Do you ever scroll through Instagram and feel your feed is a bit lacklustre compared to all those photos that seem to capture the “perfect life” of others? You might even wonder why you can’t be jetting around the globe posing in front of famous landmarks every week when plenty of other people seem to manage it. I’m talking about the bloggers with hundreds of thousand of followers who apparently spend their whole lives travelling and generally having a fantastic time.
In the blogging world we all know the importance of having a sizeable and engaged following on Instagram – probably more so than on any other social media platform. The pressure to present your “best self” online is hard to ignore, but how real should Instagram be?
Of course it’s only natural that we choose the more notable moments to post online. After all, nobody really wants to see photos of the washing up or the kids’ mess. Which begs the question: what does make you want to follow someone on Instagram? Do you like the aesthetics of a well-planned feed with a colour theme? Or do you prefer to connect with someone because they post “real life” moments? Are the two even mutually exclusive?
A couple of things prompted me to write this post; the first was a podcast about how to grow your Instagram following. The second was an article about how research has shown it to be the worst platform for mental health. While the podcast was all about community-building and finding “your tribe” (which is exactly my approach) the mental health aspect made me consider the negative side of social media.
I picked up some really useful tips from the podcast and have been putting them into action for the last couple of weeks. So far I’ve had modest success, but it’s early days. I’ll write a post all about it in a few months and let you know what worked for me and what didn’t. But I want to point out that being authentic is paramount to me. I would never use bots or play the cursed follow/unfollow game. (You may remember I wrote a post about cheating on Instagram last year). As bloggers/influencers we are well aware of the benefits of gaining and maintaining a decent-sized, engaged following, but with that comes accountability. If we are to be trusted, we must be honest with our followers.
Faking the perfect life to impress is a futile game, but it doesn’t stop some bloggers succumbing to that pressure. Tweaking the colours on a photo or blurring a spot is one thing, but faking your life just to get likes and followers is a whole other level.
When one blogger was caught out for superimposing her cutout onto photos of famous landmarks her agency defended her by saying: “Instagram fundamentally is a creative platform; it’s distinctive nature promotes visual narratives which have become more sophisticated in a market which demands quality. She genuinely has visited all the locations she has posted about and she declares her sponsored posts in the correct way. The fact is that filtering is a common practice used . . . in order to create aesthetically desirable content, and this is not unusual.”
So does creating appealing content take precedence over capturing real life moments? Well I suppose that depends on what you want from social media. Personally, I want to see real, genuine moments – great outfits, nice scenery, cute animals. I expect a certain amount of enhancement, but not to be hoodwinked. If I see a photo of someone in front of the Eiffel Tower I expect them to have been there and not superimposed themselves onto a stock photo. That said, I don’t mind seeing inspirational photos provided the caption is honest and due credit is given to the photographer.
As an experiment, British travel blogger Carolyn Stritch, aka @theslowtraveler, faked a trip to Disneyland complete with a new face thanks to Faceapp, and even her own family and friends didn’t question it. Certainly the almost 20,000 people who liked the photo of her in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle didn’t think it odd that no-one else was in the shot. Or who took the photo given it was meant to be a solo trip. She put it down to us becoming desensitied to this type of imagery. In her post “Why I hacked my own instagram account” she says she did it to highlight the disconnect between the reality of her daily life and her own feed.
When I came across a website called Lifefaker last week my first reaction was that social media had sunk to new lows. Claiming to be “the world’s first online life faking service” it advertises photo packages such as “Look At My Holiday And Cry” and “My Unachievable Body”. It’s mantra is “Life Isn’t Perfect. Your Profile Should Be.” But there’s a catch. Click on any of the packages and you’re directed to the Sanctus website which created Lifefaker to “highlight unhealthy behaviours on social media and their harming impact on mental health”. Yes that’s right, the faker is a fake. Oh the irony.
According to Sanctus 62% of people feel inadequate when they compare their lives to others’ online. They say: “Our goal was to use parody to highlight some of those unhealthy behaviours we all know exist on social media. As we become more aware of them ourselves, it can be easier to change them too. Particularly, we want to highlight that we all have a relationship with social media and that there is a direct relationship between social media and our mental health.”
“We want to make you more mindful of your social media usage, to ask yourself “why?” before you post or to take a breath before you scroll. We want you to use that unfollow button, take a social media detox or even use social media to present the true image of your life, not the desired one.”
Social media has so many benefits: it helps us to stay connected with friends and family, as well as make new friends. We can see the world in so many different ways, talk to people from all over the world. But it also makes it easier to compare ourselves to others, often unfavourably. You know that saying: “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Remember that we’re only seeing what others want us to see.
As the late philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in The Conquest of Happiness:
“You can get away from envy by enjoying the pleasures that come your way, by doing the work that you have to do, and by avoiding comparisons with those whom you imagine, perhaps quite falsely, to be more fortunate than yourself.”
So while I’ll carry on trying to improve my photography skills and hopefully growing my following, I won’t be using any Photoshop trickery. If you see me in front of the Eiffel Tower you can be sure it’s the real deal!