There’s something about Instagram that leaves the user in a catatonic state. You simply can’t help but scroll to the next photo. Of particular interest are influencers, a special breed of people. They’re the rich, the famous, the beautiful. Each has a unique spotlight to share moments in their lives, and we devour their content. You see these beautiful, glamorous people, living their beautiful glamorous lives. Gallivanting to exotic destinations around the world, while boasting they’re ‘living their best life’.
Then you look up from your phone. You look in the mirror and you don’t see how they look. You look around you, and you don’t live where they live. You wake up in the morning, and you’re not on a beautiful beach. You’re waiting at a bus stop, deep in traffic, or squashed on a train on the daily commute. Your destination is a job you don’t particularly like. But don’t worry, while going to work you might have a few moments to look at Instagram to see where your favourite influencer is today.
When you compare your life to those of influencers, you can’t help but feel bouts of envy and jealousy. You can’t help but compare your body, to their bodies, your life, to their lives. While they’re living it up, you’re not. It’s enough to make anyone feel shit about themselves.
Chasing the dream
Instagram presents a specific image of success, the jet-set lifestyle, packed full of picture-perfect moments.
It’s a breeding ground for our insecurities to flare up. So how do you deal with these feelings that your life, and your very being, aren’t good enough? Well, you go out and you buy stuff to chase the lifestyle these influencers present. And, if you can’t afford the lifestyle, that’s fine, use a credit card.
We’re in a race with no end, a race designed to make us continuously buy stuff, to chase an unrealistic dream.
All in an attempt to keep up with appearances and make yourself ‘feel’ how they feel. But, then you look at more photos and realise you still feel the same way. So you go out and buy some more stuff — maybe you rack up more debt doing so. Its a never-ending cycle. The more obsessed you become with chasing ‘the’ lifestyle to live, the more unhappy you’ll be.
So why do we keep on chasing the dream? As social creatures, we gain acceptance from the group. How we’re perceived by others is important in feeling accepted, valued, and successful. We strive to conform by keeping up with the latest trends and trying to maintain the lifestyle presented to us as the epitome of success. Conforming to this lifestyle provides social validation. That validation is a powerful measure of success, without it, we don’t feel accepted.
The age of the influencer
Instagram either provides you validation, because when you compare your life to that of others, you’re not doing so bad. Or, it makes you feel shit because everyone else seems to be doing so much better than you are.
To make things worse, influencers don’t necessarily have any discernible talent. The influencer, influences you, by making you aspire to lead the life they’re leading.
They are the perfect tool for companies, who prey on these feelings of not being good enough. This acts as a trigger for you to buy stuff to make you feel better, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to ‘live your best life’ like your favourite influencer.
In short, an influencer is a weapon to manipulate you to carry out your function as a consumer.
The issue is these influencers are weapons in more way than one. They believe their hype. The social validation they feel from being so darn successful on Instagram sends their egos into overdrive.
Take ‘the blogger boys’ (self-titled of course). A group of good looking, well-groomed men, who must live pretty far up their arses to refer to themselves as ‘the blogger boys’, but anyway. The blogger boys get invites to exclusive events by brands. They then post about the events on Instagram to share with their followers.
It’s free advertising for the company and great publicity for the blogger boys. More than that, it validates the blogger boys behaviour, making them feel successful, and making everyone else chase their success.
A race with no end
Recently, my sister went to a friends 30th birthday party. The friend had a lingerie party in a hotel room that cost £2,500 per night. The girls were intent on maximising the time they had in the hotel by posting as many videos and photos of themselves as possible.
The hotel plays into the lifestyle everyone is chasing. It provided her social validation and made everyone who wasn’t at the party envious. It made her feel good, knowing her followers wanted to know what she was doing. They would want what she has (one of the girl’s friends has since booked the hotel room for her birthday).
No one does this intentionally, but Instagram is always making us compare our lives to others. We’re all in a struggle to maintain a certain image of ourselves, to maintain a semblance of success.
It says everything about the state of society that advertisers prey on making us feel shit about ourselves to make sure we go and buy stuff we don’t need. In the hope it makes us feel a bit less shit about ourselves.
And this is the ultimate power of Instagram. A photo tells more than a thousand words because it leaves you, the user, to construct your own opinion on the photo. It inspires an emotive reaction and results in sweeping judgements. The emotional connection you have to these photos, how they make you feel compels you to buy stuff.
The picture-perfect life reveals nothing of how someone is doing. No ones going to reveal they’ve had a bad day, or they’re not feeling great about themselves, or they’re feeling anxious. They present themselves ‘winning’, which makes you feel even worse if you’re feeling miserable.
But who cares about how you feel? As long as you’re keeping up with appearances, and you hold your head up high and smile (you always need to smile) then everything is okay.
We live in a mad world, where the value of a person isn’t in what you’ve achieved, what you aspire to achieve, or how you’re developing. Success centres on how much you earn, and how much you own.
Let go of the dream
If you continue holding onto the jet style lifestyle as the epitome of success, you’ll remain locked into a prison of consumption, one you can never hope to get out of. Because there is always the latest trainer, always the latest fashion accessory, always the latest bag. If you don’t get out of the trap you’ll continue being used as a tool to buy stuff.
It’s liberating when you realise chasing the dream won’t bring you happiness. So step out of the bubble of Instagram, stop comparing yourself to people who are probably as miserable as you are. Once you break free from the bubble, you’ll realise aspiring to lead the jet-set lifestyle won’t make you happy or fulfilled.
As soon as you realise consumption is a slippery slope, where the more you buy, the more you want to buy, suddenly you’ll see it for what it is. Because consumption reveals the dark side of humanity. Greed, lust, envy and jealousy dominate. The person who desires nothing but focuses on their journey liberates themselves from the trap.