I saw this on Instagram yesterday, and immediately screenshotted it. It wasn’t until today when I was scrolling through my camera roll that I saw it again and actually stopped to ponder why I had kept it, instead of letting it get lost in my gallery never to be looked at again.
It got me thinking about myself, and others, and our obsession to portray ourselves in the best way possible. Seemingly a very normal and innocent routine we all go through, right? Obviously we want everyone to see the best bits of us, but sometimes we lose ourselves in this process.
This is extremely prevalent on Instagram, the place where we all cherry-pick the bikini photos with the flattest looking stomach, or the party pic where we have the nicest smile, forgetting that 5 minutes before the photo we were having a breakdown in the bathroom. We post photos we think will get the best reaction and highest number of likes. Instead of posting for ourselves, we’re slaves posting purely for the audience. We crave validation from stranger’s double taps when the only place we need validation from is staring at us in the black mirror of our phone screen.
I have been victim to this. I have in the past stopped myself from posting stuff I thought would mark me as ‘too weird’ or ‘untrendy’, when in reality those were the photos that illustrated me best. I lost more than 600 followers when I stopped forcing myself to keep up with an aesthetically pleasing grid on Instagram. I’d gained those followers from posting two outfit-of-the-day pics, that co-ordinated in colour with a selfie in between. It started out as authentically me and was enjoyable, but slowly developed into labour and led me to pump out any old content in a panic, just because I ‘had to’, (like someone had a gun up against my head and was going to shoot if I skipped a day).
From not posting what I wanted, when I wanted, I was put off Instagram for a while. I had fell under the social media spell of thinking that I had to fit into a certain criteria, and what I posted had to be a gleaming, unflawed and perfect representation of that, a version that was so photoshopped, forced, and unattainable I sometimes look back and hardly recognise myself.
A fear of looking stupid or being judged can hold you back without you even realising it, I didn’t until I only began only posting on Instagram when I felt like it, and included no-make-up pics, art, and stories on political issues because I wanted to, not because I had to.
What we have to remember is ‘weird’ and ‘normal’ are subjective terms, what is cool to one person will be freaky to another, so being worried that some might see you negatively clouds the fact that others will think the opposite. You can’t please or appeal to everyone, and trust me, trying to do so is exhausting and ultimately fruitless.
“I’d much rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea.” – Carrie Bradshaw
I’ve since received messages telling me to “stay out of politics”, “stick to pretty pictures” and not post anything about racism, etc. because it “doesn’t work”. Stark contrast to the old DMs I used to get, asking me where I got a great skirt from or how gorgeous I looked in that dress, but I am happier with the former, because at least I’m being authentic. I haven’t let the concern of strangers bother me like I used to, why would I? Why should anyone?
“Don’t absorb criticism from someone you wouldn’t ask for advice.” – Matt Haig
However, a DM from a stranger telling me they bought a book I recommended and loved it, or thanking me for posting about a sensitive topic, mean much more to me than any nice comment I got before about my clothes. This is down to me being more myself now, so the messages (strangers or not) feel better coming from an audience that likes me for me instead of the fake following that liked the forced ootd posts.
The audience is crucial, by portraying yourself online as something completely different to who you actually are, even in the tiniest ways that you may think don’t make much of a difference, you invite the wrong type. An audience that may look good in numbers, but will inevitably at best, leave and at worst, judge, when you show who you really are and not what they have come to expect.
When you are brave enough to stop fixating on your identity and instead just own it, by not overthinking and just posting what you want even if it strays from the norm, is ‘taboo’ or unconventional, you attract an audience that can identify with the real you, not just a false front. This audience may be smaller in numbers, but an authentically cultivated following that lifts you up for being who you are is always better than a fake one that makes you feel like you can’t.
“Your vibe attracts your tribe.”