I remember when Instagram hit the world in 2011. It was this shiny new app that no-one really knew much about, but changed everything about the way people posted on social media. Instead of forming words to describe your feelings or your life in one moment, now your photographs were front stage and centre, which is pretty incredible really thinking about it as, now, I no longer had to download my images onto my laptop from my Samsung flip phone and then post them on Facebook even though they definitely weren’t in focus. It’s amazing to think how easy it became to post photos of ourselves online within seconds of taking it, even in 2011.
Since then, Instagram has been developed from a personal social network amongst friends to a marketing tool for brands to a place for bloggers and vloggers to thrive behind the scenes. In recent months, I’ve heard increasingly about people proving accounts have been photo shopped, buying followers or Instagram being used by brands to advertise next to your best friend’s selfie. However, most of all, I’ve heard more and more about people’s sudden realisation about how augmented, how unrealistic and how constructed Instagram has become as a medium. On one Instagram feed, you can see posts of your friends and family interlaced with celebrities’, bloggers and brands’ photos – all ranging in quality of their images and the quality of the lives perceived online.
For some, this is a surprise. For me, in all honesty, it’s not. Most of all, it’s not a surprise because I did my dissertation looking at the representation of women on Instagram. I chose to tackle gender representation originally because it’s a cause I’m passionate about, while I chose Instagram as both something different to talk about and because it was – and still is – the social network I use the most. Throughout the many months and tears shed over my dissertation, I learnt a number of things, but nothing quite as clear as truly what Instagram is and what is represents. I had case studies like Kim Kardashian’s naked selfie; parody account Sociality Barbie; Instagrammer Essena O’Neill; Taylor Swift’s Instagram account and finally, many self-harm and anorexic Instagram accounts, which, for some people, becomes the result of all that pressure and perfectibility filling our heads.
It wasn’t a positive conclusion for my dissertation by all means. My overall research and analysis came to the conclusion that Instagram is a trick. While this is just a short summary of what my conclusion actually said, it’s important to remember that while we all have the accessibility and choice to post what we want, the majority of pictures of our lives and of ourselves essentially showing off without consciously doing it. The constant perfection of Instagram accounts, like celebrities or bloggers or brands, means it brings about this constant self-assessment – “How do I look?”, “Do I look successful, pretty, thin etc?” – as well as this constant higher set of standards to live up to. We literally don’t think about it and even if we do, the majority of us move on and keep posting those Boomerangs. It is accounts like Socality Barbie that really put into perspective what we’re posting.
Considering this however, I was incredibly enlightened and interested when I heard recently at work about Louise Delage. She was a French Instagrammer that gained thousands of followers and links within a few weeks. Her Instagram was full of her travels, her social events and showing what most of us would perceive as a good life. However, because we were so used to seeing these photos of a ‘good life’ – selfies, laughter, friends, trendy clothes – a lot of people missed one important similarity to all her photos…an alcoholic beverage.
It wasn’t until the last Instagram video posted that it became clear that Louise Delage did not exist. Instead, she was a character made up to show the subtle signs of alcoholism for a charity, Addict Aide, in France. While I have some issues with perpetuating the Instagram lifestyle for marketing, I was impressed by their intuitive thinking of using Instagram for what it is and what it represents now as well as a marketing tool. This begs the question – can Instagram actually have a positive effect? Can it actually be a place for people to share their woes, get it out on paper [or a screen] or carry positive, important messages from person to person?
Who knows – I’m not a professional Instagrammer or a doctor of Instagram. Neither do I have the answers to everything, but it’s a topic I find incredibly interesting. I love Instagram even now, but sometimes it’s easy to lose yourself in the world it creates, the perfect lifestyle of even your best friends that it creates. It’s definitely important to take a step back sometimes and see the real world for what it is with #nofilter.