Writing by Zadie McCracken // Illustration by Camila Martinez De Guerenu
When I was ten or eleven, having Instagram was the coolest thing ever. All I wanted was to download that stupid little app onto my cracked-screen, grease-filled, bumpy-around-the-edges iPod and explore the vast new world of social media. Of course, when I eventually got it, against the wishes of my mother, I pondered for hours and hours about what to post, what to like, what to comment, what to say, how I wanted to be in the new world. Who I wanted to be, and how I would make it happen.
When I was fourteen I stared at the profiles of almost-friends, too-cool-for-me-really friends, and felt sick. Why wasn’t my Instagram as cute, as clean, as picturesque, as perfect as theirs? Why wasn’t I just like them? What’s wrong with me?
The feelings of shame, anxiety and envy that inevitably come with social media still haunt me. Most times when I look at Instagram, at the lives of my most beautiful acquaintances, my most accomplished old friends, the most gorgeous people I’ve only ever met at parties, I feel the weight of my own insecurities sit heavy in my stomach. It isn’t easy to exist in a space where a vast majority of your success, your status and your ego is based upon a complicated, confusing and entirely new system of communication.
So, instead of giving into that horrible, unsettling feeling – which I’m sure we all know too well – instead of relying on the nuances and standards of social media addiction, we should turn to the truth at the centre of each and every post: social media is a mere construction of identity, and, in the end, it doesn’t mean shit.
Though it may seem as though the lives we portray on Instagram and other platforms are true, and real, and authentic, and, yes, just that gorgeous, they aren’t. They just aren’t. Social media encourages a damaging construction of identity, a cultivation of expectations, values, agendas, it weighs heavily on our heads and takes up brain space. What can I post next? How can I make it look better? How can I make myself look good? Social media culture requires in-authenticity. Its very existence perpetrates the idea that everyone – everyone – must live up to ridiculous ideals of perfection, grace and beauty. It requires comparison, it requires insecurity, it requires dishonesty, disillusionment, deceit. It wants us to construct identities, identities we can’t, in reality, live up to. We are not our Instagram profiles. Realising that fairly simple truth is the first step in learning how to dismiss the bad bits of social media. Learning how to rid ourselves of all those icky feelings.
If we analyse social media and our addiction to it, if we confront the new and improved ideals we’re being stunted into, if we recognise the damage we’re doing to ourselves and begin the work of unpicking our true identities from our internet identities…if we do all that, perhaps we can find a way to exist within the vast new world. Perhaps we can gather joy from its many complexities, learn to live with its flaws. Perhaps it can help us, rather than harm.