It’s easy to hate social media. Especially on almost-entirely-visual platforms like Instagram, where the most superficially-beautiful things almost invariably win out, it’s easy to feel like the race for “likes” and “follows” is a race to the bottom of our collective soul. It’s easy to parody in shows like Black Mirror, where our quest for the most deceptively-perfect outward versions of our lives means hollowing out our real ones. And I admit that, in my more cynical moments, I view the whole operation like one big, lame Black Mirror episode myself. When I fall down a rabbit hole of picture-perfect Christian mom lifestyle blogs, or smolder with a light, “you didn’t pay for that” rage at “influencer” acquaintances who are constantly shilling undisclosed products, I want to throw my phone out a window.
I dislike what it represents, I hate what it brings out in me, and it’s easy to feel aflame with injustice over the whole concept of networks like Instagram. Why should she be so popular just because her entire dining table was furnished by West Elm? Why should he be the authority on #fitspo just because he has a perfect face to go along with his washboard abs? In its worst moments, Instagram totally deserves its criticisms, and can lead even the most balanced among us down a spiral of inadequacy and envy.
It was in response to this, and because I was seeing the aggressively-fake presentation in myself, that I started #totalhonestytuesday over a year ago. I had just been in Miami for a week, posting photo after photo of the food, the beach, and our balcony view (scored because Marc has hundreds of thousands of hotel points and platinum status from traveling four days a week for work for years on end). It was beautiful, of course, and racking up some of my highest Instagram “numbers” to that point — but it felt gross. I had drained my checking account (something I hadn’t done in years), completely caught up in the glossy beauty of being there, and the pressure to always be showing off something beautiful. So I came home and posted a shot of my decimated checking account balance, and kicked off a hashtag that has frankly made me look forward to every Tuesday, where I have to challenge myself to be more real than usual on social media.
But one day a week isn’t enough, of course. And for someone whose literal job is, in part, “maintaining an active and growing social media presence,” getting caught up in social media has been something I’ve actively had to work against. Learning to separate the real from the staged, and realize that what I have is good enough in the face of someone who seems to have so much more, has been a challenge. I won’t lie — I still get into those rabbit holes of beautiful lifestyle blogs and feel a mix of resentment and wonder, particularly as someone who counts cooking and home decor amongst her most avid hobbies. Like many of us, I can feel all but targeted by these beautiful, unattainable images, and unless I frequently remind myself that many people on Instagram are passing off magazine-level, underwritten content as spontaneous shots of their everyday life, I’ll go crazy.
(If you remember that most food bloggers are shooting those lush dinner recipes at eight in the morning to get the perfect light, and setting their table for no one, it suddenly feels a lot less enviable.)
But I wanted to go past just “not being envious,” and get into “using Instagram for my personal betterment.” If I like a social medium, and am going to use it near-daily for personal and professional reasons, it had better be something that positively impacts my life, right? And it was a few months ago that I realized that this notion of “doing something for Instagram” doesn’t need the awful connotations it has. The prevailing idea seems to be that if you have in mind the pretty picture you might take of something, you are automatically doing it for the wrong reasons. But it occurred to me that TFD started because I wanted a public Tumblr to keep me accountable to myself when making my budget. By involving other people, and posting a record of what I was doing, I was able to conquer my most insidious money habits and become accountable to myself, as well as the people who were now following me. I used social media as a springboard to get myself to do the things that I ultimately benefited from. If something as great as TFD could come out of that idea, why couldn’t Instagram serve that same function on a day-to-day basis?
So I started challenging myself to take pictures of the meals I cook and share them on a regular basis. It made me cook more frequently, conquer/invent new recipes, write them down meticulously (so I can share them on TFD), branch out in my food habits, and be more innovative with how I use the ingredients I already have. Using Instagram to hold myself accountable has made me much better at food photography, made me cook more frequently, and made me much more confident in the recipes I’ll attempt. Without a doubt, Instagram has made me a better home cook and recipe-maker.
Similarly, with home decor and personal style, using Instagram has made me much more judicious. If I share my outfits, I’m more inclined to make use of everything in my closet, and pare down the stuff I don’t use. I force myself to become more put-together in my outfit choices, which makes me more confident when I’m out and about wearing them. It’s also forced me to more consciously create my personal style, which is something I’ve struggled to do for years. And when it comes to my home, keeping things cleaned and organized is much easier when it means taking a pretty picture of it. At first, I admit that I was more motivated by the appearance than my own personal reasons, but now I find that I enjoy cleaning more than ever before, because it’s become a habit. I feel weird now if I go to bed without wiping everything down, putting everything in its place, and sweeping the floor. The fact that it means my place is almost always photo-ready is just a bonus.
Of course, there are limits I place on myself to keep the version of my life I present as “real” as possible. I focus on homemade and DIY things, never over-style things, and never post something I’m not actually using or enjoying. I’m sure it’s an imperfect system, but it keeps me feeling like my overall style is about attainability, rather than being an object of envy. And encouraging myself to do more of the things I want to be doing anyway is, in my view, one of the healthiest attitudes one can take towards social media. These platforms are a part of our lives, why not use them to our advantage?
We should be greedy with the beauty in our own lives, because there’s nothing wrong with wanting more of it.
Image via Pexels