x-pro-11 and finished with a melodramatic vignette? Sarcasm aside, surely we can eat one meal without posting it on our Instagram? There’s only so many delicately displayed avocados one can stomach, and if I see another carefully curated poached egg…
I’m going to … I’m going to …
*Whispers quietly* … Deactivate my Insta account!
This isn’t the first time I’ve been close to calling quits on my relationship with Instagram. I have thought about it time and time again. I mean, I already dumped Facebook back in 2014. I grew tired of its relentless bragging, oversharing and need to ask me to play pesky games EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF THE DAY! But with Facebook still weeping into its tear-soaked pillow, why was I finding it so challenging to kick ‘Insta’ to the curb? Each time my finger hovered over the deactivate button, I just couldn’t bring myself to press it. Its big doe-eyed lens glared up at me, dolefully, and pleaded, “Please, don’t let me go!”.
“Amanda, whatever will you do without senselessly scrolling through seas of perfection that make you feel, quite frankly, shit about yourself?”
“Geez, Insta. I don’t know? Invest my time in something less superficial and more meaningful, perhaps?”
And so I find myself, yet again, mindlessly flicking through Instagram’s most popular. Only this time, I choose to go deeper. This time, I decide to scratch beneath the layers of pretence and venture into a darker realm of Instagram. A demesne that is far from polaroid-perfect …
Instagram: The Dark Side
The Unfiltered truth
Back in the day, Instagram was known as a haven for aspiring photographers, helping them to add a professional touch to a portfolio of elegantly displayed pictures. Fast forward a couple of years, and it has transformed into an alternative universe of ego-driven, fame-hungry wannabes, polluting the ‘Insta-sphere’ with strings of smug selfies, cheesy cliches and meaningless meme’s.
Let’s take a look behind this illusory world we call ‘Instagram’ ….
It breeds insecurity
Let’s just think about it for a moment. We’ve got some time to spare. What do we do? We find our thumbs gliding towards the famous polaroid icon, of course! In one tender tap, we have now gained access to 300 MILLION peoples’ lives. The world is our oyster and we are the prying-eyed pearls, eager and ready to pounce. Only, as we slide our curious thumb over the 4 by 4 seas of picture-perfection, we begin to feel the confidence drain from every inch of our body. Does this stop us? No. We continue to flicker from one seemingly perfect face to the other; wishing that we, too, had flawless skin. That we, too, had perfectly trim figures. That we, too, were as popular, healthy, loved-up and successful. We begin to ask ourselves, “Why don’t I look like her?” or “Why isn’t my life as exciting as his?”. Before we know it, we have fallen victim to the perilous “grass is greener” envy complex.
But as everyone knows, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – especially if it has been marinated in a medley of fancy filters. What might make us green with envy through the lens of X-Pro II will, merely, be mediocre through the lens of real life. Sometimes we become so caught up in all the filtered fabrications, it’s easy to forget that Instagram is nothing more than ‘optimised flashes’ of our lives. I mean, you wouldn’t find us posting those unflattering beach photos on our social media, would you? Nor would we post images of that ‘lovers tiff’ we experienced just moments after the one of us in a loving embrace.
Regardless of whether the grass is greener or not, these unrealistic and idealised versions of what’s happening in our worlds can lead users to compare and, even question, their own lives. Before we know it, we are pulled into a dangerous envy trap and our perception of the real world becomes even more obscured. The more distorted our perception is that other people’s lives are happier, the less meaningful our own lives become. It’s a dangerous net to become trapped in, and yet, one that many fall into after a scrolling session on Instagram. Is there any wonder why this image-driven app has been linked to feelings of depression, loneliness, resentment and lowered self-esteem?
The Instagram effect
So, we’re feeling a bit shit about ourselves. What do we do? We take some selfies and we post them on Instagram, of course!
One way to compensate the ever-flowing stream of perfection is to self-present with even better photos. Our friends will see our new envy-inspiring images and will post even more enviable ones, and so the cycle spins on like a battle of who can blow the loudest horn. Self-promotion fuels more self-promotion, and suddenly, we find this ego-driven phenomenon has taken over the entire cyber world, and social media, yet again, travels further and further from reality. It’s tragic but true; we live in a world in which our self-worth is measured, chiefly, on the affirmations of others. We have long forgotten that self-confidence starts from within and radiates outwards and, instead, we find ourselves relying on the taps of a heart-shaped button. Likes become our currency; the more we have, the happier we “believe” we are.
But are we truly happy?
It creates a false sense of reality
Who wants to live in the real world when we can live in a superior version? A world of optimisations and rose-tinted realities. There’s no room for flaws here, only picture-perfect still frames of our seemingly incredible lives. Why drink from a stained coffee cup, when you can drink from a pristine, not-a-smudge-in-sight, vintage-filtered Starbucks cup, stunningly framed on an alfresco tabletop? Yep, I’ll take the latter!
Let’s face it, everyone’s lives look better on social media. And that’s the problem. It creates a false sense of reality. When all we can see of each other’s lives is whatever fits within perfectly filtered squares, there’s no wonder we start believing that everyone else’s lives are better than our own.
Generally, people don’t choose to advertise their negative traits on their social profiles. Why would they broadcast their flaws, when they can pull on a mask and be who they want to be? With help from our vintage-filtered friend, we can not only smooth over the cracks but we can reinvent ourselves entirely. We are creators of our own brands. We can achieve blemish-free skin in the tap of an app. We can look more attractive by simply applying a filter. We can make a boring walk look captivating by artistically framing the birds and trees. And if we pose to the right, we can show off our better side. And the beauty of it all? No one suspects what is lurking behind the picture frames and fancy filters – Our alter-egos remain unbroken.
Our false-realities can live on.
Everyone wants to be ‘Insta- famous.’
Everyone wants to be Insta-famous, right? Who wouldn’t?
In the click of a camera, we have thousands of followers, free gifts, paid sponsorships, and the sweet taste of fame.
We are idolised, worshipped and showered in compliments.
We are the envy of thousands.
We dine at the finest restaurants, we party at the most exclusive clubs and we frolic on whitest sand beaches.
We are bon vivant, carefree and blissfully happy
… And then we wake up.
This tailored dream is far from reality and yet so many would walk through fire to experience a mere taste of the so-called ‘Insta’ life.
The saddest part is the fact that, sometimes, this is ALL people aspire to be and, more often enough, it is completely and utterly unattainable. I mean, how can we become something that is just a twisted variant of the truth? Worryingly, this ‘false reality’ has become so influential that it places people on pedestals, and those beneath them, are left plagued with an unhealthy desire to stand as tall.
Like the modelling industry, Instagram sets unrealistic beauty standards for both men and women to fit into these filtered-framed ideals. Some users become so desperate to imitate their Insta-idols that they resort to drastic measures – cosmetic surgery and dieting pills, for example – which, more often enough, leaves them feeling just as, if not MORE, unsatisfied as they felt to begin with. The quest for perfection might be a pointless pursuit, but it is one that we find ourselves chasing and, later, condemning ourselves for falling short. I mean, how can we achieve something that is simply not real?
There seems to be a growing trend of what we perceive as ‘perfection’. The boxes are becoming more and more defined by particular traits and facial features. It’s like an attack of the clones; Instagram account, after Instagram account of Kardashian- perfection. Flawless skin, eyebrows plucked within an inch of their lives and a ”perfect’ plumped pout to finish. On the face of it, these women look simply impeccable but, the reality is, none of them are as perfect as we deem them to be. Behind the picture-perfect pretence lies an uglier truth…
And that is called, reality!
‘Insta-famous’ teen, Essena O’Neill, made headlines last year after she exposed her reality; A reality that was a far cry from the scrolls of picture-perfection on her Instagram account. In a bid to reveal the truth, she deleted most of her photos and captioned the remaining with more candid accounts of what had happened behind the lens. In one seemingly perfect image of the teen posing on the beach, she captioned “NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten all day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep, so totally #goals”
Essena’s chilling words serve as a valuable reminder of how what see on Instagram isn’t always an honest account of reality. Essena’s choice to come clean about her ‘perfect pictures‘ has not only helped others to take similar images with ‘a pinch of scepticism ‘, but has also encouraged them to be kinder to themselves and, furthermore, accept their flaws. After all, everyone has them! Even those who choose to filter them out.
Let’s hope Essena’s honesty will inspire other Insta-beauties to come clean and reveal their true ‘beautiful’ selves. To watch her video on why she made the decision to delete her photos, click here www.letsbegamechangers.com/videos
As for being Insta-famous? The pressures of taking the right picture, with the right filter, wearing the right outfit, at the right place, with the right people – FORGET THAT! I’m just as happy receiving 9 likes on sepia-filtered Starbucks cup.
It makes ‘stalkerism’ okay
“Why do I feel like somebody’s watching me?”
Um, probably because there is. And I’m not talking about the peeping Tom across the road, I’m referring to an army of Instagrammers prying through our life in filtered pictures. Let’s be honest, most of us have been there; we are 180 weeks deep in an ex’s photo stream, praying that our clumsy, oversized thumbs don’t give the game away. Two taps and we are well and truly out. We may as well change our name, dye our hair some obscure colour and move to Australia.
On a serious note, Instagram has made it increasingly easy to violate the gray line of stalkerism. What we may assume is just a ‘nosy around’ another person’s memoirs, is actually – when taken into context – a little bit creepy. I mean, do we really know who is eyeing up our beach photo’s? Instagram gives us the freedom to be the unwanted guest at a friend of a friend of a friend’s wedding. It allows us to peep inside any life we desire. It reignites the curiosity that burns inside us, and soon we find ourselves knowing every little-depicted detail about our friends and their outer circles, and possibly even their friend’s outer circles too. Each time we swipe through more images of people’s meals, social gatherings and holidays, we are potentially blurring the boundary between stranger-we-haven’t-met and that creepy guy in the corner with a smirk across his face.
A curious scroll is one thing, but there are darker corners of the internet in which sexual predators prowl with bad intentions. Concerningly, it has become so easy for them to prey and, even groom, unsuspecting youngsters going about their everyday ‘Insta’ lives. Teens have grown accustomed to seeing their favourite celebrities post half-naked ‘sexy’ selfies on Instagram, so why can’t they do the same? In fact, they do. It has become the norm to see underaged teens posting frequent selfies of sultry pouts and bikini shots. The worst part is that they are completely oblivious to who is accessing their ‘pervert-alluring’ snaps.
It is illegal for children under the age of 13 to own an Instagram account, and yet, so many do. I know this because my 11-year-old daughter went behind my back and signed up for one. Why? Because half her school friends were already on Instagram. Shockingly – when I looked further into this – I found that most of her friend’s profiles were open for the public to see. The guidelines are there for a reason, but even still, we cannot ensure that underage children aren’t secretly signing up for these accounts. I have since made my daughter close her account, but the fact that her 10 and 11-year-old friends are still very much a part of the Instagram world doesn’t sit comfortably with me. This isn’t so much an issue with Instagram itself, but the sheer naivety of children’s parents – myself included.
More shockingly, as I delved deeper into the depths of Instagram, I found parents posting on behalf of their young children. Parent- run accounts, if you will. Now, we all like to brag about our darling children from time to time, but I couldn’t help but feel like some of these accounts were a ‘pedophile’ breeding ground. On the face of it, these accounts mainly consist of innocent images of beautiful children, but then I stumbled across pictures of these children in the bath, on the beach, dressed up as mini-adults and, in some, barely clothed. These publicly-open accounts also had thousands of followers. Needless to say, the alarm bells started to ring. The sad reality is, we don’t know who is looking at our pictures, but I ‘SURE AS HECK’ wouldn’t place my children so readily on display for the sake of ‘likes’ and popularity. We’d have to be pretty darn stupid to believe that everyone’s intentions are good in this world and just because we are behind a screen, doesn’t mean that we are entirely safe.
It’s fair to say that most people get bullied at some point during their lifetimes. But with the rise of Instagram and other social platforms, there seems to be a surge of hateful trolls, waiting to drag us down.
We’ve already seen how easy it is to catch a wicked case of the green-eyed monster. Most of us can keep our jealous outbursts under wraps, but for some, it turns into a malicious game of cyberbullying. I naively thought that people grew out of bullying after they left the school playground, but as I crawled deeper into the world of Instagram, it appeared that I had “thought” wrong. I was shocked by the amount of venom spreading its way across the comments sections of unsuspecting Instagram accounts. I was appalled by the fact that these bullies were so quick to judge people on their appearance. I was even more outraged by how easy it was for them to tear a person apart and then drop them, like the cowards they are.
The deeper I dug, the angrier I became.
What gives people the right to label people ugly? To tell them they should have never been born? To tell them to die? What gives people the right hurt, taunt and humiliate others for their own amusement? What gives people the right to set up accounts solely for the intention of shaming others? What gives people the right to mercilessly bully people to the verge of wanting to end their own lives? The more comments I raked through, the more disturbed I became. I stumbled across one account that was set up purely for mocking “ugly” people. The bio section read; “These kids are ugly and fat! I’ll be posting the 6th graders that should die!”. Another account that I found grossly disturbing was dedicated to bullying Kim Kardashian’s daughter, North West. It was obvious that the sick individual behind the account had some sort of vendetta against the innocent two-year-old. The troll posted hundreds of ‘unflattering and caught off-guard’ pictures of the typically stunning little girl with vile captions too offensive to repeat. Sadly, there are thousands of accounts of this nature crawling all over Instagram, preying on their next victim.
And deactivate …
And so I find the icons on my iPhone, jittering in fear, wondering who is going to get cut from the team. Quiver away, dear Instagram! Today, it’s your turn to get the boot. But before I say my final farewells, I just wanted to thank you for all the rose-tinted reminiscences. Thank you for making my life look just that little more interesting. Thank you for papering over the cracks and painting a more vibrant reality. And thank you for showing me your true colours.
You weren’t so perfect, after all.
It’s been nice knowing you, but now I’m ready to get back to the real world. A world where there are flaws a plenty and cracks for all to see.
And what a beautiful world it is!