Art by Peau Porotesano
Instagram, the ubiquitous social media presence full of sepia-tint pictures of your sort-of-friends’ fabulous lives, an app that you can’t help but check every spare moment you get. You’re not alone either; according to the app’s self-reported statistics, Instagram is flooded with 70 million photos per day, with around 300 million active users scrolling through to double-tap.
I am not one of those 300 million.
Don’t get me wrong — I used to be. I, too, was a Pepperdine student with an iPhone, posting pictures just often enough to remind my followers that I was in Malibu, clearly having the time of my life. I spent countless hours discussing the merits of one filter versus another in conversations that read like the lyrics of that Chainsmokers song “#Selfie.”
So why did I delete my Instagram? It wasn’t really a calculated decision. I just woke up one morning a little over a year ago, opened the app, scrolled through my feed and realized just how contrived those little squares had become.
Steven Furtick, a pastor at Elevation Church in North Carolina, said it best: “One reason we struggle with insecurity: We compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” And to tell the truth, my behind-the-scenes was worse than an episode of “Real Housewives.” But my highlight reel, with all those beautiful pictures of places I’d traveled to sophomore year? All those candid shots of laughing friends? All those witty captions proclaiming my unfettered joy in life? That was the image I wanted to present, and if it didn’t reflect the truth of my life, then that was OK. I’d slap a filter on it.
Pictures aren’t the only things with a filter nowadays. Think about it: How filtered is your life, really?
According to the 2015 Pew Research study, “Mobile Messaging and Social Media 2015,” in the past three years, Instagram usage has more than doubled. Young adults ages 18 to 29 make up the largest demographic of those users, with 55 percent of all Instagram activity. Instagram is for us children of the ‘90s, most of whom are on the cusp of true adulthood, still stuck in a transition period, in which the desire to do everything right is too strong to resist. It makes sense, then, that scrolling through a feed of everyone else’s successes makes our failures seem that much more pronounced.
I deleted Instagram because I couldn’t face that disconnect anymore. I couldn’t handle creating a carefully composed life, editing out all my hardships so I could keep up with everyone around me. Life isn’t perfect, and to quote from the wealth of wisdom that is the movie “The Princess Bride,” “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
What we’re selling is the misconceived notion that our struggles somehow make us weak. In the Pepperdine culture, if you haven’t done it all, you haven’t done anything. It’s no wonder we thrive on social media, constantly competing to prove that we’re worthy to be here, that we’re worthy to be loved. It’s no wonder that we keep toting out that tired statistic that Pepperdine students are, on average, lonelier when compared with other U.S. students. When you’re surrounded by a community of competitive perfection, it can be isolating to face your own insecurities.
Recently, I came across the one thing that might actually get me back on Instagram. Her name is Socality Barbie, colloquially known as “Hipster Barbie,” and she exists as a satirical commentary on the ridiculousness of Instagram culture. The “she” in question is, in actuality, a Barbie doll, but she is also everyone you know who has an Instagram and uses VSCO cam to edit their photos. Her pictures range from dramatic landscapes, to curated outfits, to casual coffeeshop outings, but regardless of the background, she is always the subject. Her brilliant but anonymous creator based the project around Socality, a movement that intends to bring together Christians on social media, albeit Christians of a certain mason jar and flower-crown aesthetic.
So what does this say about us, that even our pastors know we are too caught up in everyone else’s highlight reel? To me, it harkens back to that pervasive pursuit of perfection, a weight that many Pepperdine students carry. It’s easy to hashtag “nofilter” on your selfie, and hard to do it on your heart. You don’t have to delete your Instagram to make room for the honest behind-the-scenes stuff in life, but do try deleting the walls our culture has built around flaws. They may not be so photogenic, but they make a far better story than the design someone drew in your cappuccino foam.
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