Tuesday, May 26

Taking Instagram back from inauthenticity

(Creative Commons photo by Stròlic Furlàn via Flickr)

Social media is a blessing and a curse.

Being an out-of-state student, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram help me stay updated on the lives of my friends and family sprinkled throughout the country. When I scroll through my Instagram feed, however, flicking past perfectly framed and filtered photos from my peers, I sometimes forget about the alternate reality social media creates and end up asking myself: Why aren’t you having as good of a time as everyone else on here?

Comparison is the thief of joy. There is an incredible pressure on college students to prove to everyone – peers, parents, grandparents, Uncle Bob, your second grade teacher – how well you’re doing at college. UCLA has been my dream school since I was 12, so shouldn’t I have the absolute best time of my life? When I compared myself to my peers, I felt like I wasn’t having as good of a time, and that made me feel inadequate.

Don’t get me wrong. First quarter treated me well. I love everything about college and UCLA; its challenges and their rewards, but none of it has come easy for me. Coupled with trying to cope with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, I sometimes felt completely emotionally overwhelmed during my first quarter here. Whenever I’d turn to my peers online to seek affirmation that not feeling OK sometimes was actually OK, I only saw what everyone wanted me to see: the perfectly curated profiles and wide grins. I felt like I was the only one who had ups and downs. I felt isolated.

I was far from alone. While studies on Instagram and its effects on self-esteem are still hard to come by, the authors of a similar study about self-esteem and Facebook are saying that Instagram can be just as dangerous to one’s self esteem, if not more. One Australian model who recognized this went so far as to tell the real story behind all of her posts.

I get it. The point of social media is to show off to your peers (and sometimes the world) how amazing your life is. Nobody wants to admit that being away from home for the first time, making friends and waking up for morning classes is hard. I feel like we want to pretend like everything comes effortlessly because for some reason, the teenage brain is fixated on the notion that the easier something is for someone, the better one is in an intrinsic sense.

I thought about this a lot over break, so I embarked on an experiment: I would Instagram the not-so-amazing parts of college for a week to see how my peers would react to posts that most people would call pointless or pathetic. A lot of girls my age have a “finsta,” or a fake Instagram account, used to post funny and more realistic photos of themselves, but normally people wouldn’t dare post a finsta-worthy photo on their main, carefully curated page.

Day 1:

I was 100 percent stressed out this day and posted a picture that normally would have a caption like “Powell Vibes” with the truth. One of my friends texted me within 13 minutes to ask if I was OK, and a lot of my peers commented wishing me well. Day 2:

Some peers would call me uncool for looking forward to texting my parents about my little victories and getting to chat with them, but I look forward to our exchanges. Apparently, other people didn’t care so much about the realities of day-to-day college life because this picture received almost 50 percent less likes than my “normal” posts and the least amount of likes out of any of my photos in the past eight months.

Day 3:

At this point, I had lost five followers in the span of around 48 hours. Another one of my friends texted me, legitimately concerned about my mental health.

Day 4:

People finally were catching onto the point I was trying to make, as one of my friends commented “meta” on this photo. It got the most likes out of any of the posts in my campaign (but still significantly less than my non-experimental photos), hopefully for my honesty.

I can’t say I’m surprised that these pictures got less action than the ones I labor over choosing the perfect filter and caption for, or that I lost followers. Seems to me people value glitz and glamour over authenticity.

So, I’m just going to come out and say it: Instagram sucks. Just because you don’t see the ups and downs of other people’s lives doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

My challenge to you, you sweet, sweet reader, is to take Instagram back. Use the hashtag #CollegeForReal and post not only the glam Thursday night fraternity shots and the cute Sunday morning brunches, but the little moments throughout the day that are tough. This is not to fixate on the times when life feels hard or to shame people for celebrating their happiness, but to remind ourselves that it’s normal to be human.

As rewarding as our undergraduate experiences are, it’s OK if they aren’t always #flawless. If we can be real with ourselves, maybe we can start to be real with each other, too.

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