It’s impossible to ignore a rapidly increasing trend for Insta-shaming snowballing across websites and print publications right now.
This past week alone I’ve read five articles - and angrily skipped over countless others - on how we’re all psychopathically curating an online show reel of Pinterest-styled, vacation-going, prosecco-cocktail-drinking and brunch-eating lives that conveniently leave out the acne break-out, relationship arguments and overdue rent check parts of our lives. We’re presenting all sparkle and no struggle, we’re told, and so shame on us for lying to the wider world that way. We’re monsters. Ego-fuelled Frankensteins building “online brands” based on flagrant self-promotion, and we’re doing it because everyone else is. Oh, and we’re collectively miserable because of it.
On the flipside, this past week I have happily photographed and edited three parts of my life – a new pair of shoes, a particularly good eyeliner day, and a dad/daughter trip – that I later felt shamed out of sharing on Instagram because those moments were, somehow, too positive.
I find myself on a version of the Internet where I feel constantly policed.
Wanna know something insane?
I feel, with increasing voracity, that I am "not allowed" to be overly excited on social media because nobody can possibly be that happy always and so what isn't she telling us? It's bumming me out.
New social media etiquette dictates that I can post a sunbathing-in-the-garden shot as long as I point out I got up at 6 a.m. to hit a deadline first, or I’m able to celebrate a superb hair day if I mention I’m tipping my head that way to hide a particularly bad zit. I’m supposed to have my followers in mind at all times, never letting a “just because” celebratory image slip through the cracks, lest I give the wrong impression of how easy and/or struggle-fuelled my days are. "Life is hard, and don't ever forget it" is the new enforced point-of-reference in our social contracts.
It’s my job, as the “poster” to Keep It Real, or else I’m as bad as the rest of them. "Them" being... well. I'm not quite sure who. Self-depreciation is to come as standard, whether that self-depreciation comes naturally or not. It's just not on to be enthusiastic about the everyday. Making Other People Feel Inadequate is a capital-letters offence, now, even when wholeheartedly unintentional - and I don't know a single person who has ever posted anything with the intention of upsetting others.
Honesty is, I think, to be hopefully expected (and I love the brilliant #TotalHonestyTuesday tag) but the trend for actively Insta-shaming others is yet another way we keep each other small, over building each other up. My argument is: why shouldn’t I be allowed to curate my own “online brand” brimming with "I love my life"? Your vibe attracts your tribe, man, and if you don't like it - don't follow it. What irritates me about these articles is an element of their own hypocritical irresponsibility. Irresponsibility in that there’s seldom an accompanying guide on how to responsibly consume social media.
Social code says it’s unfathomably bad form that a user - be them high-profile blogger or us mere mortals - continues posting carefree #OOTD posts without disclosing her bad case of thrush or impending divorce, say. We’ve become Perfection Detectives, taking it upon ourselves to track down yet another (perceived) distorted reality of somebody we might or might not personally know to prove that we understand nobody is that flawless. There’s a social media witch hunt where the onus is firmly on the content producer and not the content consumer - a bit like how we all slag off the Mail Online but click through on the side bar of shame anyway, all the while tutting that such a trashy website exists.
Can't we all just agree that we understand Instagram is a highlight reel of otherwise imperfect lives, and move on?
I think as “Generation Guinea Pig” we - “millennials” - will spend our lives trying to pin down exactly how to healthily use the Internet in a way our kids (and definitely their kids) won’t need to. There’ll be classes as part of social studies and citizenship in high school, if there aren’t already, training pupils on responsible Internet consumption. We’re still learning that we get to choose what we’re exposed to, to as large a degree as possible. We don’t *have* to keep scrolling on her impossibly shiny hair, their wildly adorable kids, or his ripped abs and penchant for subtle product placement if seeing that doesn't make us feel good.
Because that's it: we don't have to follow anyone. There’s no gun to our head (but if there was, you bet your ass that I’d know just the right filter to make it look artistic-chic). I’ve un-followed relatively close friends and strangers alike for a variety of misdemeanours that say far more about me than them.
My reasons for un-following even the loveliest of people include, but are not limited to: too many on fleek selfies (I get envious that I don’t look like that), a loving boyfriend (I am single, and get jealous that I do not have that), an active social life (why aren’t I invited to that many openings and award shows?) and travel photos with no captions – or worse, a non-ironic “It’s okay here” caption – because don’t you ever have to work? I’ve un-followed because they lost weight and look great and I can’t do that yoga pose, because I simply do not believe their home is always that tidy, because I can find my own Descartes quote to accompany a pink-skied sunset. I’ve un-followed fellow writers who have success I want, even.
The thing all of those reasons have in common is that it is on me. It’s my insecurities, my jealousies, my envious tendencies. And that seems to be the piece of the puzzle missing from the dialogue almost everywhere. That it's on us to follow only what makes us feel good.
I actively curate a list of people and companies to follow that inspire me and edit it frequently. Personally, I prefer a story with the image, and so that’s what I tend to post as much as follow: snaps of a particular moment in time, with a prose underneath explaining why the poster finds it special. Stuff that makes me think, stop, admire, reflect. Storytelling. Life is indeed hard, and so I pick pretty over pithy, witty over shitty. Your criteria will undoubtedly different, as it should be. That's the excitement of individuality.
The clue is in the name with social media – it is designed to be inherently social. So, whilst we don’t keep IRL company with bores who don’t add value to our lives, why are we doing it with our online selves? An important rule of thumb is surely that if you don’t want to celebrate as much as commiserate the person you’re following, don’t follow them. Related: hate-following baffles me.
I just want to raise a hand to say, in a voice with as much conviction as I can muster, and in the full knowledge of my own online imperfections, that humans are selfish and self-centered: we’re all looking for pieces of ourselves in other people’s stories. So, if we're following somebody else’s story and don’t like what we see, it’s probably the pieces of ourselves we need to take a better look at. Life's too short to not hit unfollow and move on - and not to take responsibility for ourselves, too. Life is definitely too short for that.
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