Curating the Self in the age of Instagram and social media

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I can almost guarantee that the person reading this article has at least one form of social media, be it Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat. With the ownership of these accounts comes a kind of self-awareness that is a new development of the last decade or so. Whilst so many profiles – Instagram in particular – present a seemingly candid and effortless depiction of an individual’s lifestyle, it is evident that there is a lot of thought, and indeed time, put into every single post. More than ever we, as individuals, have a heightened perception of our sense of selves. Social media brings with it an opportunity to present a ‘self’ to others – one that shows a highlight reel of our lives – and as such we are increasingly seeing ourselves from a third-person point of view.

We are increasingly seeing ourselves from a third person point of view

In discussions with friends, I began to realise that everyone views social media in different ways. Some are defined by their feed and their curated posts, whilst others spontaneously post on the regular with no second glance or thought given. As someone who only occasionally posts on Instagram, I am not one to be spontaneous in my posting, often out of an irrational fear of being judged or disliked. As such, I found it surprising when one friend told me that for her, Instagram is a place where she essentially scrapbooks her life, and so posts regularly without care. This seemed refreshing to me: a form of self-expression rather than something to generate likes and shares, somewhat rare in this digital age of mass media.

For most of us, social media usage began in our early teens; arguably the most impressionable years. Whilst our feeds have likely changed somewhat over the past few years, there is still a clear pressure on us to conform to the unspoken rules of social media etiquette. Social media originated as a harmless place for self-expression yet has developed over time to become addictive and hierarchical, with algorithms designed to keep your brain hooked. Although it has arguably provided a great deal of benefit for celebrities and influencers, a common belief is that social media is toxic for both self-image and the brain. This is due to overthinking and an increasing rejection of the concept of ‘living in the moment’. Instead, there is an emerging trend of doing stuff purely ‘for the Insta’.

All of this must-see quite trivial, yet it is obvious that for many of us, social media exists in the forefront of our minds, often as something to measure ourselves by. In an age of sales and consumerism, it seems to me that our social media accounts have almost become a sort of brand of ourselves. There is more of a sense of performance than authenticity, leading to people posting not for themselves, but for others. Ironically, it is these ‘others’ who are so caught up in their own posts that they are unlikely to judge or scrutinise ours in the way we so expect.

There is more of a sense of performance than authenticity

Instagram may have initially been a platform in which the ‘self’ can be explored, but also frequently leads to heightened awareness and paranoia of how we present ourselves to the world.

Image by Luis Wilker Perelo WilkerNet via Pixabay

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