I'm addicted to Instagram?

I’m addicted to Instagram. I’m just like every other teen girl on the face of the planet: I’ll admit I scroll through the same pictures multiple times, usually not even “like”-ing any of them, and when I put my phone down, I feel terrible about myself. I beat myself up for not looking like those girls do, not being as talented as that guy is, or not having as many friends as those people do. Social media is something we talk about in terms of self-esteem a lot. We know that it can be detrimental to spend too much time looking at someone else’s life highlights, when we simultaneously are exposed to everything wrong with our lives. We try to compare the two, and it doesn’t work. 

Okay so if we recognize this as a fact, why are we so addicted to social media? Why is it enjoyable to scroll through Facebook and see anyone and everyone arguing with each other? Because we’re looking for identity affirmation. It’s the same reason we do a lot of what we do: we’re looking for someone who thinks, looks, acts, dresses like we do. And ultimately, this comes from our own insecurity and tendencies to feel alone in our opinions or actions. So we run to social media to escape from feeling insecure, and we end up feeling… more insecure? 

It was about two years ago at this time that I announced my Instagram hiatus. I posted a selfie (with a filter to make my eyes look brighter) with the caption, “This’ll be my last #selfiethursday in a while because I realized that I need to focus my life on more important things than selfies and white borders { yes more important things exist } therefore, I have decided to stop using most social media thingies because who am I kidding I’m already social enough without posting a picture every time I eat a popsicle. Bye and maybe I’ll see you sometime soon, Instagram :)” Less than two months later, I promptly posted a picture of a sunset over a field because I thought it was too artsy NOT to release as a visual representation of how cool my life was. 

Even in the past few weeks, I’ve been consciously attempting to “get my aesthetic under control” LIKE A MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRL. IS THIS REALLY WHAT I CARE ABOUT? (The answer is no… but I’m getting there. Bear with me.) I think social media is motivated primarily by jealousy, and that’s definitely a problem. We want the lives that others have, so we put filters on our memories and share those twisted anecdotes as representations of reality. This seems all fine and good; it’s just a harmless way of sharing cool things that happen to you… Until we acknowledge the flip side of jealousy. Not only does jealousy involve wanting something others have, it involves wishing they didn’t have it. According to Merriam-Webster, jealousy is “an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has,” so where is the unhappiness or anger directed? Yourself? The object of your desires? No. You’re mad at the person who has it. As an exercise, I scrolled through a few pictures in my Instagram feed and wrote all my thoughts below: 

  1. Oh my gosh, she’s so pretty, wow. I wish I was that pretty. 
  2. That’s such a cute coffee shop! Oh and look, she’s there with friends! I’ve only seen like 4 people this summer other than my family.
  3. She went to a concert last night with her boyfriend! That’s super cute, now I feel anti-social because I never go to concerts. 
  4. SHE’S IN EUROPE??? WHAT THE HECK?? I wish I could afford to/had time to take a cool trip like that.
  5. They went on a mom/daughter date, that sounds like so much fun! My dates with my mom always involve taping orchestra parts. Neither of us have time for anything like this. (@mom this is in no way a negative opinion of our time together. I love helping you and I understand your life does not allow us to go to coffee shops whenever we feel like it. I love you!)

Okay so what did I gain from those 5 pictures? 5 random anecdotes of other people’s lives. (Side note… It just so happens that these particular 5 pictures were posted by people I rarely talk to anyway. So it’s not even like I learned something new about my best friend.) 

What did I lose from looking at these 5 pictures? My feeling of self-confidence in my appearance (because I can very well see I’m sitting here in sweatpants and a messy bun. Based on picture number 1, I’d assume this other girl looks flawless all the time), my security in my friendships (maybe I don’t really have any close friends because I don’t go to coffee shops or concerts with them…), my happiness with my physical location (not to mention the fact that I JUST took a weekend trip to Michigan, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter because this chick is in Switzerland), and my happiness with my own relationship with my mother (because of course if our relationship doesn’t look like this one, it’s wrong). 

I would like to point out that although a lot of this is an exaggeration, hyperboles are always rooted in truth. No, I’m not going to go downstairs and yell at my mother for never taking me to coffee shops. I’m not going to put on tons of makeup the next time I leave the house in an attempt to look more like girl #1. BUT, for a split second, my mind flickered in contemplation of the effects of these people’s lives on my own. 

For the second part of this exercise, I creeped on myself (okay I actually do this all the time, I don’t know why, but I like looking at memories and quietly judging myself). But based on my 5 most recent Instagram photos, here’s what I would think if I didn’t know the truth, as well as the truth behind each picture:

  1. Reagan has fresh flowers, I wonder where they came from. Reagan took this picture a week ago, when her mom came home with leftover centerpieces from a choir reunion. The flowers are currently dead in the trash can and making her room smell pretty bad. She should really take out the trash.
  2. Reagan took a picture of the sunset two days ago from a car window. She has such an eye for pretty things. CONFESSION TIME: Reagan’s last 4 pictures of the sky were taken on the same night. They just have different filters so they look like different sunsets. 
  3. Reagan enjoys spending time looking deeply into her best friend’s eyes with perfect lighting and perfectly curly hair. Reagan accidentally snuck into a dress rehearsal at Interlochen and is only laughing in this picture because she notices that the aforementioned best friend is taking a sneaky photo and she thinks he should be paying more attention to rehearsal. This photo is heavily filtered (as they all are), and there’s no telling what Reagan’s hair looks like from the back.
  4. Reagan is very skilled in capturing sunsets and pairing them with clever musical theatre references. Reagan was very rude to her mother because she needed to take a picture of the sky and her mom’s driving arms were in the way. Also, she came up with this caption weeks ago, and was just waiting for a picture to use it with.
  5. Reagan’s hobbies include journaling with great handwriting and writing down quotes in cute fonts. Also, the musical theatre caption strikes again. Reagan flipped through her journal for a good 15 minutes before finding handwriting acceptable enough to broadcast, and she has had these quotes for months. Once again, the caption was invented long before the picture. 

What if we all knew the truth? I think this was the whole idea behind the “finsta”, which, unfortunately, is not in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. However, according to the next most reliable source, the Urban Dictionary, a finsta is “a mixture of fake and instagram. People, usually girls, get a second Instagram account along with their real instagrams, rinstagrams, to post any pictures or videos they desire. The photos or videos posted are usually funny or embarrassing. Only your closest friends follow this account.” Given this definition, one would expect a finsta to reveal how broken and messed up we all are, but this is still not the case. I have found myself scrolling through friends’ finstas thinking, “Wow, my life is nowhere near this entertaining or fun or interesting.” But isn’t that what we think while scrolling through normal Instagram too?

So far, this post has been nothing more than a steady stream of true statements with some questions mixed in. It’s time for some answers. Why are we so addicted to social media? It acts as a shell, a visual representation of our personae, to shield us from the vulnerability we are so afraid of. We pick and choose what we reveal, because we know how awful we can be. Somehow, however, we often seem to forget that others are also picking and choosing what they reveal. None of it is real. Most of it is based on truth, but none of it is 100% accurate. So is it bad? In some ways, yes, and in some ways, not at all. Our personae are necessary to our growth. Not only do they allow us to hide some things from others, but they allow us to hide our shadow memories from ourselves, which is completely fine. We would all go crazy if our bad memories were constantly in the forefront of our minds. BUT, when taken too far, the persona system builds a culture of false honesty and separates our expectations from reality. 

Should we be sharing everything on social media in an attempt to accept vulnerability as a necessary part of growth? No. Vulnerability is necessary, but cannot be achieved on social media. Being vulnerable and being yourself is much more effective and powerful (and possible) when it is done face-to-face. The whole point of social media is to address many people at once, and since we cannot be expected to have the exact same kind of relationship with all of them, we cannot be expected to share our deepest and innermost thoughts and selves all the time. Therefore, social media is a fun way to keep up with others and share our best moments, as long as we always treat is as such. Being addicted to Instagram only becomes a problem when you expect deep and meaningful relationships to exist on the internet, because that’s not how it works. Sure, we can turn to social media in our search for identity affirmation, and we may even find it, but I can guarantee that the connections we find there will never be as strong as those we create by having dinner or coffee with someone and being 100% ourselves. Have a wonderful day :)

ThoughtsReagan Casteel