I was walking downtown when I ran into an old acquaintance. She threw her arms around me enthusiastically and pulled me into a hug. “I haven’t seen you in so long!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been stalking you on Instagram, though. I’m so jealous of everything!”
I never know what to say when someone says something like that. I smile tightly and nod and change the subject so I don’t have to try to confront the fact that everyone is buying into a filtered version of my life that doesn’t always live up to reality.
The thing about Instagram is that everyone kind of knows there’s a film of artificiality over every photograph, yet they still act like there isn’t. They comment with heart eyes or DM you to say they wish they were you and drop a like to keep feeding into the illusion. But the photo of me glancing over my shoulder? It took five tries to get it just right. That “candid” photo of me laughing? I was well aware that the camera was pointed right at me, waiting for the right moment. My makeup was perfected, my hair was tamed, my outfit chosen for that purpose specifically. And yet somehow you still say it’s me.
Even the photos that aren’t manipulated only show a tiny slice of my life —they’re just little moments I happened to capture while I was trapped in everyday life. That sunset over the bridge in Italy sure was beautiful, but I caught it when I was walking home after a terrible day at work and I just wanted to collapse into bed and cry. The National Mall was an amazing place to visit, but I was sleep deprived and I was getting worried because the cold had crept into my shoes and I couldn’t feel my toes anymore. That carnival I stumbled across in Brooklyn was bursting with life and color and excitement, but I was getting depressed again. I wrote a happy caption anyway.
And I guess what I’m trying to say is that strangers look through my feed and feel like they understand my life. They think all those snapshot moments paint an accurate picture of who I am: the girl who travels all the time, who runs around in city parks, who writes sappy poems and drinks at fancy bars. The girl without a care in the world. But she’s not me. Sometimes I don’t recognize her at all.
Because the real me consists of moments I keep private — driving around aimlessly with my friends because we’re bored and there’s nothing else to do, the petty drama that stresses me out so much I have to turn off my phone for hours, the days I can’t even will myself to get out of bed. Ordinary days, and heartbreaking days, and days I’m not sure I feel anything at all. That’s who I am, but no amount of sepia-tinted filters could make it interesting, so all I let you see is the girl laughing at a train station in Philadelphia instead.
So, does that make me fake? Does that make me a liar? I’m not sure anymore. All I know is that you shouldn’t be jealous of me, no matter what you see in my Instagram feed.