I Hate Instagram, it's Amazing
I’ve always looked at myself in the mirror more than I would like to admit. I don’t look at myself because I think I’m super attractive. I honestly look at everyone, a lot. I’m an extremely visual person. Given how much I like to look at myself, it’s ironic that I used to have a fear of being photographed. Any time my friends wanted to pose for a group photo, I’d protest and make a strange face in the picture so I wouldn’t feel ashamed for trying to be cute and ending up looking bad. If someone tried to take a picture of just me, my reaction could be unnecessarily forceful as I would try to dodge the frame or cover their camera. For example: I’ve had many skirmishes with my family when I vehemently refused to be in photos on vacation.
When I got Instagram the second semester of my senior year in high school, after almost everyone I knew, something changed. I was constantly seeing images, particularly of people. While I initially didn’t post any pictures of myself on the app, I quickly realized the pictures I was in on my Instagram were the ones with the most likes. This revelation led me to become almost obsessed with being photographed. Whenever I went somewhere I thought looked cool or had good lighting, I would ask my sister (whose judgement I am not afraid of) to take pictures of me. While there is nothing wrong with taking bikini pictures, posing in a bikini is entirely out of character for me, so the fact that I had her take about thirty pictures of me in a bikini (which I didn’t even end up posting) says a lot about how much Instagram shifted my behavior and the ways in which I wanted to present myself.
Thankfully, after a while of using Instagram, I discovered a side of the app that wasn’t filled with pictures of hot girls I vaguely knew hanging out at parties I wasn’t invited to. I found a more artistic side to it, which actually inspired me to take better photographs and work more on my art. I encountered so many fashionable people whose styles have encouraged me to be more expressive and daring with my wardrobe, hair and makeup. Unfortunately, the artsy people on Instagram make me insecure, too; they always seem cooler than me, as if they have a limitless number of well-dressed, perfectly made-up friends. Their effortless feeds make me afraid to post something ‘basic’, and I often allow their aesthetic to influence my own in a style akin to theirs. There is a notable change in my first few Instagram posts, before I had really explored the app, and my later photos which have been influenced by the deliberately curated, artsy side of the app. At least I find the artistic content inspiring. Stephen Shore, a renowned photographer in his seventies, is certainly not posting pictures to be cool. And even though the more authentically artistic side of Instagram is more positive for me, I still can’t escape the images that simply drag me down. I can’t have the good side of Instagram without also seeing that which makes me insecure. I can’t help but care when one of my posts gets an unexpectedly low amount of likes—especially if it’s a picture of myself.
Getting few likes, not many views on my stories, or little to no votes on my polls is annoying, but these annoyances cause nowhere near as much anxiety as my obsession with obtaining superficial attention through Instagram. When I’m bored, or if I feel like I have been lacking sufficient human interaction, I feel possessed by the necessity to be seen. I take a bunch of selfies, cropping them, trying different angles, all just to post a story in the hopes of over 100 people viewing my story or liking my post—in other words, seeing and “validating” me. This is about the least satisfying form of human interaction (or attention) that exists. Not only is it extremely passive—I could just reach out to people when I desire social interaction—but it makes me focus unnecessarily on how I look. In addition to being unfulfilled, I feel actively rejected by my followers when I don’t get as many likes or views as I think I deserve. I might ask, Why don’t people like me? rather than simply, Why didn’t people like my post? Just because someone doesn’t like my post doesn’t mean they don’t like me, but that’s easy to conflate with rejection when you know people are actively scrolling past your content. As for the second question, I’ve come to the realization that my posts really don’t have an inherent importance to them; I have empowered them to mean more to me than they should.
Clearly, I’ve allowed Instagram to preoccupy me far too greatly, and not only am I aware of this but I’m quite embarrassed about it. I’ve tried many different things: checking Instagram only once a day, deleting the app from my phone, temporarily deactivating. Each strategy has left me feeling strangely disconnected from people, and then more obsessive when I re-download it.
One might ask, Why not just deactivate Instagram for good? Given the grief it’s caused me, it seems like an obvious solution. Simply, I feel Instagram is so widely used that going without it for a long time means I could miss out on some genuinely interesting things going on around me. It might seem ridiculous, as so many posts are trivial, but given social media’s dominance of popular culture, Instagram posts or stories somehow always come up in conversation. Think of the people you may not have the chance to see often who you’ve felt more connected to because you see them online. There are people I really like who I’m not very close with, but with whom I’ve maintained regular interactions with by liking and commenting on their posts, or dm-ing them when they have a story I like. To leave Instagram completely would feel a little bit like leaving a community of people I otherwise don’t have much access to.
Currently, I don’t have the Instagram app on my phone so that there’s no underlying temptation to use it throughout the day. I hope I’ll reach the point where it feels normal to use it only a few times a week. I also hope to be better about actually reaching out to people to hang out instead of simply staring at my phone, bored, communicating with my peers through a photograph of myself rather than an actual conversation. I am a little ashamed of my obsession with Instagram, but I think it’s important for me to share these feelings so other people might be able to recognize the source of their lingering discontentment after using the app.
So far, having taken a break from the app, I feel that I am much more focused on making in-person plans with people and spending my time on more productive things, like writing this article. I encourage other Instagram fanatics to step away from the app for a while and discover that you can take a great picture without posting it. It’s important for those of us who use social media to see clearly how it forces us to present ourselves to the world in a peculiarly curated manner. There are plenty of good things about Instagram but, for me at least, the cost of using it frequently is far more destructive than any of its merits could make up for.