Taylor Swift has been declared the Queen of Instagram, tangentially restating what we’ve already known — that usage of the app is heavily characterized by a race to the top. And while the common folk doesn’t expect to beat a mega pop star at it, we’ve very much been locked in the contest for likes and anal aesthetics ourselves.
Instagram used to be one of my favorite social media platforms. It was a feed of pretty images, supposedly reflecting the lives of people I knew or knew of. What was not to like? It seemed like a harmless place to draw aspirations from.
But many have hit their perfection-saturation point, as the gap between who we were and who we presented ourselves to be widened. This has manifested itself in proclamations of resentment, mockery accounts like @socalitybarbie, to full-on emotional breakdowns.
Last weekend, I saw a certain personality’s #Sunday post. She lay lazily on her clean, white duvet, her hair a gorgeous mess. But instead of buying into the outright feel of her hi-res images like I used to, I suddenly “saw” the makeup artist, stylist, photographer, and assistants who may have been standing in the background. Working in the more “glamorous” side of the publishing industry has made me aware that nothing looks that good in real life — not without professionals paid to watch for the slightest shine on your nose and misalignment of furniture in the background. Perfection, I found out, was nothing more than a deliberate and tightly-contained effort. Suddenly her post didn’t look very #Sunday to me. I don’t know why it took much longer for me to realize that Instagram was now wracked with the same level of suffocating curation. Maybe because it was available to regular people who didn’t come with their own glam squad. I underestimated our desire and ability to manufacture an overall image.
#Fitness and #Travel
I certainly wasn’t above wanting to make my life look good. I guess I just wasn’t prepared for the fact that it took quite a bit of extra work. My disillusionment started when I joined the yoga selfie trend. Immediately there was a conflict between having a body warm enough to do the poses well and not wanting to look like a sweaty mess on camera. You also had to find good lighting, which in my case entailed dragging my yoga mat out to the garden, and having to clean off the particles of soil that clung to its underside. Beach yoga selfies, where you had to deal with hot, uneven and sinking sand while in a potentially neck-breaking pose were another matter entirely. All of these were concerns that didn’t show up when I practiced for real in my room or at the studio. Eventually I concluded that it was too much trouble for something that wasn’t even half a workout.
Ironically, with #wanderlust and #explore as some of its favorite hashtags, I recently discovered that Instagram also got in the way of my intentions to see more of the world. It has elevated travel to such an ideal that I’d find myself looking out for these pictures and experiences instead of just leaning into wherever I was. I had a harder time acknowledging that moments when I was bored, confused, tired of walking, unappreciative of the food, or even down with an upset stomach were part of it. It wasn’t all meant to look like Carly Rae Jepsen’s Run Away With Me music video. It took some time for me to learn that just because I wasn’t feeling the high, it didn’t mean that I was failing. And when I stopped being so obsessed with having something to show, it freed me up to absorb the culture at a level that I had previously been too pent up to see. Having felt that difference, I now know that the latter is what I want to take home with me.
Social media is a stage
I’m not swearing off Instagram. Neither will I deprive myself the pleasure of sharing moments that I genuinely want others to see. I also do not feel obliged to show people that I have problems, too (I know my sh*t well, and I don’t see how I owe disclosure of said sh*t to people). But I’ve come to see social media as a stage. And a stage is no place to live. It is a platform you ascend to when you actually have something to say. And as soon as you’re done, you step off. You detach. You go back to doing things you actually want to do. Sharing stories and troubles with people who actually want to hear how you’re doing — people who no longer need a back context or effective packaging to understand you.
For me, it was about being clear which realm of reality I wanted to live in, and which was merely a medium of expression, to be used at my own convenience. It was about collecting myself back from the two-dimensional world I had been sucked into. Rediscovering what it was like to be whole. Because as gratifying as it is to have an enviable grid of images to spite haters and ex-lovers, there is no substitute for knowing that you actually are living your #bestlife, or even making your most honest attempts to plow through whatever it is you’re dealing with. And the best part about having the real thing is that you suddenly don’t need too many people to see.
* * *
Originally published in The Philippine Star SUPREME (17 October 2015)