If the past seven months using Instagram have taught me anything, it’s that claiming to build others up is often a guise for tearing them down.
I immersed myself in Instagram around the same time I started a weight-loss regime earlier this year. I was thrilled when I saw that hundreds of other Instagram users had accounts dedicated solely to fitness, meal planning and workouts. I checked Instagram every day and followed every new fitness ‘grammer I found. They promised inspiration. They promised self-esteem boosting posts. They promised health tips. They promised love.
Every day brought a new selfie taken in their gym’s bathroom, flexed biceps and perky booties flaunted for the camera, sometimes edited to show side-by-side identical photos, as if one photo of themselves showing their progress wasn’t enough (that is, unless it was #TransformationTuesday, in which all of us in their Instagram congregation could see how they went from a normal, healthy-looking girl to a muscled, yet flatteringly toned goddess with a seemingly 18-inch waist who’s so much happier with her inside beauty than her outside beauty, guys!). Each novel of a caption described their hectic day, but how they ~always~ make time for a workout and encourage everyone else to stop the excuses TODAY, because you’ll only love yourself more if you DON’T give up! They know you guys can do it!
All three meals of the day and any snacks warranted a photo, usually exclaiming how ALL THIS FOOD is for them and how they have no idea how they can possibly eat it all, *monkey covering his mouth emoji* and they’re feeling like such a fat kid, but it’s time for dem gainsssss. Meanwhile, we observed their two-inch square photo of an extreme closeup of a sweet potato with a sprinkling of cinnamon, wondering why we can’t be full after just one sweet potato and nothing else for dinner.
I’ll admit, I bought into the apparent craze with food on Instagram, and my Instagram account is mostly food pictures. However, I never felt confident enough to take a gym selfie. I didn’t look like those other girls. My abs had melted into one mass. I hadn’t worked my arms in a few months. A tank top would show little pockets of fat spilling over my sports bra and at the sides of my upper chest. And clearly, these fitness Instagrammers were the experts. They were the girls who had “made it.” Who can argue with 46.1K followers? They were responsible for all this inspiration I had…right? They, with proud, ecstatic smiles on their faces, showing their chiseled bodies to me and telling me that it’s only inside beauty that counts, had made me love myself more…right? (I should also probably mention that some of these Instagrammers get paid to run certain advertisements, most popularly body-slimming corsets, ten-day weight loss pills and cellulite-eradicating supplements).
For about the past month, I have given Instagram a break. I post maybe once a week, glance at others’ photos for maybe two minutes every other day, and I’ve stopped following the gym selfie addicts. Honestly, I much more enjoy following people who don’t look like they’re going to either a) turn sideways and disappear because they do three hours of cardio a day, or b) morph into one giant muscle in a similar scene as Jeff Goldblum at the end of “The Fly” (1986)*. I like the gals who show photos of their dogs out on a walk with them, or give a thumbs-up to the camera because they’ve ridden their bike to the top of the hill in their best time yet, or feature their favorite doughnut they’re about to eat at the local doughnut shop. Those people show me that they’re having fun, reaching their goals and enjoying food of any caloric amount and activities of any level, and that’s what inspires me. They struggle through a jog some days. They don’t hold up their workouts to bask in vanity for a photo standing with one leg bent, a hand in their perfectly curled hair and their biceps, abs, legs and butt flexed. They don’t treat every day like prep for a bodybuilding competition. They eat fried chicken. They’re like me.
I started tapering off Instagram around the same time Australian Instagram model Essena O’Neil announced she was quitting social media, opting instead to start a website where there are no “like” or “follow” options, just her, sans-makeup, talking to a camera. Why did she quit? She’d become “addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance” and realized it was unhealthy for her and for others who saw her and set unrealistic expectations for themselves.
And let’s not even get started on how nothing we see can be taken at face value, what with PhotoShop and filters and cropping and lighting. And how people only show us their best on social media, just as we likely only show them our best (I’ve been guilty of it, too). No one is going to brandish their bloated belly with #blessed #goodfood #goodtimes #ilovemymomschocolatecakesomuchthatiatehalfofitinonesitting #nowihatemyself.
A June article from Elite Daily put it this way: “We try so hard to be seen as idealized versions of ourselves, and the pressure eats us alive.”
Maybe this whole post is ironic. Maybe I’m the hypocrite. Maybe I’m just being too hard on some folks with innocent intentions. All I know is, perception is reality, and I, like probably thousands of these Instagrammers’ other followers, perceived that these people were better, more fit, more attractive, all in the name of inspiring us to love ourselves.
No, we can’t control what others think about us – whether that’s we’re better or worse than they are – they’ll think what they want; but we can be mindful of how we present ourselves to the social media world, even if that’s only 93 followers.
And if you ever see me post a gym selfie, call me out. You don’t care what I look like in a sports bra, and I don’t want you to care.
*Oh, and here’s the ending to “The Fly,” by the way. It’s gross, so I put it at the bottom. Spoilers.