Instagram: the art of on screen reinvention

William Hosie reminds us to view others’ Instagram personae with some crucial critical distance

“Post this one—you look so good!”

“No, as you can see I’m on a blue theme. Can’t post this, will contrast too much with the general style.”

Designing one’s Instagram involves sacrifice, anticipation and careful editing. We can’t always post what our first impulse tells us we should. Or can we?

Well, according to Vogue, we can’t. But then since when has the leading high-end fashion and lifestyle magazine ever been of use to the common man and by extension the common Instagram-user? Is there a specific set of rules to follow for our Instagram to actually fit in, be recognised, admired or simply accepted?

To the question “What is worth posting on Instagram?”, Vogue answers “In short, anything beautiful, awesome, hilarious, or amazing that evokes emotions including but not limited to: laughter, appreciation, jealousy, inspiration.”

Instagram isn’t actually for ourselves: it’s for others. For others to be jealous (of your summer holidays), to be entertained (by a cracking caption), to be impressed (by a picture of you graduating). If I post a picture of a landscape and people like my picture, they’re liking the landscape. But if I post a selfie and people like my picture, they’re liking me.

Our self-worth today is based on a number of likes: we become an object, popular or not, on a page which we nevertheless control ourselves. We are simultaneously subject and object: posting a picture to showcase my life is like acting as a self-reflexive tabloid, creating another ‘me’ for others and myself. Externalising my own body, the ‘me’ on screen is not a mirror image. It’s an edited, designed, improved version of myself.

And obviously not everyone likes the Instagram version of me or you. What you think is an improvement may not seem so to others, which is why we tend to base the improved model of ourselves on popular Instagram accounts and ephemeral media trends (for instance hash-tagging used to be a thing, it isn’t anymore).

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Although I’d like to think I’m not quite superficial enough to bother reading through the entire guidelines and actually express an interest, I found myself agreeing with the following: “The #blessed hashtag is only acceptable when used ironically”, “Are you a member of the Kardashian family? No? Then please don’t engage in the use of a selfie stick” and “Finally, please do not post pictures at the gym. Unless you’re working out with Jay Z and Beyoncé, nobody cares.” But then again, that’s just me.

Instagram can be extremely useful for advertising, campaigning and even promoting trends with a positive impact, such as veganism. Veganism may be a fad and has definitely seen a surge since it was popularised through social media and pictures of delicious looking vegan lunches, but it’s nonetheless a good choice to make, for environmental and ethical reasons. It’s just important to take some critical distance and not base our self-worth on what other people think of us, how many followers we have compared to x or y, what the like-follower ratio on our Instagram is.

Our life must not become filtered through social media. Sometimes, when I find myself having to take a decision, I very consciously think “Which option would look better on Instagram?” But surely, one day, we’ll outgrow Instagram and the Insta-me will vanish. Better start taking care of the actual me now, before another, newer media comes along and lets us showcase every step we take, every move we make (you’re more than welcome to sing that).

Already, things are changing. Beneath Kendall Jenner’s socialite stardom and Beyoncé’s flawless internet empire, people have managed to transform Instagram into a trivial meme forum and a place for more intimate personal expression: finstas, private accounts for the close friends only (bio example: ‘Up Close n Personal’). When the term first reached my ears, I gathered it was the union of the words ‘fake’ and ‘Instagram’. “How ironic”, I thought, “to imagine they’ll be truer to themselves on a ‘fake’ account.”

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Having learnt since that the words associated to form finsta are actually ‘fun’ and ‘Instagram’, it all makes a little more sense. What it also tells us is that these private Instagram accounts with 20 followers or so are far more entertaining. People allow themselves to be more daring, explicit and unapologetically rude on their finstas, as they know close friends won’t judge and will be all the more entertained, as they share the same interests and sense of humour.

At the heart of finstas lies the idea of self-parody, self-deprecation and sometimes, if I may be so bold, self-memesation. But yet again, we’re only entertained by this because we know it will entertain others. At every like on our finsta post, we laugh a little more.