I’m new to Instagram and Instagram’s fun. The point, I’ve found, is not to render it an extension of Facebook, and upload pictures of your dog, your gals’ night out and your Sunday roast at your nan’s. Of course, people do, and yes, even Yorkshire pudding looks better with a filter, but congealing gravy doesn’t tend to earn you a following to rival the population of an average English county.
Insta-girls (and boys), those who probably could fill Buckinghamshire with their followers, are a species unto themselves. There are those who have, to coin a phrase, banging bodies. Their feeds mainly consist of taut abs, inkwell filter to hone definition, long supple limbs and really excellent bums, always bums, in the kind of swimwear and sportswear that people like me, who work out in their dad’s old t-shirts, don’t actually own.
Then there are insta-Princesses. Mayfair filter tends to be championed, showcasing spills of angular shopping bags, swathes of tissue paper and perfect new leather accessories. The immaculate turn of linen in a plush hotel room, white china and incy-wincy courses on tasting menus, pastel macaroons and exotic beaches, Prada sunglasses perched on an expertly blended piña colada, overlooking a sun-grilled sea.
I follow people I’ve never met in real life, who could (for all I know) be bored middle aged librarians with a penchant for expensive leather goods and a knack for artsy photography. Maybe I spy ‘their’ hand, shellaced talons curling around a cocktail glass, and I imagine the glossy, wealthy twentysomething I want them to be.
I follow people I knew at high school, and I know that despite their Aspinal of London keyring and Chanel sunglasses, rounds of jewel-tinged drinks at the Alchemist’s in Leeds and impeccable toenails, they’re pulling pints at the Three Acres and still living with their mum.
But that, to me, is quite brilliant.
Never in human society has there been a quicker, easier way of creating an alter ego. Facebook’s too personal; virtual reality is tragic; letters and diaries and books, which I suppose were the equivalent in decades now passed, are simply redundant. We don’t want to invent a whole new person any more – we want to reinvent ourselves, preferably daily, ideally with a minimum 25 likes. Instagram’s highly visual – we’re not all wordsmiths, nor painters, we can’t programme and blogging (properly) is time and effort spent. We can all take a photo (some, admittedly, better than others), choose a filter (immediate customisation!), add a caption and voila. Feedback is instant, and kind of exciting. You can guarantee your first 10 likes on Facebook. And that’s not a measure of popularity, or even the quality or content of your post. It’s your big sister, best friend, Auntie Sue, and that weird boy you met surfing last summer and feel too mean to delete. Instagram’s more impersonal, and therefore, inexepicably, provides more of an ego boost. Hashtag with a bit of savviness and complete strangers will like your photo. Not a sympathy like in sight.
And this is entirely harmless. At least, up to a point. That’s if we can accept the sexy, polished world Instagram creates as a mere illusion, all russet hues and teal skies, ragged clouds skating across perfect sunsets, verdigris on copper and toppling towers of avocado and salmon. A society painted on a soap bubble.
Girls (and it is mainly girls) follow these tight, toned humans because we want their bodies. We want the lifestyles, and possessions, of the Chelsea socialites. But we want, and so we envy. We believe, and therefore we aspire. Life on instagram is fun, but it’s the prime cuts- meticulously extracted and heedlessly edited. So filter away but let’s remember, please, that our world online is a Rembrandt still life, symbolic belongings and varnish amock. Everyone on Instagram – even those whose followings would leave you to believe they were the next Messiah – is human, and is therefore flawed, no matter how perfect their posts.
After all, everything looks better with a filter.