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“Wait — don’t drink your coffee. Let me Instagram it first,” my 15-year-old friend said as we grabbed some caf­feine in Chicago. She re-arranged the sil­verware slightly and moved my copy of Vogue in frame. She nearly stood on her chair to get a good shot of the table.

“Perfect. This will get a ton of likes. My last post got over 300,” she said. I won­dered if I was allowed to touch my coffee.

Everyone desires to be per­ceived a certain way. Social psy­chol­o­gists call this phe­nomenon “self-pre­sen­tation.” Self-pre­sen­tation is behavior that attempts to convey infor­mation about oneself or one’s image to other people. It moti­vates people to act in or appear a certain way when con­fronted with an external sit­u­ation. But in the wake of social media, par­tic­u­larly Instagram, self-pre­sen­tation has taken a new, alto­gether unhealthy form.
Instagram has become the mecca of self-pre­sen­tation. People take photos for approval, likes, and fol­lowers, not to share important life events or bring people together.

Not only has Instagram destroyed the artistic integrity of pho­tog­raphy (no one wants to see a low-quality photo of your dinner), but it’s part of an unhealthy cycle of per­fec­tionism, nar­cissism, and body image issues. People try to manip­ulate their image or behavior to meet a certain internal standard they have for them­selves — wanting be per­ceived as the star athlete, for example — or they try to meet societal or group expec­ta­tions of how the ideal 20-some­thing should look.

Instagram is a flood of engagement photos, party snaps, and fab­ulous vacation pic­tures. This heightened reality leaves some won­dering why their lives aren’t as exciting as those around them. It causes some users to question whether they aren’t mea­suring up to their peers, giving way to a new realm of inse­cu­rities. People are now con­sumed with manip­u­lating their image in order to belong or to feel self-val­i­dated. Editing fea­tures have given rise to a new level of per­fec­tionism.

Earlier this month, Instagram model Essena O’Neil — despite making mil­lions of dollars off the site — quit Instagram because of its destructive nature.

“I’m quitting Instagram,” O’Neil wrote in a final post. She said she deleted “over 2,000 photos here today that served no real purpose other than self-pro­motion. Without real­izing, I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance.”

O’Neil edited the cap­tions on many her photos to show what was really hap­pening behind the scenes, saying it took more than 100 attempts “to make my stomach look good,” and that she “would have hardly eaten that day” when the photo was taken.

While some might say she is an exception and doesn’t reflect the self-obsessed and self-dam­aging culture Instagram creates, there is over­whelming evi­dence to the con­trary.

Studies have linked selfies with nar­cissism, psy­chopathy, low self-esteem, and self-objec­ti­fi­cation. Par­tic­u­larly those with body dys­morphia and other eating dis­orders are facing the brunt of this Instagram backlash.

According to David Veale, Con­sultant Psy­chi­a­trist in Cog­nitive Behaviour Therapy at the London Priory Hos­pital: “Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dys­morphic Dis­order since the rise of camera phones have a com­pulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.”

Instagram is fake, and it’s hurting us. It’s causing us to compare, not connect; to self-present, not socialize; to seek per­fection instead of reality.

Do yourself a favor and just drink your coffee. Don’t bend over back­wards to get the perfect shot for Instagram.

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Kayla Stetzel
Kayla Stetzel has been reporting for the Collegian since 2013. She is resident of Ft. Wayne Indiana. She is a Marketing Management major with a focus in Law. When’s she’s not writing or studying case files, she’s keeping up to date with music industry news or volunteering with animals. She plans on attending law school with the intent of becoming an entertainment attorney. email: kstetzel@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @KaylaStetzel