How I Gained 15 Thousand Instagram Followers And Became A Miserable Person
My relationship with Instagram began innocently enough. I was a normal girl from a random suburb with 100 followers on Instagram. Then I met some people who had a ton of followers, got tagged in a picture with them, and found myself with seven thousand new “friends” practically overnight. My newfound following praised me constantly in the comments section of my posts, created fan accounts, and publicly speculated about what my occupation could be—they usually assumed I was a model, DJ, some sort of socialite, or a Kardashian. In reality, I was a dance student with no money. With the unwarranted praise from total strangers came an unsavory responsibility: in order to maintain the status I had achieved, I’d have to continue portraying a very specific image of myself.
“My self-worth rocketed when my number of followers did, but I always felt uncomfortable with the level of narcissism involved to consciously maintain the image I subconsciously created.”
I remember a time pre-Instagram, before curating aspirational online identities was a thing. Then there’s the younger generation who was born into the Internet Age. Take my sister, for example – she’s smart, hilarious, and a good, loyal friend. She only has 200 followers. For a 17 year old in 2015, that’s not good enough—for her generation, self-worth is directly proportionate to number of followers. I’ll admit, my self worth rocketed when my number of followers did, but I always felt uncomfortable with the level of narcissism involved to consciously maintain the image I subconsciously created. I was aware that my confidence wasn’t something I earned on my own. So much for self-worth, right?
I am an active participant in perpetuating this social media façade. I go through a great deal of effort to curate specific images that will convey an attractive image of myself. My Instagram doesn’t just happen; it’s a serious process. You think I can just throw up any ol’ picture and call it a day? You’re insane. What I post can seriously affect the number of followers I have and, in turn, could drastically alter the path of my career, so I have to be very deliberate. If you look at my page now, you’ll find a completely watered down version of my personality. My posts amass to a self-absorbed, raspy-voiced bitch that rarely comes up with a clever caption. My followers don’t want to see me on my bad days—not even my best friends do—and I certainly wouldn’t willingly show that side of me. Being myself can feel so terrifying.
“I try to look at social media as my mirror. I can see the parts of me that turn people off, and I can see the parts that people might find endearing.”
When my life doesn’t feel like everything that I want it to be, social media is one way for me to change that. Instead of being my carefree self online, I cover up with airbrushed selfies and screenshots of songs that I don’t even listen to. I’m able to create this made-up fantasy person as a way of escaping the mundanity of my own reality. A supermodel once told me she feels guilty posting on social media because the majority of her fans cannot relate, they can only aspire to be like her. When I asked her why, she explained that she’s paid an exorbitant amount of money to look the way she does. She can afford juice deliveries, she receives free facials and products because of her status, and her self-made schedule allows her to workout for two hours a day. For those with a salary that accommodates an annual facial (maybe), looking like a famous supermodel is unattainable.
I’ll never really know who I am unless I have some type of frame of reference, and I suppose that’s the one positive thing social media can teach me. My internet profiles act as that frame, that is, if I can continue to stand it. I try to look at social media as my mirror. I can see the parts of me that turn people off, and I can see the parts that people might find endearing. I was forced to learn how to use it to my benefit. On one hand, I hate it, and on the other, I’m grateful to be paid more for my writing because of the number of followers I have. I grew up quickly, and learned how to carry myself as a professional. I learned to admire people, but not to copy them. I learned how to be a leader, and how to control my followers. On a spectrum between absolute humility, where I might ignore social media completely, and sense of self-worth completely formed by how others perceive me online, there must be a way to land somewhere in between. I’m still working on it.