Over plates of spaghetti, a girlfriend recently said, “If you are having a negative reaction to someone’s Instagram photo, it says more about you than it does them.” We were discussing the latest Instagram post from someone we both found both fascinating and controversial. Instagram has been a common topic of conversation with my close girlfriends these days. My friend has all but quit the app, aside from checking in on friends every couple days or so. Once inspired by seeing the world through a stranger’s perspective, she felt much of the content had lost it’s authenticity– that it had become a vehicle for social currency (aka: followers) vs. the act of capturing life as it unfolds. I’m sure you’ve felt this way lately– I know I have– and I think she has a point. The number of articles, books, and workshops dedicated to capturing the perfect Instagram photo are bountiful, and the strategies to gain sums of followers quickly involve ridiculous tactics. There is an obsession with doing Instagram “right” vs. doing it for personal growth.
I think it’s due to that little number above “followers.” It has driven many of us crazy. If the “relationship status” feature gave Facebook it’s edge, Instagram captured people’s deep seeded need to be not only accepted, but well-liked. These needs often stem from insecurities and shame (aka the heavy things we all carry with us) and we humans are not very good at managing them. Often times we don’t know they exist because we suppress them through willpower or self-medication and other vices. One of the most common ways our hidden insecurities affect our daily lives is through making assumptions about people and our environment to feel more in control of the things we ultimately have no control over. These assumptions are directly related to what psychologists call “projecting.”
When you’ve got a bunch of uncomfortable, embarrassing, or annoying emotions that you haven’t dealt with, they are often projected onto other people to become carriers of our own perceived flaws. We do this because it makes it much easier to live with ourselves because it’s their fault we’re feeling shitty about ourselves. I’ll give you some examples. How often have you looked through someone’s Instagram feed and thought, “she didn’t follow me back- she hates me.” What about, “Oh my god, I can’t believe she’s wearing that!?” Or, “If I can do this, then anyone can.” You may have seen something while scrolling through your feed that’s given you that “Ew, no!” reaction, even if it was simply a beautiful photo of someone’s vacation. They’re real feelings and they’re not pleasant ones. That gets me back the point my girlfriend was making.
We are privy to making assumptions without knowing much about one another. In 2016, this means we make judgements about a person’s life through the first nine squares of their Instagram account, or a series of 140-character thoughts. What do they look like? Who do they hang out with? What to they do with their free time? How many trips have they taken? What neighborhood do they live in? The list goes on.
Despite our natural curiosity, it is important to remember that for the most part, we don’t know one another at all. Think about the people closest to you. I bet there are only a handful of people you can say you really know. This is because it requires trust and openness and vulnerability on behalf of both parties. To know someone is to understand their fears and hopes– the things they worry about late at night and the aspirations they have for the future.
I’m not writing about shame and projection and pride and prejudices because I’m above all that. I’m very guilty of passing judgement and participating in gossip. I’ve said hurtful things that I regret. I’ve been on the receiving end of it all too, even before social media was ever a thing. I’m talking about it because my awareness of my tendencies to project have made it easier to exist in today’s digital age. Asking myself why I’m having a reaction vs. blaming it on the person who triggered it (almost always with no intent) is about taking control of my own insecurities. I’ve come to find inspiration in places I would have otherwise passed over. I find myself looking for people who embody the traits I envy. I find empathy for other people’s narratives.
I’m going to risk sounding preachy here, but I truly do believe we each need to extend ourselves beyond our own communities and echo chambers to understand the increasingly polarized world we inhabit. First, we must understand our own prejudices. Then, we must find a way to empathize with those we judge. Ideally, this process makes it easier for women to support one another despite our differences. I have a feeling that supporting someone because you respect their journey will do more for the young women of this world than we know. It is going to be hard. We’ve been taught to assess our standing in the world by judging ourselves in the reflection of our peers. Let’s start with recognizing where you do have some control in making the internet a better place, and that’s in how you react to what others put out into the world.
And remember, if you can’t find something nice to say, hit the unfollow button.
Image: The Cobert Rebort, Comedy Central
BY Kate Arends - January 10, 2017
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.