Authenticity is never more threatened than when online.
CREDIT: Emma Chamberlain on Instagram (2020)
“Being real” is taking candid photos of your friends after saying, "Be candid!" before taking the picture.
“Being real” is capturing a crying selfie at the perfect angle, where a single tear is positioned at just the right spot on your cheekbone, and your mascara is generously smudged beneath your lashes.
“Being real” is posting slightly blurry photos of you and your friends at a seemingly obscure restaurant not typically frequented by teenagers–like Applebees or Carrabbas.
“Being real” is posting quotes from Colleen Hoover novels, even though the last time you picked up an interesting book was in middle school.
“Being real” is zooming in on your high-dollar plate of food and framing it so every food is slightly cut off.
“Being real” is following the recipe for a perfect photo dump: fire selfie, outfit pic, posed but candid photo, food picture, BeReal screenshot, song screenshot, irrelevant picture, personality picture, random meme.
Society witnessed a cultural shift when Instagram first launched in 2010. Celebrities and lay people alike toyed with the app by using the same Instagram-provided filters, following the same trends and writing the same cringe captions. The first decade of Instagram hosted a multitude of trends: duck-face-peace-sign selfies, overly edited photos and videos participating in the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. Outfit pictures consisted of chevron dresses, Lilly Pulitzer apparel, bubble necklaces and Jack Rodgers. The go-to pose was an arm around your best friend, your hand on your hip, shoulders back, chin up, hip popped, a bright smile showing off your lime green braces and your head tilted to capture the bow in your hair. Being real in the 2010s was captioning your photo, "comment for a TBH or rate," and confessing your opinion about friends, mutuals, and strangers. Instagram culture was filtered, edited and posed. Though our Instagram feed looks much different today than a decade ago, many original conventions persist, but we’ve also adopted a new desire for authenticity on social media.
CREDIT: Zac Efron on Instagram (2012)
This new decade of Instagram is more progressive in a sense. Now we strip off filters and untangle from elaborate poses. Instagram feeds are unedited, curated, and–I say this lightly–authentic. It's trendy to be vulnerable online now. For instance, it's typical to post a mirage of cute and embarrassing photos of your best friend on their birthday. You won't need to send them an individual happy birthday text message because you'll profess your undying love for them in your Instagram caption. Originality is cool now too. Those random photos in your camera roll of restaurant menus, math homework, and shoe pictures? Post those in your next photo dump!
Consciously or not, we tend to lean into the same performance, the same trends. Our online identity is not our own, but a mosaic of others from which we adopted and reworked to seemingly make personal. Instagram entices us to view ourselves through rose-colored glasses. The photos and videos we share construct our online persona, one that is often idealized and inherently false. Intrinsically, Instagram is a deceptive platform. Everything is controlled, moderated and enhanced. Authenticity becomes corrupted simply because of the foundation from which it stems.
Your identity on Instagram is warped by trends and validation: how much of myself is performative and how much of myself is the true me?
Our Instagram image is curated realness where we retouch our personality, beautify the mundane and control our aesthetics. The most evident shift to curated realness is illustrated by celebrity posts. Diverging from photoshop and professionally edited photos, celebrities instead choose a combination of polished and casual pictures for their photo dump. Followers praise them for their casualty–celebrities, they're just like us! Quirky and chaotic. As the course of trends goes, us followers try the trend of realness for ourselves. Yet, if we are all real on social media then nobody is. We are all the same in our unoriginality. Rapid shifts in trends and our tendency to impulsively follow them threaten our individuality and creativity. To avoid this, prioritize exploring your individuality outside of confining Instagram conventions to create a uniquely beautiful and subjective life.
CREDIT: Chase Stokes on Instagram (2022) and Olivia Rodrigo on Instagram (2022)
Social media and authenticity exist at odds with each other, and that's okay.
It's important to have this self-awareness when comparing yourself to others online. I don't want to discredit those who share their vulnerabilities for connection because it's important to have those pockets of community online. But don't feel pressured to share your trauma if you don't want to or if you feel like it's a box to check off on your healing journey. What matters is being honest with yourself and having a desire to improve as a human in the real world, not a profile online.
Jamie is an Online Writer for Rowdy Magazine. Though she rarely posts on her main Instagram account, she is frequently active on her second account where she posts OOTDs and coffee reviews.