My Instagram-Filtered Perfect Life

perfect life

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."

perfect life

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.

perfect life

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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13 Comments

  1. Girl. You nailed it with this post! I’ve recently been in somewhat of a blogging “funk” and it’s absolutely because of the pressures of blogging, and the “perfect persona” that bloggers put off. Ultimately I’ve been unhappy because I’ve been feeling in-authentic. My posts, my outfits, my clothes, my hair, just the pressure for everything to be so perfectly in place. After realizing that some people (on instagram specifically) were making me feel exactly as you described, “Ugh I can’t believe she already has a new Tory Burch bag, didn’t she JUST buy that Prada one?” I went on a serious unfollowing spree. There is absolutely no time and no reason for those feelings of unnecessary hate. If ultimately we want to live a life of happiness, why do that to ourselves? I’ve majorly cut the blogs I read down to just the ones that I truly love and get inspired by and of course they’re the ones that I feel to be authentic. They’re real, they’re happy and they make me happy.

    So excited to meet you Friday and I can’t believe I’m just finding your blog!
    xo!
    Katie
    http://www.pearlsandtwirls.net

    • Hi Katie! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I read a quote once that really stuck with me: “The truth is, comparing ourselves to others doesn’t just steal our joy, it robs those around us of a rare gift of a woman who has learned to offer her uniqueness to the world.” Looking forward to discussing more at the SBS blogger meetup! XOXO

  2. Hey, just saw your comment on Tuula’s, and clicked on your link that brought me here. Well, I don’t care about social media :-) I started my blog over 2 years ago, and I just registered my instagram account. I do like some accounts, check’em out of curiosity and forget about them. I follow several friends to keep in touch and that’s what it’s to me. P.S. I was also shocked how much garbage there is on instagram :-).

    http://lerablogs.blogspot.com

    • Hi Lera! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! It’s always exciting to come across a fellow Russian blogger (who likes flash sales as much as I do!).

      Regarding your comment about not caring for social media – I strongly believe that as a blogger, you’re missing out on an extremely valuable resource by not engaging on social media. You would be surprised the number of connections, work opportunities and collaborations that have materialized for me as a result of my presence on Instagram alone – not to mention a significant increase in blog readership. Plus, Instagram is a constant source of inspiration that pushes me to be more creative, which, for me personally, is important.

      That is the sole reason I switched my entire focus from personal social media accounts to blog and business-oriented. Now, as I mentioned to another commentator, I use my personal accounts only to interact with people I genuinely care about. As a result, I don’t have to deal with the “My-life-is-better-than-yours” nonsense. The majority of what I post on Facebook or Instagram is oriented on building and growing my brand – still self-promotion, but at least I’m not trying to “upstage” my friends and followers, as most people do on social media. Now, the downfall of my approach is that when people who do engage in the “my-life-is-better-than-yours” games come across my profile, it comes across as if I too am vying for personal validation – when that is not necessarily the case, as I just said.

      But going back to the main point of this blog post, let me ask you this: The people whose accounts you occasionally check out of curiosity – do any of them annoy you with their posts? If so, why? Do you continue following them?

      Looking forward to your response! XOXO

      • Yes, of course, they annoy me sometimes :-) and some I do check on but do not follow because they annoy me too much. For example, the ones who use their significant other too much to portray perfect relationship…that’s my personal no-no. As for social media for blog promotion…I agree but I’m still learning, and it’s not easy for me.

  3. I just want to say that I hate hate hate social media platforms and maybe not because they do exist but because somehow it sucks energy out of me! When I get on fb with intentions to spend 10 min, (just to check messages, invites, comments…) I end up there 30 min. When I don’t time myself it’s even more!!! And I hate it because afterwards I feel as I threw my precious time out of the window (that’s my mom-of-two-kids guilt speaking). Honestly, I restrain myself from posting many pictures of my personal life because I know that it’s a dirty business that sucks you in and I’ll end up wanting to post more and more pictures. So my cure from “my-life-is-better-than-yours” is to simply stay away from it as much as possible. Otherwise pride and judging others are inevitable, especially for those who spend significant time endlessly browsing through/scrolling down. My personal opinion =)

    • Thank you for your honest opinion, Angelina. If I happen to notice that someone’s FB posts are causing me to judge them, I will simply delete that person, or hide their feed at the very least. That’s how I avoid “my-life-is-better-than-yours” games on Facebook – I interact only with a few people I genuinely care about, so that when they post something that could otherwise be misinterpreted as a cry for attention, I am actually genuinely happy for them, because our personal connection allows me to have a better understanding of their intentions.

      Now, Instagram is an entirely different world, and I imagine it’s hard to relate if you’ve never used it…

  4. This post has definitely intrigued me; so much, that I had to think about what I wanted to say for about an hour. Haha. I have recently rejoined the world of “Facebook” and still do not use it as much as I do Instagram. I use IG to share my hobby rather than my life. One reason for that is: my husband doesn’t like our lives to be posted for everyone to see. He doesn’t think it’s bad, nor wrong, just something that he would rather not do, so I oblige (most of the time). My “selfie” consists of 4 painted nails arranged strategically to get the perfect photo (and it takes up to 50 photos at times). Some would say I am obsessed, but for me, it is a hobby I chose to make time for, like soccer or reading (which I am an avid reader as well).

    I believe a lot of people post their “glitter” lives on social media because they want social affirmation. Everyone wants it, whether online or not, but it tends to be easier when you have 500+ followers vs. 5 close friends. As one article said, “People will post their best selves, not their worst.” This has a lot to do with self-esteem (everyone struggles sometimes with this) and wanting to be liked. I can’t say that I post statuses or photos to infuriate others, but might something I say infuriate someone I know? Possibly. If I ever get annoyed of someone’s post, which is rare since most of who I follow also share my hobby, it’s because I am envious that they are lying on a beach, enjoying macarons in NYC, hanging out at the VMAs, or doing absolutely nothing in their glorious body of theirs. I believe that’s where the annoyance starts: jealousy. On the other hand, I still choose to follow these people because I respect them and generally like to see what they are up to. I do believe a lot of people are insecure or can become, due to social media. All that glitters is at your fingertips, so it’s hard to not sum up your life to someone else who’s got it made. It all boils down to being secure with who you are. It’s okay to sometimes be annoyed or make the non-verbal remark in your head, or to a friend, but if it gets to the point where one becomes obsessed or depressed, than that is a serious psychological issue that needs to be dealt with. Too much? Lol.

    • My thing is let people post whatever they want to post, and if you don’t have the mental capacity to deal with it, then unfollow them. {I’m talking to people in general, not to you specifically.} That’s why, when people unfollow me, instead of being offended and whatnot, I am genuinely happy. LOL

  5. Hey Oxie! LOVE love love that dress! I read a book called, “Crash the Chatterbox” recently where the author talks about the constant comparison we face on social media. He states, “We compare our behind-the-scenes with other people’s highlight reel” which really does give us a false sense of reality.
    I follow strangers and celebrities to see all the exotic places they’ve been, their beautiful friends and seemingly perfect life BUT I know that they deal with the same mundane, routine & boring stuff that we all have to.
    Not going to lie though.. there are a few people who’s posts really get under my skin. Maybe it is jealousy? Maybe it is my insecurity? But I try to remind myself that the life they project online is not reality. And, to be honest, I am happy with my reality!

    • Hi Abby! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I haven’t read that book, but I’ve definitely heard that quote before… So the question remains: Why would anyone continue following someone whose “perfect life” annoys him or her? Is it simply a part of the emotion-regulation process, or is there a deeper issue that we’re not considering? In other words, do we really deal with the heart of the issue by clicking “unfollow,” or are we simply putting a bandaid on a wound that needs stitches?

      This entire topic was sparked by my interest in the social comparison theory. There are two kinds of social comparisons. Upward social comparison is when we compare ourselves with those who we believe are better, prettier, wealthier than us. Downward social comparison is when we compare themselves to others who are worse, uglier, less fortunate than ourselves. So oftentimes, we may engage in one but not the other. So there’s that part to consider as well.

      I am by no means a psychologist, nor do I pretend to know the answers to the questions I ask – I’m simply very curious to hear people’s thoughts. Looking forward to your response!

    • Hi Cat! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I could not have said it better myself! Instagram is definitely a constant source of beauty and inspiration. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it the same way.

      But consider Facebook, for example. Are there people on your friend list whose photos or statuses annoy you? Do you continue following them? Do you hide them from your feed but occasionally check in with hopes of seeing something narcissistic? These are all rhetorical questions to consider, by the way, so please don’t think I expect you to answer them, as much as I would love to hear what you have to say! XOXO

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