Does Instagram Change the Way We Perceive our Lives?

Danielle Isbell

Nvate Instagram, self-image and social media

It’s best not to walk while Instagramming.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net Chaiwat

I ran into trees, tripped over sidewalks and strolled directly into another human being because I was checking Instagram, trying to see what other people were doing as I made my way to class or as I was waiting for a friend.

But I have to ask myself, how does this affect the way I perceive my own life? If I am spending the dullest moments of my life scrolling through the fullest moments of other people’s lives, what does that make me think of myself? Does it have the power to actually change my view of myself?

Why, yes. Yes, it does.

Instagram Statistics

According to the Instagram website, Instagram launched on Oct. 6, 2011. Now, not even three years later, an average of 45 million photos are posted to Instagram each day with over 130 million regular users.

Since April, Instagram has seen an increase of 5 million photos posted per day and 30 million new users, according to DigiDay. Most Instagramers are between the ages of 18 and 29 and the average Instagram user spends 257 minutes on Instagram per month.

Instagram is a hallmark of the millennial generation after only three years of existence. “More and more of us are relying on digital media to work, play and socialize,” Brooke Welles, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, said on the university’s website.

I know I am not alone in the way that Instagram affects how I view myself.

The Effect: Hurting Our Self-Image

I have experienced two “interventions” due to my Instagram addiction. The first being self-inflicted after I ran into a person while looking through my Instagram feed. It was a low moment and I decided to not Instagram while walking from place to place anymore.

The next was from my best friend and boyfriend who were looking through my feed one day and were shocked by what they saw. I was following a lot of “fitspo” Instagramers. “Fitspo” is slang for fitness inspiration and generally includes pictures of extremely fit people along with workouts and tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle—or at least, that is the desired effect. But I would fixate on these perfect images in my moments of lowest self-esteem. My friends made me “unfollow” these accounts because they were hurting my self-image.

While this is a specific incidence relating to body image, it translates to a broader spectrum of experiences. “We rely upon social media as a mirror into other’s lives and we use it to portray ourselves according to an image we want others to see,” Hannah Loewentheil, a fellow member of the millennial generation, said on PolicyMic.

Instagramers don’t intend to post mundane or dull images; we try to put up interesting, motivational or entertaining pictures that paint an image of what we want our life to look like to others. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No. But it can cause rifts in what the reality of life looks like to other people and this can cause us to view our own life as subpar or incomplete in comparison to others.

Social Media for the Better

Instagram can cause people to compare their everyday life to another person’s best experiences. It is not geared toward personal relationships only, but a vast majority of users follow brands or acquaintances.

So now what?

We must be aware that just like the rest of life, we can use all things for good or bad. While Instagram can cause a skewed perspective, some researchers see hope for the positive affect that social media can have on our society. “I also hope that the rise of social media will help to remedy some long-standing gender and racial inequalities,” Welles said.

Welles said that jobs relating to social media tend to “draw from fields that have historically attracted women and minorities.” Welles is hopeful that the rise of social media will allow those who have had a small voice in the past will have a larger say in society due to social media.

Instagram is a growing part of life and it is useless to disown or to renounce it as bad even though it leads to misconceptions about reality. Much good can come from it if we approach Instagram with the proper perspective, aware of its sneaky ability to affect our minds but also aware of its power to connect and lead to new ideas.

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