I was on a walk with a friend today when we were discussing the ever-popular topic of Instagram. Meaning, I was venting about the title of “Public Figure” that certain users attribute to their profiles. I am convinced that this term crystalized out of thin air; the only person I can think of ever being attributed with a label such as this (meaning it was not self-designated), during B.I. (Before Instagram) times, would be someone like Princess Diana. Yet, that would be a sub-description for her considering she was, in fact, royalty and, therefore, had a legitimate obligation to be in the public eye.
But, nowadays, anyone can become famous; “insta-famous,” that is. It is quite ironic how “insta” acts as a homophone in this situation. The inherent pre-fix, which technically describes the platform by which this person has become “famous,”(aka: garnered a following) can also signify that it happened “instantly,” as if all they had to do was exist and post an image, just like the millions of common folk users (there are 600 million Instagram users according to Statista.com) do, potentially multiple times per day, but without ever experiencing the desired effects of going viral reserved for the privileged few.
My friend informed me of this young girl in high school, whom she is mentoring, who has expressed her desire to be an Instagram Public Figure when she grows up, stating that: “I just really want to travel, eat good food, and document it.”
Ah, yes; through the eyes of the young, this is the impression Instagram is imprinting upon them, to think that what you see is what you get…Which brings me to the title of this article: Instagram is not reality.
Because life is not a formula.
How does that factor in?
Allow me: When we are growing up, we are told — by the role models around us — that success is strategic. We are explained that it is a combination of hard work and diligence and, by virtue of whatever those two words mean when applied to any given situation (sports, school, art, music, etc.), you will have the outcome you desire. What adults fail to mention is all the steps and factors in between; all the mistakes, the failures, the luck, the decisions, the opportunities, the strife, the gain, the changing your mind, the changing of circumstances, etc. Adults gloss over the fact that nothing in life is presented on a silver platter, that nothing in life is actually formulaic despite what they are telling us to believe.
So, if life is not a formula, then how do these people on Instagram become Public Figures? Why are there so many of them if they are not abiding by the same rules?
They use multiple strategies but, at the root of all of them is the portrayal of ease.
Some of the users I follow, whom attract followers in the 6-digit range, have developed a reputation because, subliminally, their lives look better than our own. Their lives are an exposition and, with that in mind, are tailored to look a certain way, as if they were upon the cover of a magazine. These pictures signal to my brain that this must be a literal representation of their lives and they must look like this all the time; glamorized, glossy, and chic. I crave what these seemingly real people come up with next, continually subjecting myself to this stream of images of “the picture perfect” life every time I innocuously open Instagram.
However, the allure of a Public Figure’s life may not be all that it is painted to be if I actually witnessed their version of life behind the scenes. We are only exposed to a part of their story; the part they want to show us and edit until it looks as appealing as possible, gathering more followers, which pressures them to repeat the equation above: an amazing looking life = more followers.
Regardless of how life looks in the mind’s eye or upon Instagram’s screen, behind every picture is an untold story. That is why Instagram has become so successful; we can make our pictures look the way that we want them to be received, changing the cover of our personal stories. But, just because we are masking the pages inside, doesn’t make that actual story any less true.
We are all human beings; we are all inherently flawed and we have come here to learn about all these parts of ourselves, understand them, and then, encounter new ones that we hadn’t noticed before, and repeat the process. This revision of both self and environment does not cap off at a certain age either; rather, throughout our lives, trials will transform and take on a new guise as will the joys born from our labors.
So, my suggestion for realizing — or just testing — this idea that Instagram is not reality is to go outside, spend time with friends, but to not take a picture of it. Go on a hike to connect with nature without letting everyone know about it — maybe even leave your phone at home. Go to brunch with friends and ask them how they are really feeling about what’s going on in their lives; talk about dreams, parents, childhood, memories, something that has to do with who they are rather than what they’re doing.
These are the things — tangible actions in our immediate environments — that we can focus on and attain; getting in touch with who we are and organically connecting with others.
Life is not a picture I can repeatedly pose for until I get it just right. Life cannot be condensed into an algorithm. Life is not an album of brunch shots and petting elephants. Life is an endless roll of film, a ream (not stream) of frames looking clearer with each new exposure along the way. Life happens outside of a screen and every moment — beyond the intended one that is captured — holds just as much value as what we decide to be aesthetically pleasing enough to share.
So, the argument then isn’t whether Instagram is reality or not, it’s: if I want my reality to look differently, how do I make it my own?