I didn't actually wake up like this (and other Instagram confessions)
Last week, I got my hair cut. In typical salon fashion, I brought a slew of pictures of women with my “dream” hair and grabbed my phone from my purse to show my stylist. Before I got to my photo album, it dawned on me, Oh god, I have so many selfies from this morning. And I desperately tried to swipe past them to get to the dream-hair women I had meant to show her. Self conscious, I confessed to her just how many selfies I had taken, and how it takes a handful of tries to get a picture of myself that I actually like.
I am not interested in talking about how selfies suggest you’re a narcissist. I admit that there are certainly traces of vapid narcissism in a selfie, but I’m not entirely convinced they are a mere expression of self-absorption, so much as a way in which we wish to see ourselves, and wish to be seen.
With the invention of Instagram, the selfie has been taken to an entirely new level, allowing users to quickly capture a photo of themselves and alter it with brightness and filters, adjusting their appearance in ways they feel are more flattering than the raw photo itself. I do it all the time. I rarely ever post a picture sans-filter, and I have as many selfies on my Instagram account as I do pictures of other things in my day-to-day life. But I’m concerned about how Instagram makes me feel on a regular basis; and worse, I am concerned about what Instagram is silently teaching us about our appearances and our lives.
I didn’t actually wake up like this
Most famously, Beyoncé began an Instagram trend shortly following the release of Flawless, wherein she posted a picture of herself supposedly having just woken up. Dozens of celebrities followed, and the Internet exploded. One of our founders, Zooey Deschanel, posted her own version of a flawless selfie, and it seemed to be the only “bedstagram” I could relate to.
Shortly after the trend began, I started trying to take my own version of “flawless” photos, only to realize that when I woke up, I just looked tired and puffy. Disappointed I didn’t have morning honeydew skin and perfectly tousled hair, I never posted my own “flawless” selfie. (Is this narcissism? I guess, but I think I just misunderstood the assignment.)
The point of the flawless photo trend was to remind women that they are beautiful the way they are, and are the bosses of their own lives. Still, the trendsetter herself posted a picture that was full-on filtered and lacked any obvious “imperfections.” So not only do I feel a societal push to be beautiful and imperfect during the day, but now there’s a whole new way in which I will fall short, because my hair has kinks and there are sheet marks on my face for the first hour I’m awake. I love Bey, and I love what she represents and the voice of empowerment she gives women, but the flawless photo, and the continuous signs she Photoshops her “candid” Instagram photos, give me no choice but to believe that real gutsy vulnerability and self-ownership is found not on Beyoncé’s Instagram account, but on those of celebrities like Zooey Deschanel, Mindy Kaling, and Lena Dunham.
It’s not that simple
While it’s almost too easy to dismiss the entire issue as a symptom of vanity, the conflicts surrounding Instagram and women aren’t separate from the larger idea of standards of beauty that are established by the beauty industry, fashion industry, and other industries that stand to make a lot of money off all of us who are trying to live up to those standards.
Go to any makeup store and you’ll notice countless beauty products marketed as “HD” or “TV READY.” I’m sure a handful of customers use these products for jobs and theater and the like, but I’m sure just as many wear these products on an everyday basis. Why? We are living in a world that makes us always anticipate being photographed. And documented. And filmed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing makeup (I’m a daily wearer of makeup myself), but the incessant reminder that we must always be prepared for exposure is a subtle and dangerous force in our modern lives. And it’s taking from us. With each filtered Instagram post, each glossy, magazine-like depiction of our lives we share, we are losing some of the most magical and moving components of being alive: imperfections.
Commodification of our experiences
We all take a stab at “artistic” posts on Instagram, even if we don’t deem ourselves “photographers” or necessarily even “artists.” I follow several photographers on Instagram and expect to see professional-looking posts on their page. But the accounts that concern me are the over-stylized “personal” accounts. The ones where, apparently, on Sunday these people are just immaculately done up and eating apples at a darling barn in who knows where; meanwhile I’m eating mac and cheese out of a mug in my living room while I try to figure out how Sudoku works. Why are so many of us commodifying our daily experiences by filtering out all imperfections, curating the details so they look just so, and creating an impossible and unnecessary standard for the way we think our lives “should” look?
If this is “art” I don’t want to look at it anymore
I’ve gnawed over the idea that it’s “art,” but I just can’t buy it because it’s being sold to me as “life,” and if that is “art” then I don’t want to look at that kind of art anymore; it makes me feel ugly, unwelcome, and not good enough. I don’t want to be so caught up in the overall “look and feel” of my Instagram that I can’t just take a picture of my dad and I on a hike without worrying that I just don’t look good enough for it to be posted. I want to post and share with my friends pictures of the moments in my life that made me feel something, of miracles on city sidewalks, and, on good days, bossy selfies that don’t need to be magazine-worthy or cool.
I can’t keep avoiding imperfections, not on Instagram and not in real life. And guess what? Life doesn’t have Amaro filters to conceal everything you don’t like about yourself. Sometimes we eat really boring-looking lunches. Sometimes our weekends didn’t involve what we looked like, because we were busy enjoying the movement and imperfectly magical parts of sharing the day with someone. Sometimes we have to work really hard to get to a space where we accept and love ourselves, and that can’t be done while in constant pursuit of perfection.
Imperfections are indications of being malleable, that things shift and move and change, and when we are so focused on perfecting everything, we lose the incredible opportunity to change and grow, and we starve ourselves of being totally and naturally present. In all the time we spent trying to get that perfect “just woke up” selfie, and all the editing and cropping and adjusting we did to make our backyard look like the most amazing backyard ever to exist, we missed out on all the genuine reasons we are absolutely gorgeous, sleepy humans when we first wake up, and that our backyard is amazing because it’s where we have BBQs with people we love, and water plants that grow, and it just looks the way it does, in its perfectly imperfect everydayness.
No harm, no foul
Maybe Instagram doesn’t leave bruises on your heart, and maybe you’re perfectly content looking at and posting pictures that are intended to look “perfect.” I think that’s okay, if that’s what you want. But from now on, I’m going to think twice about using filters to hide the parts I don’t think are good enough, or holding the camera at an angle that makes the bridge of my nose look less wide. I’m not content just “accepting” my imperfections. I am determined to love and own them. I want to bravely use an incredibly intimate interface to empower myself and share with my friends the things that make my heart move.
Life is about learning and changing and growing. It’s about building communities and helping one another. It’s about trusting and loving and crying and laughing. It’s about empowering yourself and helping other people empower themselves, too. And things like love, kindness, and beauty have nothing to do with filters, anyway.