“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.