Life on Instagram Isn’t Always Real

Photo: @satiregram

As a blogger and someone who reads a lot of style, travel and lifestyle blogs, I’m keenly aware of the way that people romanticize their online personalities.

On the most basic level, this actually makes sense. After all, no-one wants to share or see a photo of you when you’re in a depressed funk and at your worst or when you just woke up (looking nothing like Beyonce). It’s kind of like how they say ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have.’ Why not Instagram the life you want?

At its best, social media is an aspirational representation of how we’d like our lives to appear and at its worst, a completely staged distortion of reality.

As it often does for me, Instagram can serve as inspiration: to remind us of the beautiful things that we might incorporate in our own lives, of the places we might travel to, or the photography that we like to look at. But the potential for harm is in the sameness of the images people end up sharing – their insistence that what they depict is what a good life ought to look like.

(To be clear, I’m speaking about a certain subset of social media posters that often, but not always, includes bloggers and Millennials –  the kinds of people I come across most often.)

There’s so much pressure among this group to be doing something share-worthy, something that photographs well. And so we end up seeing the same kinds of highly-stylized photos as everyone tries to prove they’re interesting by following a suggested checklist of what to do with your life: vacation often, eat out, have artisanal cocktails, drink only coffee that has latte art, etc.

These are all great things, many of which I do, but 1) I can’t help but notice they’re all require a financial commitment and 2) it’s all become one big game of anything you can do I can do better.

Vacation photos are no longer just vacation photos. Now, you might spend half the day perfecting an underwater handstand or a complicated yoga pose on an empty beach until you get the money shot. And considering that Instagram “experts” often use a ton of filters and additional editing apps, I can’t help but wonder where they find time to actually relax.

Instagram vacations

In a sense, this is just another iteration of the age-old discussion about how media portrays beauty and success. But I think the reason social media makes the problem feel more immediate is that it’s so ubiquitous and the barrier to entry is so low. Anyone can snap a photo and post it to Instagram or Facebook, which makes it more in your face when more people feel compelled to direct and produce their shots and portray a false version of “daily life.”

As we buy into our own false sense of self-importance,  we curate our lives to look like the people on TV and in magazines.  The average Jane can now become “internet famous” through an endless variety of avenues from blogger/ Instagram or YouTube celebrity to author to brand ambassador to model.

In the social media ratings game, notoriety is earned by those who spend the most time capturing, editing and sharing their experiences.

The other problem is the desire to not be left out of what “everyone else” seems to be doing.

Two summers ago in NYC, MOMA had lines around the block as people tried to get into its Rain Room installation. The experience, which included a simulation of rain that somehow managed to detect the human body, was captured all over Instagram.

Before I went, I was already mentally planning my own Instagram photo. But when we got there and discovered that people had started lining up at 5am to get in for what was maybe 15 minutes max, not the promise of a few Instagram likes just didn’t seem that important.

The thing is the world is so small on Instagram (and don’t get me started on Pinterest). Despite how it might appear, no, not everyone is eating at In-N-Out Burger.

Instagram InNOut

No, not everyone is eating avocado toast.


Recently, I even saw a restaurant being advertised as “built for Instagram likes.” In fact, there are websites designed to curate the sorts of experiences that might look good in that little filtered square frame.

An Eventbrite survey found that Millennials would rather spend money on experiences than material items, but not surprisingly, this desire is driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). that they would rather spend money on them than most other things. Brands and event managers are now trying to tap into this mentality by including “experiential activities” that Millennials can’t help but share.

But truthfully it’s boring when everyone is doing the same thing.

In fact, the lack of diversity in the images that are popular on platforms like Instagram or Tumblr has been parodied by many others and has even inspired social-conscious memes like “Carefree Black Girl.”

I’m not knocking Instagram – I use it more than any other social media platform and love looking at other people’s photos. I just take it for what it is.

I once had a friend tell me that my life looked so glamorous. It was a little hard to believe not only because it’s so far from the truth, but because I felt exactly the same way about her.

My photos show a specific side of me. They’re a mini highlight reel of my life. They include the moments I’ve deemed share-able and fit for public consumption, but they don’t begin to show who I am fully.

The problem with the “Instagram Life” is that I fear some people have trouble distinguishing between what’s real and fake, and even when we can tell the difference, many of us still feel compelled to match what we perceive as some kind of standard.

Instagram is great for capturing little moments and sharing them with the world – but in my experience, the best memories are often created in those in-between moments: a good laugh at a random joke that can’t be captured, the car ride on the way to some photo-worthy event, the nights when you’re curled up on the couch with your guard down. It’s basically the stuff that happens when you’re too busy to record.



  1. April 16, 2015 / 3:26 pm

    Hi! I really enjoyed reading this post. Mainly because I was thinking the same thing recently as I was scrolling down my Preposterous Instagram newsfeed. Unless it’s a businessperson I really don’t take the “livin la vida loca” pics seriously. Just like reality tv, I take social media “realness” with a grain of salt. It is enjoyable to watch though!

    Take a peek at my blog design and let me know what ya think. Im a newbie! Thanks!

  2. April 6, 2015 / 6:34 pm

    Really well-written piece Jhaneel. I often get really depressed by the relentless social media ‘look how great my life is’ nonsense, but I’m also guilty of participating in it. Inevitably you portray your life in a particular way, and you chase likes/favourites/follows as if they are real currency. I can’t believe you saw a ‘perfect for Instagram’ restaurant though, no way! I don’t even know what to say about that other than ‘aaargh’.

    I like your writing style, keep it up! 🙂

    • April 7, 2015 / 4:54 pm

      Thank you, Anne. And you won’t believe it, but since then, I’ve seen several more references to ‘Instagram-worthy’ restaurants or recipes/ food. I guess it’s a lifestyle now.

  3. April 6, 2015 / 6:04 pm

    Great post 🙂 As a young person, the pressure to constantly be “in the loop” is ever-present and often overwhelming. It’s nice to see someone in the blogosphere addressing this!

    • April 6, 2015 / 6:25 pm

      Thank you! (is it Sherina or Ceanray?) I’m glad you liked the post. I bet this so-called FOMO is even more overwhelming for young people than others.

  4. March 26, 2015 / 7:00 pm

    Awesome post Jhaneel!! I love it! You are right! Instagram is an awesome site and I agree with you, it’s definitely not 100% what’s truly real. A person life is made up of more moments than what is photographed & posted on their Instagram page. The photos that we do see are taken to make it appear that eveything is perfect! But perfect is overrated! Life is more amazing when you are enjoying those small rare moments you mentioned, like that laugh at a random joke! It could become a great kodak moment but that is not always necessary. It can be enjoyed as is! Excited for your next post!

    • March 26, 2015 / 11:24 pm

      Thanks, Ashley! Glad you liked the post and could relate to it. New post will be up tomorrow, hopefully.

  5. March 26, 2015 / 4:36 pm

    I am not sure about life on Instagram, cause I lost my first iPhone then I lost the second one. Now I am forbidden to have a smartphone altogether.
    But for a few months I had an account, and mainly I saw pictures of feet on beaches. And food. So I started to take pics of my feet and of what I cooked. I even thought about becoming a food photographer (because it would have been odd if I had started to take pictures of random feet. Though once, a guy asked me if he could give me a foot massage. I told him that I did not have money but he, in fact was ready to pay me. Probably me taking pictures of random feet would have been less questionable?)
    Anyway I digress – I am not sure about life on Instagram but I definitely agree about life on Facebook.
    There is this little video I’ve seen once. And I’m afraid that lots of kids – even my age – are under lot of pressure to keep up “driven by FOMO”

    • March 26, 2015 / 11:23 pm

      That video seems so true, Jess! I think it’s the same on all these social media platforms.
      And what a weird thing with the foot massage guy – was he a stranger?
      Do you still take photos now? I have to admit I am one of those people who enjoys taking pictures of my food (when it looks nice)…

      • March 27, 2015 / 3:15 am

        I lived for a while in Asia. I always take picture of the food – especially the one I cook, because I want to make people jealous of my wonderful skills. And remind them that they have to be my friends if they want to be guest at my table. Ha! I take a lot of pictures. I like useless stuff.
        No the guy was a total stranger. I thought about his proposition, because I was pregnant and I had pain in my ankles. But then my BFF who was with me looked me in the eyes and attempted to slap me. I did not get any foot massage by him, for free or else.
        But, last year I was with with my partner and our friend in Crete, lost in the night to get back to our AirBNB, when suddenly a guy out of the blue came and took my hand. He started to mass my knuckles. And that was not bad at all, until my boyfriend laughed and told me to check out his pants. The issue then was that to say “no” you say “oki” and “yes” is “ne”. You get the picture? 10 minutes to get my hand back!
        I dunno why I attract weirdos. But I do.

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