All of our online social networks serve as a metaphorical window into our lives. But unlike that of most windows, its glass is rose-tinted. Through it, we share the beautiful aspects of our existence – from witty snarks to pictures of wild nights out to hard-earned promotions, we love showing off the things that not only make us feel good, but often more importantly make us look good in the eyes of others. Instagram in particular is a popular place to show the world just how well we are doing. I’m a perfect example of stereotypical Instagram overuse, with my newsfeed consisting almost entirely of snaps of my face, food, alcohol and some pictures of my inebriated friends and I in questionable poses. It is the first Instacrime I want to talk about in a little more depth today – selfies aka the modern equivalent of Stalin insisting his portrait occupy the walls of all Soviet apartments, a sadly offensive metaphor in which the perpetrator is Stalin and the walls are those of Facebook.
Naturally, Instagram did not start the selfie phenomenon. I still remember staging impromptu sleepover photoshoots with my friends when I was around fourteen, in the throes of puberty and filled with unresolved feelings of inadequacy. We would put on heavy coats of makeup, our most revealing clothes and then proceed to take abundant pictures in questionable poses — pictures which screamed “I’m sexy, right? am I sexy? AM I?!?”. I would then take it upon myself to Photoshop the living hell out of those photographs and then proceed to pick out of a few to share with the world via Facebook. The reward? Some approving compliments (“likes” didn’t exist back in the day, y’all) from frenemies, a few lewd remarks from teenage boys with terrible grammar and… that’s it. Despite the low effort-reward ratio, I got a huge kick out of my few seconds of fame. But Instagram takes it one step further. All you need is your phone — and then lights, camera, action. You can document yourself anywhere and share the results with the world instantaneously.
Half a decade after my teenage bedroom photoshoots, my love of selfies is as strong as ever. Naturally, I do this under the guise of keeping my friends up to date on my incredibly eventful life. Who am I to cruelly deprive my acquaintances of that fifth photo of myself staring into the camera in my bedroom — #nomakeup #nofilter (as if!) — they so desire? Some people throw in pseudo-empowering passive aggressive slogans like “if you don’t like me the way I am, you can go to hell”, others go for heart-wrenching mysterious song lyrics. Personally, I like to post sarcastic snarks, just to show everyone how cool and above all this shit (read: not at all) I am. As in, “I’m really cool and independent and I don’t need anybody’s approval, I’m just sharing the sheer marvel that is my face with the world.”
Now, you might be thinking: “Well, I’m a dude. Dudes don’t do that kind of stuff.” To which, broseph, I say: “Yeah, that’s kind of true.” But it is not some inherent vanity gene which is making young women worldwide stare into their iPhone lenses trying to perfect their duck face. It is because women are judged far more harshly based on their looks. The media goes out of its way to daily remind us that, as women, we certainly deserve positive attention — and that all of it should be limited to our outward appearance. And only if we conform to the specific beauty standard they prescribe on the covers of all women’s magazines. Despite third-wave feminists’ vehement struggle against the patriarchy, women in modern society are still largely perceived as “ornamental” and valued primarily for their looks. It is hence no wonder that insecure young females enthusiastically embrace Instagram as a platform to share photos of themselves when they are feeling their most attractive — photos they can easily stage, edit and manipulate to convey whatever image they desire. Instagram with its likes can serve as a quantitative measure of how well we fit the modern beauty standard. This is why, no matter how much I may sugarcoat it, I know that my Instagram newsfeed is not only a gallery of my successes but also a gallery of my insecurities, offset with the occasional fancy salad.
But is such behaviour truly unhealthy? In other words, in looking for approval do we exacerbate the issue? On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel attractive and to get some recognition. In my books, regular doses of narcissism are integral to any individual’s wellbeing. But on the other hand, deriving a large portion of our self-worth from meaningless superficial adoration is a disaster in the making. It is easy enough for Instagram’s young users to look conventionally attractive in a society which fetishises youth. But sooner or later, most of us will no longer be able to get much recognition for our outward appearance, instead having to rely on our inner values and personalities. The sooner we realise that the better, because a bad character is much harder to disguise with Instagram filters than a double chin.