Using Instagram less was one of the best things I did last year. I didn’t get off it completely. I didn’t erase it from my phone. I just stopped looking through it and only posted photos on it when I was really compelled to (which had largely been the case before). I made this small change because I got tired of it—tired of gawking at edits of other people’s lives. For me, as someone who gets jealous easily, Instagram started to do more harm than good.
I loved Instagram because I had curated my feed to be a celebration of Blackness, alternative views of beauty, excellence, close friends and food porn. It was a morning source of inspiration. But over time, it went from being a source of inspiration to being a barometer, a measuring stick of how well I was living my life—how beautiful my food and home were, how successful (by way of being visible) my work (Un-ruly) was. And if Un-ruly didn’t have as many followers as another blog, or if I wasn’t eating as much Kale, chia seeds and whatever super food was trending at any given moment, then I was failing.
If Un-ruly didn’t have as many followers as another blog, or if I wasn’t eating as much Kale, chia seeds and whatever super food was trending at any given moment, then I was failing.
That’s the tricky thing about inspiration and possibility models; you’ve got to use them carefully. It’s great to use celebrities, close friends, loose acquaintances or strangers on Instagram as a source of what’s possible, especially when you can see yourself in them. When I was in college I started traveling on my own because I saw a friend do it and that made me realize that I could too. Being able to think and imagine possibilities outside of your own experience is one of the great benefits of not being ‘in this life’ alone. Being part of families, of communities, of social networks, we get to use other people’s experiences as road signs to point us in the right direction or assure us that we’re on the right track. And there’s a lot of value in that. However, it occurred to me that social networks, and the Internet in general, are exposing us to copious amounts of other people’s lives.
Even though we know and tell ourselves that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people, we’re kind of programmed to do so
In the past keeping up with the Jones’ meant perhaps knowing what kind of car they drove, what neighborhood they lived in and maybe their career path, by way of casual conversations here and there. But now we’ve got a front row seat into practically every waking moment of their lives, and that can be dangerous in a way. Because even though we know and tell ourselves that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people, especially since we don’t see their whole picture (things might be harder or even better than they seem), we’re kind of programmed to do so.
We’re creatures of communities. We take cues from the people around us, so much of what we think is normal or good or bad is influenced by what the people around us collectively think is normal, good and bad. So much of what we do and who we are is governed and influenced by our communities. For example, a while ago, I noticed that when I punched (playfully ;-) my boyfriend who’s French, he says AIY (like eye)! And when I get hurt, I say OW! I realized that the way we expressed pain, the sound we make, has been influenced by where we’ve grown up. So, if something that perfunctory can be a product of our environment, then other aspects of who we are are really up for grabs. It means that the more I’m exposed to something (a sound, an image, a way of doing something), the more I’ll internalize it, the more I’ll see it as standard, the more I’ll see it as something I think I should be. And in a world where diversity never fully gets shown (not even in our personal social feeds)–where, say, four definitions of success get double tapped and reposted, or certain hair textures get more likes than others, where people and algorithms don’t show you the whole picture–we run the risk of limiting our possibilities and our point of views to only the things that get bubbled up, and that’s what’s dangerous and, paradoxical about social media. It can show you possibilities but it’s only set up to show you a select few. Hence the need to be careful about what you surround yourself with, both digitally and in real life… and also how much you surround yourself with those things or people.
In a world where diversity never fully gets shown–where people and algorithms don’t show you the whole picture–we run the risk of limiting our possibilities and our point of views to only the things that get bubbled up
I’m realizing all this now in retrospect, now that I’m taking a moment to look up and back. I had forgotten what role I had let social media play in my life. Using Instagram less took the measuring stick away. The saying, out of sight out of mind is true! I didn’t even realize it until now, but some of the things I was thinking about a year ago, the kind of pressure I was putting on myself, has been nonexistent, simply because I wasn’t constantly being exposed to all the #relationshipgoals, #hairgoals, #lifegoals…. all the hoopla. I login occasionally, but not almost everyday like I used to. Funny, I watched a clip of an Edris Alba interview a while back where he discusses how when he’s swimming, doing laps, he keeps his head down. He doesn’t look up to see how much further he has to go. And when he does this he’s able to swim a lot further than he would if he were looking up and was aware of the ‘distance’ ahead (I’m paraphrasing here). Naturally, he applies this approach to other things. I’ve found the metaphor useful in managing the anxiety that arises in the journey I’m on. Once I have a goal set, once, I’m inspired and have identified what I want, I keep my head down and enjoy or work through every stroke of the swim instead of continuously looking at the prize, at the #lifegoals, the #bloggoals, the #goals, the #goals, the #goals.