I was at a theme park with family; what should have been a day taking fun pictures and making memories. Me standing against a beige background was one of the few photos snapped. I remember the embarrassment: other families judging my solo posing. But I needed to upload a new image to social media. Instagram changed our lives in many ways – will we look back with regret?
For years now, I’ve acted as director and curated an image of myself. From fitness motivator, to sexually confident woman who likes pretty coffee shops and beautiful backdrops.
I’ve no shame in asking people. Work colleagues, family members, friends, bar staff, dates. When I sense a photo opportunity, I strike a pose and hand someone my camera. And often, I never look at the photographs again. They stay on my feed for a while, disappearing into a scrolling vortex. I don’t admire the photos – rarely do I think myself wonderful in them. They hardly ever show worthwhile memories.
At home, I’m enjoying getting dressed up and taking pics without worrying about a passer-by, or bad lighting and inconvenience. A camera tends to pause enjoyment – one moment you’re happily strolling on a beach, the next you’re awkwardly pretending the sea is hilarious and you can’t stop laughing as a camera faces you. The whole “look natural” thing.
I think it’s a fear and a pressure. An urgency to have the best parts of my life on record – to not regret being able to post a stylish outfit or a luxury location. A certain: you don’t always get these opportunities. And a desire, to keep up a pretence. To demonstrate my life is rich, interesting and full of meaning.
The unattainable lifestyle
A Refinery 29 article talks about Instagram as “a refuge”. While most millennials began to suffer from staggering house prices and tuition fees, social media coated this dreary reality with inspirational luxury. Instagram changed our lives by encouraging us to believe that the sky is the limit. We can achieve everything our parents told us we could, and then some.
We’ve watched regular men and women reach six-figure salaries in their twenties; simply sharing parts of their lives. Everyday people becoming celebrities with adoring fans.
The original American dream: white picket fences, children playing in the garden with a dog, a house big enough for another baby… feels outdated for my generation. Influencers promote designer goodies, monthly travel, brand collaborations, strong fitness bodies. Many strive for Instagram success, carefully putting together cohesive IG feeds.
An obsession for beauty
Back in 2010, when Instagram launched, big brows dominated the beauty industry. Gradually, the decade welcomed contour (based on Kim Kardashian), bouncy hair blow-outs, Korean beauty looks (skincare products like sheet masks) and Instagram makeup.
Dubbed the Instagram face, the New Yorker describe the look as “catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.” The piece notes the look “is distinctly white but ambiguously ethnic.”
Almost every young woman today resembles one another. They want Kylie Jenner lips, an Emily Ratajkowski body ratio and Kardashian skin. Our noses and waists have got smaller as our butts and lips have developed dramatically bigger.
Previously, plastic surgery was something done discreet, a thing to hide. On Insta, great plastic surgery shows wealth, and that’s something to celebrate. Money and beauty have become interwoven, making us equally desire both. When we talk about beauty, we’re often discussing income and the ability to spend on our appearance to mimic the current ideal.
Fitness on the map
Instagram changed our lives greatly by bringing attention to clean eating. I don’t think it’s ever been so cool to eat chia seeds and quinoa. (I’d never heard of these food items until influencers revered them).
During Facebook’s glory years, people admired IRL popularity. We created photo albums to prove our friendship groups; posting albums dedicated to wild nights out and birthday gatherings. It doesn’t feel so cool anymore to upload drunk, falling over pictures. If you see a girl posting herself drinking wine on IG, she’s likely in an elegant setting, only somewhat tipsy and still composed.
I’ve long attributed my fitness motivation to the social media app. Instagram has helped inspire me to cut out animal produce, to eat seeds with my oats and salads with my lunch. Documenting my progress kept me going – I’ve lost more than a stone and haven’t looked back.
When I first began posting fitness style images, I remember the Instagram fitness community housed many body shapes: the runners, gymnasts, weight-lifters, yogis and dancers. Overtime, I’ve seen people more inclined to the weight-lifting aesthetic: honing larger body curves.
How many of us consider ourselves brands? Forming a style together; pitching our beliefs as income and popularity strategies. We’re advice givers, motivational speakers, body influencers, life connoisseurs.
Whether we share the steps to copying our makeup or the strategies to a good morning routine, we’re super aware of who we are and what we represent. While Facebook enticed photo albums and oversharing, Instagram advised us to add mystery, to post an intricate selection. Some of us go about our day with Instagram in mind. Admittedly, I’ve ordered certain coffees before just for a good photo. I’ve worn certain colours to match my online image. It’s all part of the branding dream: we can be whoever we want, our real-life drama doesn’t matter.
Away from daily routine, Instagram fulfils glamour. My Old Hollywood obsession – the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. Their pictures represent style and sex appeal. On the app, we can aim to construct that same aesthetic. We’re whoever we want to be, providing we know our best angles.
Will we ever regret it?
Will I ever regret what I post – I don’t think so. The whole Covid-19 pandemic has forced me to stop wasting time evaluating irrelevant things. And on deeper reflection, Instagram has developed who I am. My photography, my writing, my appearance… my blog and work has grown beside my online image.
I do look back and think how ridiculously I’ve let a social media product control my thoughts and actions. How I’ve scrutinised myself simply to achieve Instagram likes. But I also think how Instagram has brought out my confidence and connected me to similar individuals. And at this point, I’d feel slightly loss without it – even the annoying quotes and abundant coffee snaps would be missed.
Instagram changed our lives – who knows the effects in years to come. How has Instagram changed you?