Snap a photo, try again till it's perfect, pick a filter, write a clever caption, and post. Refresh to see how many likes pour in. The actions are so familiar that they've almost become muscle memory. Lately though, the photos on social media that we're all liking and sharing are those that destroy the so-called perfect image.
Take model Stina Sanders's hilariously real Instagram account for example. Or hipster Barbie. They and several others are using their influence and the Internet's viral culture to cut the crap and prove that they lead messy, normal lives. Just like you. While seemingly fleeting, these accounts are changing the way we see ourselves on social media and, more importantly, in real life.
A photo posted by STINA SANDERS (@stinasanders) on
These two worlds often get blurred. Scroll though Instagram or Facebook and you'll get lost among photos and updates that appear so much better than yours. Someone else is engaged, as you find yourself single for yet another year. Here's a person from high school going on epic adventures while you're at work, and another who makes you wonder why you can't just force yourself to like coffee for an awesome photo. In the five years that Instagram has existed, who hasn't had the feeling that while you're scrolling away, you're wasting the opportunity to do something great your life?
We've even invented a term for it: Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), something plenty of us know all too well. This isn't new — remember MySpace's Top 8? Now it just happens to play out over a faster amount of time and in the palm of our hands. But what happens when that gets interrupted by famous Instagram models like Sanders or accounts like Socality Barbie and Stella Bella?
"How come everybody else is doing a headstand on the beach and I have potato chips in my hair?!" said Bella Younger, the 28-year-old creator of Deliciously Stella. Younger's satirical Instagram account focuses on her unhealthy eating habits and pokes fun at all the current healthy food trends. She quickly gained more than 79,000 followers with comments like "OMG this is me," or "You need to follow this girl." Younger started the account as a means to disrupt Instagram and her own feed full of the same typical photos.
"Certain things seem to reach Instagram saturation point, like avocado toast or pastel colored houses in London," she said. However, her motives eventually circle back to the idea of FOMO and the need to change the conversation around it. "Even though we all know that social media is a showcase of the best bits of everyone's lives, it can be hard sometimes to not feel like your life is somehow inferior to that of these beautiful people on beaches."
Flashback Friday to when I had #fababs! Reminding me it might be time to get to the gym and the freezer aisle! I'm in Paris this weekend. Has anyone got any tips? I want no Brie left unturned! #fbf #fab #abs #wod #fitspo #fitfam #instafit #gettheglow #sixpack #strongnotskinny #eatcleantraindirty #pariswithbae #deliciouslystella
A photo posted by Deliciously Stella (@deliciouslystella) on
It's not just these satirical account creators that go back and forth between keeping their Instagram "real" and still wanting followers — teens do the same. "I try to make my pictures look like how my life is," said 19-year-old University of Denver student Hanna Krivit. But she still chooses the photos where she likes how she looks and edits them to make them look even better. "Yeah, they show imperfections but I try to pick out the best picture I have to post."
As a graduate student, 23-year-old Kevin Lee feels the same pressures."In graduate and professional school, there's a pressure to use Facebook all the time and to groom your social media presence as a professional development strategy," he said. It's why he thinks Facebook in particular doesn't allow users to be expressive, whereas on Instagram, "some people choose to have themes and then some have different photo styles [like] really colorful or minimalist, white, and sleek." He's not overly cynical about what he sees on Instagram — yet. "There's a fingerprint on every Instagram page that tells some sort of story that I think is really cool."
So, where do we go from here? Will those enviable lives on Instagram ever stop popping up? No, and neither will any impending FOMO or stress. Besides, if we keep following those curated accounts, it's because we like them, right? Someone like Rieur could easily quit Instagram, but she doesn't. "Maybe that's because I don't entirely want to quit in the first place," she says.
Still, these accounts and the people behind them remind us not to let it affect us so much — each one of their photos is a small interruption in our feeds that we need. As we enter 2016, we're definitely going to continue seeing people call out the fakeness on social media, but also help us realize why we need it so much. Because after all, what are we if not millennials constantly questioning ourselves and hoping we are living our best lives? Let 2016 be the year we pick our best filters that tell the true stories of who we are — whatever that means to you.