Picture this: you’re bored at work, scrolling through Instagram, when you stumble upon a perfectly-filtered square that shows someone’s laptop, a picturesque cappuccino, and probably a potted plant off to the side. Her work space is impeccable, and her photo reeks of chicness and productivity. You immediately feel embarrassed by your messy desk, with its coffee stains and piles of papers, and you wish you could just have a more “minimalistic” vibe to your whole existence. Right?
Ever since Instagram became a thing, there’s been a limitless well of articles that talk about social media FOMO, or the ways that someone else’s highlight reel negatively impacts our psyche. We’ve all had moments where we’ve scrolled through our Instagram feeds, feeling pangs of jealousy at that fashion blogger’s “perfect” life, or the way our high school classmate seems to have the “ideal” relationship. And we’d all probably be lying if we said that we’ve never purchased something — like a gourmet latte or a green juice — with a mental note of posting it on Instagram later on.
It’s easy to blame our insecurities on Instagram, or to say that we’ve become dependent upon “likes” for validation. And it’s also easy to say that the pressure to look cool on Instagram results in over-spending, or the pursuit of certain activities with the end-goal of cropping it into a square and filtering our memories into perfection. It’s certainly not difficult to point a finger at social media — or pop culture for that matter — for our “unrealistic expectations” about literally everything. But the truth is that Instagram hasn’t given us false expectations any more than Sex and the City wrongly prepared us for adult life. The only ones we can really blame for those feelings are ourselves.
As adults, we should be able to discern between truth and fiction, and we should be able to take everything we see on social media with a grain of salt. We know, deep down, that no one puts the minute details of their lives on Instagram. No one is ‘gramming their bills, or their dirty dishes, or their laundry. No one is posting selfies after a fight with their significant other, or snapping pics of their shoes after a long day at work. The pictures we see, the ones that give us that pang of jealousy, are deliberately-chosen moments, designed to put forth the greatest impression of someone’s life. And we know this, because we do it, too.
So why, then, do we let Instagram dictate our feelings so much? Why do we allow ourselves to go on with our FOMO, with our pangs of inadequacy while looking through the feed of a fashion blogger whom we don’t even know in real life? If we know the truth, objectively, we should be able to separate that knowledge from the knee-jerk feelings that we have while mindlessly scrolling. And if we can’t separate that truth, we only have ourselves to blame.
We shouldn’t need to take “social media detoxes.” The very fact that we do this — and then announce it on social media — is part of the problem. At this point in our adulthood, we should be able to navigate social media with the awareness that it is a part of our lives, but not necessarily a representation of our whole lives. We should be able to feel good about getting those double-taps on our photos without pegging our self-worth to the number next to the hearts. We should be able to browse the Insta feed of our favorite bloggers and not feel compelled to go to the mall and blow our whole paycheck. And if we do mess up and those things, and still feel inadequate, we shouldn’t blame Instagram — we should blame ourselves.
In this day and age, social media is a part of our existence. It isn’t going anywhere. So it’s up to us to be able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, to take charge of our lives, and stop blaming each and every mistake or “unrealistic expectation” on something that we saw online. We need to do a better job of being an advocate for ourselves, and force ourselves to remember the things we already know.
At the end of the day, a cropped picture is just a picture. It is a snapshot, a frozen moment in time, a mere fragment of someone’s existence. Think of all the things we wouldn’t dare put online — our favorite bloggers and social media stars are living all of those moments, too. They’re just not on their Instagram feeds for the world to see.
De is a New Yorker turned Bostonian and lover of all things theatrical. She’ll never turn down a cup of gingerbread coffee, and she’s the owner of the fluffiest cat imaginable. De is on Twitter and Instagram.
Image via Unsplash