If you are a female, chances are you've done this once or twice in your life. You sign on to Instagram, and driven by some uncontrollable force, you land on the profile of a person whom you do not personally know but nonetheless absolutely despise, with the sole purpose of confirming your ever-so-present suspicion that yes, she's still the self-obsessed (insert your favorite word synonymous with a woman of questionable character) that you've always known she was. Best-case scenario: You take a screenshot of whatever emotionally taxing thing you discover on her profile and send it to your friend with some snarky caption, like, "Ooh, look at me! I am just so perfect! I eat, sleep, breathe glitter!" The two of you laugh about it and move on. Worst-case scenario: You spend hours perusing her old photos and cry yourself to sleep afterwards.
You can not, without simply lying to my face, say you have never done that to some degree.
“I don’t know why it infuriates me,” says Jillian Sanders, 31, as quoted in the The New York Times. “[This person] will often describe, say, how her favorite ice cream flavor makes her happy all day. I feel like she’s lying. I get upset watching people post pictures of a rainbow that says ‘I believe in magic’ — upset that they’re projecting that image and thinking others are falling for it, or that they’re falling for it themselves. Maybe I’m just jealous.”
Why do you do it – why do you accept or follow people whom you do not know or care about, but whose every perfectly styled photo, every so-cliche-it-hurts caption – their very existence – grates on your very last nerve? Why do you get so incredibly annoyed by their Instagram feeds – only to return again and again and again?
I'm certain by now you've formed an opinion on the relationship between women and social media, but listen to this.
In a Stanford University study, Alexander Jordan, an adjunct assistant professor of business administration at Dartmouth, writes that people grossly underestimate the negative and the unfiltered parts of others' lives. Of course, this misjudgment is magnified by the Instagram-filtered perfect life phenomenon. “It’s when a person’s typically rosy self-view is temporarily threatened that self-enhancement processes, such as finding people to ‘hate’ online, are triggered,” Professor Jordan said in an interview with The New York Times.
It's a vicious cycle: Your ego needs a boost, so you look at someone's Instagram-filtered perfect life, gain a false sense of confidence by lamenting over how phony or staged or self-obsessed that person really is, and then to fully secure your newly discovered assertiveness, you post your own version of the Instagram-filtered perfect life. Professor Jordan and his colleagues refer to this behavior as "emotion-regulation strategy."
Yes, I'll be the first to admit that every now and then, I post selfies. I am that girl that spends half an hour arranging and rearranging flowers just to take a photo of them. Yes, sometimes my husband pretends not to know me as I yet again stand in the middle of a restaurant to take a photo of the carefully arranged tabletop. I am perfectly aware of the stigma attached to images of Starbucks cups, macarons, #armcandy, and anything with the hashtag #OOTD.
Frankly, I don't care.
What I do care about is self-righteous remarks insinuating that a photo of someone's I-don't-know-how-I-breathed-before-she-came-into-my-world baby is somehow morally superior to a photo of someone else's I-woke-up-like-this-but-not-really-because-I-actually-spent-three-hours-getting-ready selfie. Let's be real, all social media is in one way or another self-promotion; it's an attempt to project an enhanced reality, whether you're doing it for validation or for work-related purposes (which, for the record, is still self-promotion). If you were really concerned with fighting against the narcissism that is Instagram, you'd enjoy that meal, or that view, or that coffee, or that bike ride, or that book, or that vacation, or that special moment with your family without feeling the need to share it with the world.
It's not like Instagram is a photo sharing platform where others follow by choice, right? (Sense my sarcasm?) Personally, I would much rather look at someone's shameless selfie than someone's self-righteousness any day.
What about you? What are your thoughts on the "My-life-is-better-than-yours" Instagram game? (If you're not on Instagram, same theory applies to all social media platforms.) Do you consciously post photos or statuses that you know infuriate others, and if so, why? Do you follow individuals whose posts annoy you? What is it about their posts that annoys you, and why do you continue following them? Do you think there is a connection between feeling insecure about your own life and hating (yet following) the Instagram-filtered perfect life of others, as the Stanford study suggests? I can’t wait to read what you have to say!
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