The ‘Insta-Life’: A New Form Of Self-Expression Or A Pic-Perfect Lie?

How every photo has become a snapshot of our innermost selves

Zach Meaney/Unsplash

How has the photo-sharing app changed our lives?

The app has become so closely intertwined with our current society that it’s easy to forget its profound effect on our way of relating to others. Instagram shifted social media into an increasingly phone-dominated, concept-centred, instant-visual focus, turning us all into mini-storytellers who could document our everyday existence and transpose mundane realities into parallel lives. We suddenly had a digital picture book at our disposal to share with others. As such, over the course of the app’s existence, we’ve seen the development of an “Insta-life”, one independent from our own. It’s hard to succinctly express what the “Insta-life” is, but anyone who stays on the app long enough is bound to notice or inadvertently participate in it.

The “Insta-life” is really just a reversal of the app’s basic function. Instagram was supposed to imitate (or document) life, but life eventually came to imitate the app. Countless influencers will base their entire existence around delivering share-worthy, high-quality content, travelling to exotic faraway locations or exclusive restaurants to take the best possible picture for their thousands, sometimes millions, of followers. Even normal users have ended up modifying small parts of their everyday life for the sake of that elusively “perfect” photo. Be honest with yourself – how many times have you ordered a dish you didn’t like, dressed up when you didn’t have to, or even met up with a friend, just for the sake of an Insta-worthy snap?

Ben Weber/Unsplash

So what are we to make of the “Insta-life”?

But much like in real life, the “Insta-life” has ended up developing subtle hierarchies which lurk beneath the app’s anarchic, digital-utopian surface. The unspoken power of the “like”, the follower count, and the verified symbol all serve to silently segregate Instagram’s users according to their so-called influence and prestige. As such, on the basis of the size and engagement of their following, members end up finding themselves relegated to various “Insta-classes”. It would be too easy to say this all “doesn’t matter”, and while I certainly agree that it is wrong to link one’s self-worth to online status, the connection between the real and digital life has become too seamless for one to dismiss Instagram’s social dynamics. For several higher-profile users, likes and followers translate directly into actual revenue, as advertisers will agree to pay influencers at varying rates to have products promoted on their page. For many others, however, they translate just as equally into anxiety and low self-esteem, as people will end up placing much of their confidence on their online presence. In an app where users are increasingly devoted to conveying a perennial joie de vivre, the “FoMO” (“fear of missing out”) phenomenon becomes a very real side effect of the “Insta-life”.

But even more problematic than the way in which the “Insta-life” can damage self-esteem is the way in which it can give us the false illusion of possessing it. On Instagram, every part of our image and identity is carefully controlled. Photos can be filtered and doctored to precision, selfies Facetuned to blemishless perfection, and pictures picked to highlight the most exciting parts of our existence. The “Insta-life” is merely the shimmery iceberg-tip of our messier everyday realities. Any popularity we may receive on the app is generated by a mirror image of ourselves. The “Insta-life” may provide a comfy outlet to boost our self-confidence, but we are ultimately still hiding behind a digital screen, with no need to confront the uglier challenges of everyday life.

And so we come back to the original question: are we to view the “Insta-life” as an exciting and liberating form of self-expression, providing us with a platform to creatively expose our life journey, or is it all a giant masquerade behind which we hide our deepest fears and insecurities? The truth ultimately lies in both, rendering it a modern-day paradox simultaneously boosting our self-esteem while silently undercutting it. Instagram is neither the life-affirming digital answer to all our insecurities, nor is it some kind of malicious mirage. Rather, it stands as an amplifier, giving a public face to our innermost feelings and attitudes. Our behaviour on the app is essentially a magnified reflection of the way we would wish to live our lives, which inevitably involves a complex mixture of emotions. For most of us, insecurity and confidence have secretly danced hand-in-hand since the day we were born – all Instagram ever did was put a spotlight on their tango.

A video that will strike home for a lot of Instagram users

23-y/o Britalian, Oxford grad, published poet & singer/songwriter. Feminist, progressive & unafraid to share my views | Bylines: Indy, TIME, HuffPo, The Times