Everyone presents an edited version of life on social media. People share moments that reflect an ideal life, an ideal self. Hundreds of years ago, we sent letters by horseback, containing only what we wanted the recipient to read. Fifty years ago, we spoke via the telephone, sharing only the details that constructed the self we wanted reflected.
With Instagram, one thing has changed: the amount we consume of one another’s edited lives. Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others’ filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered. In a recent survey conducted by the Girl Scouts, nearly 74 percent of girls agreed that other girls tried to make themselves look “cooler than they are” on social networking sites.
No image captures the paradoxes of Madison’s Instagram account more than the one she posted just an hour before jumping off the parking garage. Holiday lights are twinkling in the trees of Rittenhouse Square, and Madison put a filter on the image that produced an ethereal quality, almost as if the night is underwater.
She seemed acutely aware that the life she was curating online was distinctly different from the one she was actually living. Yet she could not apply that same logic when she looked at the projected lives of others. Before going home for winter break, she asked Ingrid, who was also struggling at Penn, “What are you going to say when you go home to all your friends? I feel like all my friends are having so much fun at school.”
She and Ashley Montgomery, a friend and track teammate, followed a group of Penn upperclassmen on Instagram. They would scroll through pictures and say to each other, “This is what college is supposed to be like; this is what we want our life to be like.”
Madison’s high school friends had told her they were also struggling. Emma Sullivan was running track at Boston College and having a hard time. Another friend, Jackie Reyneke, was playing basketball at Princeton and feeling overwhelmed. They had all shared some form of their struggles with Madison, yet in her mind, the lives her friends were projecting on social media trumped the reality they were privately sharing.
This confused them, and it still does.
Checking Instagram is like opening a magazine to see a fashion advertisement. Except an ad is branded as what it is: a staged image on glossy paper.
Instagram is passed off as real life.
Yes, people filter their photos to make them prettier. People are also often encouraged to put filters on their sadness, to brighten their reality so as not to “drag down” those around them. The myth still exists that happiness is a choice, which perpetuates the notion of depression as weakness.
Life must be Instagrammed — in more ways than one.