WHY INSTAGRAM CAN FEEL LIKE AN ABUSIVE BOYFRIEND (And How To Escape The Cycle, Wether You’re A Blogger Or Not)
There’s been a lot of talk about Instagram lately, inside and outside of the influencer community, and mostly after Instagram’s decision of potentially hiding likes. I have been watching from afar, without saying anything… But I’ve also been meaning to write a post called “Why Instagram is like your abusive boyfriend, and how to get out of the relationship without leaving the platform” for a loooong time. So I figured, why not kill two birds with one stone and address a few things about the platform…
Firstly, I need to start off by saying that I don’t hate Instagram. It’s actually been my favourite social media platform (along with Pinterest) ever since it launched. I’m not one of those people who thinks that everything wrong with the world can be blamed on social media, and I really feel that the relationship you have with social media solely depends on how YOU are using it. I’ll elaborate on that a little later in this post, but I just wanted to make sure that was clear from the get-go. Now that' that’s out of the way, I want to tell you a little story.
A few months ago, I was going crazy over my Instagram engagement. I felt like I was doing everything right (post good content, engage with others, post regularly) and yet, my numbers were staying the same. Even worse, I was getting twice as less engagement on my posts compared to a year prior, even though I now had twice as many followers. At first, I blamed the platform’s new algorithm everyone was talking about. Then, I thought maybe it had to do with the fact that I had switched from a personal account to a business account. And then finally, I started thinking it was about me. I started convincing myself that I wasn’t pretty enough, that I didn’t have enough (read: none) plastic surgery, that maybe my captions weren’t funny enough… After a few weeks of this, I was certain that I should quit blogging because no one wanted to hear what I had to say anyways.
Obviously I’m still here, so that didn’t happen. But one evening, I was ragingly going through my analytics before throwing my phone in bed. I got up, looked at Sasha, and told him: “I feel like… I feel like Instagram is like an abusive boyfriend!”. I thought he was going to laugh at me and call me over-dramatic (which tends to happen quite a bit, lol). But to my surprise, my man stared back at me and said: “I agree. And it sucks to watch you go through this every day”. Needless to say, I was shook.
Now if YOU think I’m being a little too dramatic, please ask yourself this: What would you do if your boyfriend made you feel like shit? If he told you you are not enough, if he kept showing you pictures of girls he thinks are hotter than you or do better than you? How would you feel if your boyfriend was all over you one day, introducing you to all his friends and family, but acted like you were no one the next day? What would you do if every single week, your boyfriend would allude to the fact that you need to do new different things to keep him interested, but never even told you exactly what he needed from you?
You probably guessed where I’m going with this, and yes, I am drawing a parallel between what I just mentioned above and the fact that Instagram is based on comparison, competition, algorithms that keep changing seemingly randomly, shadowbans (which no one even knows if they’re a thing or not, but Instagram keeps denying) and the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy caused by a social media platform that totally reshaped our society into this selfie-obsessed, “do it for the gram” shit-show. And If you wouldn’t take this from a man, then please ask yourself why you think it’s OK to take it from a Fortune 500 company that makes billions off your back.
I realize this might sound like a bit much, so I want to clarify something. I’m not saying Instagram or the people at Facebook are trying to manipulate you and hurt your feelings like someone abusive would. Not at all. But it doesn’t matter what the intentions are, what matters is how it makes you feel on the receiving end. And on a side note, the people at Instagram might not be trying to hurt you, but it’s a hell of a stretch to imagine that they’re rolling out new features like hiding likes to protect your feelings. Their job is not to be a therapist, it’s to make money. Plain and simple.
Personally, (and I’m sure you can say the same thing) I know A LOT of people who keep saying that social media makes them feel bad about themselves. I see at least 10 posts a week (on Instagram, ironically) about how comparison is the thief of joy, and I see even more influencers on my feed asking their followers to go look at their latest post, because “engagement really sucks lately”. I’m not saying this to throw shade, because in my opinion, if people are following you, they probably want to support you and they want to see your content on their feed. And it doesn’t stop there. I’ve heard women say that if they don’t get as much likes as their friend on a vacation picture, it makes them feel like shit… And I’m not talking about teenage girls, here. I’m talking about fully grown women well in their 30’s. I’ve seen Instagram influencers completely freaking out over a change of algorithm that tanked their engagement on a campaign, I’ve seen non-influencers delete their pictures because they didn’t get enough likes, and I’ve heard of girls deleting their entire Instagram account because they didn’t feel good enough.
This sounds pretty bad, but the good news is, the Instagram experience doesn’t have to feel like that. I’ve had my ups and downs on the platform, and there are still days when I feel completely discouraged because my Instagram profile really doesn’t reflect how much traffic I get on other platforms like Pinterest or my own blog and I feel like it’s hurting me with brands. And Instagram might represent only a tiny fraction of my total engagement and traffic, but it’s still a platform I spend a lot of time on, because I truly enjoy it. So naturally, after almost a decade on Instagram, I’ve come up with a few tips I use not to fall in the traps of feeling like I’m a victim, and these are the tips I wanted to share with you guys today. Some of these tips are targeted more at influencers, but most of them are applicable wether you’re an influencer or not.
TIP #1: REALIZE THAT IT’S ALL FAKE (& Stop comparing yourself to it)
I know this will:
a) Sound really weird from someone who prides themselves on being so f*cking real.
b) Sound like useless advice, because HELLO, we all know this.
But even though we’re all aware that most things are fake in the entertainment industry, and plastic surgery has never been more talked about or mainstream… I feel like we sometimes forget to remind ourselves about that when we’re comparing ourselves to strangers on the internet. It almost seems like we technically know it’s not real, but we’re in complete denial.
So I’ll give it to you straight: Stop f*cking fooling yourself. I know it might feel comforting for a moment to play the victim and tell yourself “Oh, no wonder nothing works out for me, I’m not as pretty/rich/whatever makes you insecure”. But in the long run, you’re really just creating a pattern and training your brain to believe everything it sees, making yourself feel awful, insecure and inadequate.
Instead, try to keep in mind that the people you’re comparing yourself to online are probably edited and/or have had recourse to a plastic surgeon. And even if they’re not, it still doesn’t make it real.
I’ll give you my own example to prove my point. I’ve never had any plastic surgery (or even botox) done. I don’t have Facetune on my phone or Photoshop on my computer and I don’t change my body or face in pictures, because I believe in keeping it real. I want people who see me online to see me in person without asking themselves what the f*ck happened to my face or why my boobs are so much smaller in person.
BUT, if I have a blemish, I’ll erase it. I’ll also edit lighting and colours on my pictures, just like every professional photographer would (actually, probably much less, but still). And I can promise you that if you see 3-4 pictures of me from the same shoot, there’s at least 100 more I’m not publishing because I selected the ones where I looked my best. Duh! Before a shoot, I also take about an hour getting ready, moisturizing my skin, doing my hair and makeup, etc. I also have experience modeling, so I know a thing or two about how to pose to make my body look the way I want. And I can promise you neither me nor anyone else will post pictures of themselves when they just got dumped, when they have mascara running all over their face from crying, or when electricity get cut because they forgot to pay their bill or just couldn’t afford to this month.
So even though some of us are trying to keep it as real as possible, it doesn’t change the fact that social media is curated and never shows you the full picture. The more you keep that in mind, the easiest your online experience will be.
TIP #2: Choose the content you consume carefully
As a kid, I remember my dad telling me stories of how it was growing up in the 60’s, and the one thing that shocked me is how he said they only had 3 black and white TV channels at the time. Two in French, one in English, and one of the two French channels was always the news.
So if you wanted to watch TV, you watched whatever was playing… Or you found something else to do!
We’re so lucky to be living in an era when not only is so much information available, but we also get to chose what we watch, when we want to watch it. Yet, I still hear things like “Omg, that girl I follow on Instagram, she’s so annoying”… THEN WHY THE HELL ARE YOU FOLLOWING HER?
In case you weren’t aware, on every single person’s Instagram profile, there’s a button that reads “Following” with a downward arrow. And when you tap it, magically, options appear. One of them happens to be called “Unfollow”. Once you press it, guess what? You’ll never have to see anything that person posts on your feed. Ever. Again. Fantastic, isn’t it?
I’m obviously being sarcastic here, but all that to say, I really don’t understand why people keep following people that they find annoying, that don’t bring them any value or joy, or that make them feel bad about themselves.
A few years ago, I was going through a really hard time in regards to self-love and accepting my small boobs. (Read the full post on how I did it here.) After a while, I realized that I was following a lot of girls who were really leading with their (fake) breasts, and that every time I saw that on my feed, it just made me feel miserable.
So I decided it was time to cut the cord and I unfollowed all of them. That’s when I realized how big of an impact this had on me, and how much better I felt after just 10 minutes of scrolling down my feed.
As of today, I do follow a few girls who have breast implants and are open about it (and probably a lot more I don’t even know about) and they’re all beautiful women, but I don’t follow anyone that makes me feel bad about myself when I see them.
My personal example might be about boobs, but this works for anyone, no matter what you’re feeling negatively about. If seeing travel bloggers on your feed makes you feel miserable because you’ve never left your country and can’t afford to, then don’t follow them. Instead, follow local bloggers and connect with them. If you’re struggling to loose weight and don’t feel super confident about your body, then maybe don’t follow every single one of the Victoria’s Secret Models, unless that kind of stuff inspires you and motivates you.
In the end, you’re the only one who can truly know what inspires you and what makes you feel miserable… But to sum it up, let’s just say it’s time to Marie Kondo the f*ck out of your Instagram feed.
TIP #3: Don’t rely on Instagram for everything
To me, this is probably the most important thing in this post, and that’s why I wanted to keep it for last. It’s actually the factor that made me compare Instagram to an abusive relationship in the first place… I know a lot of people who despise Instagram and say they wish they could leave, but they feel stuck. And I feel like feeling stuck is what makes it so perverse, just like when it comes to an abusive relationship.
Side note, I’m not saying that feeling stuck on Instagram is the same as being in an abusive relationship AT ALL. I’m just establishing a parallel to show the negative impact that the platform can have on our mental health.
I know it can sometimes look easy for some to say “If Instagram makes you feel like shit, why don’t you just delete it?”. But for most of us, it isn’t that simple. If you’re an influencer, not having Instagram is basically chopping off one of your limbs. If you’re not an influencer, it might seem easier in theory, but I can understand how a lot of people still want to be on the platform, not to feel excluded or to see what their friends are posting.
Which brings me to this tip: Don’t rely on Instagram for everything. If you’re an influencer, don’t put all your eggs on the same basket and create an entire business around Instagram without having any other revenue streams. First off, one revenue stream only isn’t great business practice. But also, what if Instagram ends? What if they delete your account? What if you get hacked? What if tomorrow morning, there’s no more Instagram?
If you don’t have a blog, or even a YouTube channel or any other platform to fall back on, how are you going to keep in touch with the thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even million people who follow you? Short answer: You’re not.
But dividing your attention between Instagram and other platforms isn’t only good for a backup plan or a business strategy. I personally used to be very frustrated with my Instagram growth (or lack thereof), when I started using Pinterest and grew from 0 to 100k views per month. At that point, it was much easier for me to take my Instagram growth with a grain of salt, because I had something else that was working really well for me. Not only did it make me feel good and more confident in my ability (which is key when you’re your own business) but it also took the edge off, as well as a bit of the stress I was feeling.
I also remember last year, when Instagram was down for a day or two. It was insane how many influencers in my story queue were basically panicked at the idea of missing their deadlines for campaigns and not having anything else to offer the brands they were partnering with. Meanwhile, every girl I know that also had a blog was peaceful, knowing very well that if anything happened, they could always fall back on their blog and wouldn’t lose everything.
Now that’s all good and well if you’re an influencer, but if you’re not, the following also applies to you.
Don’t rely on the number of likes or comments you get on a picture to feel valourized and good about yourself. Understand that:
a) Instagram engagement is a result of a number of factors most of us don’t even fully grasp and it’s always changing. It’s not a reflection of how beautiful YOU are. I know a lot of influencers whose engagement drastically dropped in the past few months, and literally none of them have gotten uglier to warrant that.
b) In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t even matter what you look like. Because chances are, while you’re reading this (and every following minute for the rest of your life) your body is getting saggier, wrinklier and fatter. And that’s called aging, and it’s absolutely unavoidable. Basically, you’re as hot now as you’re ever gonna be. So WHO CARES what you look like? What else do you have to offer? Are you kind, charming, funny, smart? Can you talk about anything even remotely interesting beside yourself for a minute?
Instagram and other platforms like Tinder and Snapchat are amazing, but they also have a way of making it look like your appearance is all that matters… When in the real world, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Looks might be enough to attract someone at first, but looks fade. And they also lose their novelty aspect real quick. Sadly for some, looks are not enough to keep someone around for very long, and they’re certainly not enough (or even necessary) to make friends or meaningful connections.
So the next time you’re getting down on yourself, thinking you’re ugly because your friend got more likes than you on a picture, ask yourself this? Outside of Instagram, am I active in my community? Am I good at anything like sports or creating things? Am I super knowledgeable on things that matter much more than a filter or a preset? Find things that make you feel good about yourself and give you a purpose and focus on THAT. Because that’s what matters.
I would love to get your take on this, and know how you feel about social media in general. Has Instagram ever affected your self-esteem? Do you have tips and tricks YOU use to feel better about it? Share your thoughts and stories in the comment section below, or come say hi on Instagram, ha!
I love you guys,
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