I came to Instagram from the geeky world of Tumblr. I thought that Tumblr was *my* place on the internet. Geeky memes, fanfiction, and a pleasant mix of photos and text. Yet there was tension and stress on Tumblr that had begun to make the internet a less pleasant place to be. I’d begun to think that this was just how social media was, since Facebook had become a similar sort of place.
When I got my first smartphone, it only took a few months before I ventured onto Instagram. I was so prolific on Facebook that I first thought that Instagram would be rather redundant. Yet I decided to give it a try and have been hooked ever since.
I keep pondering this. I think there are a lot of reasons. One is that, despite being a writer, I am an intensely visual person. I LOVE photos with a deep and intense passion. I love seeing photos from people I love, and I adore seeing beautiful pictures, inspiring pictures, and especially photos of the creative process. Once I found the sewing world on Instagram, I fell head over heels in love with the platform.
But it is more than photos that I love about Instagram. It is the aura of positivity. I’ve been on Instagram for several years now and it has been, overwhelmingly, an encouraging and positive experience. I’m sure there are circles on the platform that are negative and factional, but overall I believe the way the app works lends itself toward celebrating beauty, of all kinds. (And I include the beauty of *real* life, #nofilter, #messyroom, #nomakeup in that.)
Social Media photos have come under a lot of fire in recent years and for good reason. An excellent example is the new “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” movie where an early scene shows a teen staging a photo that is supposed to be just a snapshot of ordinary life but clearly isn’t. We want to put our best foot forward to the world. It also, clearly, facilitates an idea of a ‘perfect life.’ One can get the sense that everyone else lives in a rosy, Pinterest-perfect world.
This leads to a growing self-awareness and introspection of the way photo sharing online works. Sophia Kinsella wrote a funny and critical book called “My Not-So-Perfect Life” that beautifully and scathingly dissects the weaknesses of the media—but ends with an offer of a better way: namely, to be honest about every aspect of our lives.
I’ve tried to be conscious about this in my own media. Being chronically ill, my life is so very far from perfect. Sure, I won’t show the pile of dirty laundry in the corner, and I may crop out the very worst of my facial acne, but I try not to shy away from showing the roughness around the edges. I’ve always been my own advocate for my deafness, and I’m trying to be one for my chronic illness as well. Using Instagram to give glimpses of all the sides of living with chronic fatigue and chronic pain is important. I know I’ve certainly found courage and inspiration in the photos and stories of others in the same boat and I hope to pass on the benefits.
That is not, however, the only struggle that I have. The other week I came across a meme that attached each of the major social media platforms to one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Instagram’s temptation? Pride. Boy did THAT hit home. See, the other side of being chronically ill is that so much of what I do remains hidden. For me, sharing it on social media is a way to be, well, social with my creative endeavors! I know there has been great positive encouragement both for myself and in inspiration for others with many of my postings. Yet I would be naïve to ignore the temptation of pride which photos can clearly elicit from me.
And yet, even while pondering this weakness, I came across another strength of the platform, one which I believe feeds the sense of positivity that I’ve enjoyed from it.
You see, the past month has been tremendously difficult, emotionally. And I find, when I’m struggling with really difficult, painful things, I have a lot to think and say about the subject in my diary, my prayers, and to my loved ones. Now the past few days have been beautiful, and I’ve taken such joy in their beauty. Yet when I try to reach back and hold onto the beauty, try to write it down or share it, it is fleeting. I am taking joy in tiny things, ordinary things: the fresh growth of plants in my garden, the sense of wholeness and health just from doing a load of laundry or making dinner for my husband, the satisfaction from being able to sit down with tea and write and write and write, the laughter at the latest escapades of my puppy. I can capture a little bit of this in these sentences, but repeating them over and over, every day, would get redundant.
And yet…when I share pictures on Instagram, it captures these simple little joys. Maybe there is some redundancy, but the visuals capture a poignancy, immediacy, and individuality that words alone cannot. And far quicker too. A simple glance passes on the joy, whereas a whole paragraph takes much longer to read without truly conveying the beauty.
Instagram, at its heart, is a place to share and celebrate the joys of life, of every shape and size. It’s a place where you can see the satisfaction and beauty of a simple cup of tea with the same poignancy as a breathtaking landscape. Indeed, the limited size of a smartphone screen means that, in some ways, the smallest things come through the strongest and have the largest impact on our emotions.