I could be inspired too

There is a proverb (I think it is a Buddhist one) which goes a little like this, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Neat little way to sum up a lot of the criticism I see when it comes to social media. At least the surface level criticism. How it makes us feel bad to see these perfectly constructed online lives of high achievement, in comparison to the mundane lives we live in reality. I know that there are a lot of other things that are wrong with the whole social media scene (and other people have done a much better job of talking about this, check out this video if you want some food for thought). But basically, when it comes down to it, a lot of the stuff on social media makes us feel bad because we compare it to the things we have (or don’t have).

I don’t want to talk in general terms. Let me give some examples of things that always make me feel bad whenever I come across them online.

People Travelling

I hate how perfect everyone’s vacation looks. I am sure that if and when I put in effort into clicking pictures while I am out vacationing, I could also, sort of maybe come up with something that is decent. But I get lazy when I travel (that is when I’m not having a terrible time of it, like I’ve said before). I see reels of people eating pasta in small Italian villages, or perfect looking girls making montages of their chocolate syrup and croissant breakfasts in Paris, or people hiking in a pretty Japanese forest; and I instantly feel bad about whatever I am doing. I could be having a perfectly enjoyable day (tucked in bed with coffee and watching a movie I like) and seeing these images of other people enjoying their trips will mess me up.

Happy couples

I don’t want to sound salty (maybe just a little) but seeing people post about how they have found love and happiness makes me want to gag. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy for everyone that has this in their lives. But since I don’t at the moment, I don’t see why I have to cheer along this obnoxious display of cuteness. I refuse to participate in the cheer. It instantly reminds me of how single I am. Which by the way is a perfectly fixable situation if I just get out of my room and make the effort to meet new people. But where is the fun in that. Imagine a life without cribbing.

Well-trained dogs

This is an odd one I know. How can anyone hate on dogs, you might be wondering. I don’t. I love dogs. More than a lot of other things in fact. I have a dog, and I would do anything for the little beast. But if you’ve been around for a while you’ve probably picked up on the fact that he isn’t the best behaved dog out there. Ok that is an understatement. He’s a heathen. He’s all over the place. He never listens and he is spoilt as spoilt can be. All my fault, I know. I didn’t raise him well enough. Be that as it may, looking at videos of highly trained dogs turning tricks like climbing ladders or balancing glasses of water on their heads (which by the way, why on earth would a dog need to do any of this, it honestly is the worst form of showboating) irritates me.

Now that I’ve given you a few examples of the things that make me sad or irritate me, let us talk about the flip side of this.

I recently came across an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience which had Kevin Hart on as a guest. Amongst the many things they talk about, they also touched upon how social media, and looking at the lives of people who are better off (apparently) than us, might not always be a bad thing. The episode is also wickedly funny, and I would highly recommend you giving it a listen.

Anyway, Hart talks about how sometimes he looks at social media posts of other people who are doing better than him in a particular field (especially one he wants to improve in) as a source of inspiration. He looks at these posts, and instead of automatically thinking, and feeling bad about, the things he doesn’t have or isn’t necessarily good at, he tries to think of ways he can emulate the people he looks up to. Or how he can draw inspiration from them and think about the ways in which he can improve.

Putting it in context; forget the stuff I get envious of. I follow a ton of art accounts on Instagram. One of them is an artist called Sophie. I’ve never felt bad looking at her posts, even though she is ostensibly doing a lot better than me in the field I want to excel in. Instead, I love the way she posts consistently. Not just the finished project, but her entire process – the things that have inspired her, the ways in which she incorporates things people tell her about, the times she gets stuck and what she does to get over such creative blocks. I aspire to be as consistent as her in posting about my art. I want to get comfortable about showing people the process I follow in making the things I make, as silly as that may sound.

I thought this was quite a positive spin on things. I always talk about how bad social media is and how it gives me anxiety. But Hart talking about it as a source of inspiration sometimes, and not just comparison, made a lot of sense to me too.

Celebrities make my day…?

Link

I have spent the last couple of weeks obsessing over this one case of a celebrity’s child being hauled into jail for possession of drugs. Or something. From what I can tell, it is a pretty big deal. Not to me though – as much as it feels like it. I went to Instagram (which honestly seems like the only place I get my news from nowadays) and because of the way the algorithm works, in a few clicks, my entire feed was full of accounts either demanding the kid be released or proclaiming that its a great thing he’s been caught (serves that rich man right, am I right?). The week before that my feed was full of V’s dating scandal (V from BTS). So many opinions, so many takes…so many people caring about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them, and about people who don’t even know they exist.

Now, I’m not saying I’m not a gossip. I love celebrity gossip. I can discuss Khloé Kardashian’s breakups to death. I probably know a lot more about Addison Rae than I do about the latest climate change convention (and as you can see I have no qualms in showcasing the dumber side of my personality). But the thing I can’t figure out is, why? What do I have to do with these people? Why do I care? Anyway, you know me, I had to get into it. For whatever it is worth, here is what I think about it.

The Nature of Celebrity

So, if you’re between the ages of 18-25, and you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year and a half, you know who the D’Amelio sisters are – Charlie and Dixie. They’re TikTok royalty. Charlie, I think, is one of the most followed individual creators on the platform. They shot to fame doing, well, not much. Dancing, and having fun in front of a camera. You may like them, dislike them or even dismiss them entirely, but you can’t deny that they have caught the public’s fancy. For whatever reason. A byproduct of such intense fame is that there are a lot of people waiting to make money off of you. Cue the many, many brand deals and associations. Next up, an entire Hulu series capturing their lives a-la-reality TV format (you know, the kind of TV the Kardashians made profitable). The show itself is quite boring. It has already received a lot of criticism online. I can understand why. The show follows around a very normal family that never expected to get famous, never thought it was possible, and certainly does not know what to do with the fame now that they have it. I don’t quite agree with all the criticism the girls themselves receive. There are a lot of moments you can see their own self-doubt regarding their fame. They are, as they put it themselves, just kids who decided to dance on the internet. Do they really deserve all this fame? And this brings up my first point. The nature of fame, and by virtue of that, the nature of celebrity has changed.

It used to be that people would work for years, if not decades, honing a talent or a skill. You would practice singing, or you would attend acting school, or you would produce music, and after years of struggle and strife (less, if you were lucky) you would be recognised for your talent. So in effect, fame was a by product of something internal – your talent, your ability. Such fame then, to you, was secondary to what you were actually put on earth to do, and to the public, was well deserved.

This is not the case anymore. Or at least, not entirely. You can still get famous for any of these talents. But you can also get famous (extremely) while possessing no special ability. Like the D’Amelio sisters. And in the absence of such innate ability, you are bound to second guess your fame, the perks that come with it, and also (more often than not) be perceived to be undeserving of such fame. When you have nothing that sets you apart from the masses you are viewed as more ‘relatable’, and I think a side effect of that is that people tend to think they have more of a stake in your fame.

At least, this is what I feel. I like celebrity gossip, but there are levels to it. Gossip about ‘proper’ celebrities isn’t as exciting as gossip about ‘newer’ celebrities (TikTok stars, YouTubers, Instagram influencers) is. I think people feel some sense of ‘I told you so’ when the newer kids on the block mess up.

Evolution

This is not to say that obsession with celebrities is a recent phenomenon. We have always been obsessed with people that are unattainable, people we perceive to be at the top of the social pyramid. Our ancestors were as obsessed with the movers and the shakers of their times as we are with the Addison Raes of our times. Maybe a little less. But that can be chalked down to access. Because of social media, we have unprecedented access to celebrities.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about social media and how it has had an impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Here is another thing it has impacted. The ways in which celebrities interact with us. Before the advent of social media, we had access to only what the large media houses or tabloids put out into the public sphere. There was a bit more control over the kind of news that was being generated, and in turn, consumed. Now that that bit of control has gone out of the window, celebrities have to come down to our level and interact with us in the ways we interact with each other in order to stay relevant. I think about this a lot. The antics on Instagram and TikTok make sense if you’re starting out and trying to become famous (for the sake of being famous). But if I was already an established artist, would I hop onto the inane trends of dancing around meaninglessly to a 15 second audio clip to gain more relevance? I don’t think I would. I find it kind of sad honestly when celebrities who are famous for a certain trade / craft sink to this level of eyeball catching behaviour. Anyway, regardless of why they do it, they do it. And this means that we get more access to the people we consider to be on the top of the pyramid – and as we have already seen, there was never a time when we didn’t enjoy it.

Being surrounded

The more we enjoy it, the more we consume it, and the more we are fed the same thing by the algorithms. Algorithms only care about getting you onto your screen and keeping you there (Social Dilemma anyone?). And if celebrity gossip is your juice then that is what you will get. Constantly. In fact, this false proximity to celebrities has given rise to an increase in the number of para-social relationships i.e, relationships characterised by a one-sided affair with your celebrity of choice. A strong example I can think of is the relationship many fandoms in the K-Pop industry have with their ‘idols’ (that is what pop stars are called there). The way some of us (myself included) delude ourselves into thinking we have a strong personal connection with these K-Pop stars is fascinating, sometimes even scary. If you don’t believe me try googling the term ‘Sasaeng’. You’ll see.

This behaviour on the part of the fans is cultivated by the production houses – in the ways they present the K-pop idols. These men and women do a lot more than just put put music – they have game shows, they have live telecasts (often from a homely and cozy environment to make you feel like you’re in that room with them) and a bunch of other things. They also have to remain single (at least as far as the public eye is concerned). Now isn’t this a recipe for developing a para-social relationship? Because they are marketed as ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’, it comes as no surprise to me that obsession with such celebrities goes beyond what is considered normal.

Are you more susceptible to this than others?

But not everyone is affected in the same way. Yes, all of us love to take our mind off our lives with a bit of harmless gossip now and then – and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. My issue is that each and every single thing celebrities do nowadays – all the mundane things about their lives that no one should care about – gets discussed with an unhealthy amount of fervour. And it turns out, these things are not interesting to all of us (makes sense). They start to mean a lot more, and do mean a lot more, to people who generally suffer from low self-esteem issues. It allows us to live a life vicariously, outside of our own lived experiences. This form of celebrity worship also starts to mean a lot more when we are going through major changes or periods of uncertainty in our lives.

No wonder this form of entertainment became the behemoth it did during the pandemic. Anyway, I’m going to get back to the debate on whether or not that celebrity’s kid deserves to be prosecuted. Talk soon.

Stories for days

I read a book recently. The Lonely City. I don’t think any book I have read this year captures my mood for the year better than this book. The book talks about loneliness – no shocker there. But it talks about that specific, anonymous, discoloured loneliness you can only get in cities, made even more incongruous because you are constantly surrounded.

The author, Olivia Laing, talks about some of the best contemporary art and how so much of it was born from persons who were intensely, and always, lonely. Edward Hopper for example. I hadn’t seen his paintings before 2020. And then I saw a post online talking about how the entire year in lockdown has felt like being in a Hopper painting. If you look at his paintings, it usually shows a single subject sitting in a cold, isolated, dispassionate city scape. He used a lot of greens and blues in his paintings. Laing calls this the ‘Hopper Green’ in her novel. It reminds me of that depressing green you’ll often find in abandoned diners or public washrooms. If I had to put a feeling to the colour, I would say it reminds me of when you’re walking around in the rain but the water has already seeped into your shoes, so you just walk around in silent, wet, misery.

There are a bunch of other artists she talks about (including one who worked as a janitor and made art his whole life, never told anyone about it, and died alone in a room, where they discovered all his art only because his neighbours complained about the stink coming from his home), but towards the end she talks about a man named Josh Harris. The man made a bunch of money in the dot com boom. But he became disgruntled with what was happening around him quite quickly. He predicted that the internet would take on a much less benign form in a couple of years, it’ll become a space where every single person will compete for visibility for the most mundane things, and showcase their lives to the fullest, dystopian degree just because they can. And well, he wasn’t wrong. To prove that he was right about the ways in which human nature will interact with constant access and visibility, he held a social experiment (there is a movie on this too). He invited strangers (anyone and everyone was welcome, it was on a first come first serve basis) to live in a house for a period of time. All the amenities they could want would be provided to them. They would be denied only two things – privacy, and the option of exiting the house before the experiment was over. Every single part of the house was covered with cameras that streamed the happenings of the house to the outside world constantly.

The result? People started behaving in bizarre ways. They started acting out for attention. They became hostile towards their housemates for no reason. And almost all of them became depressed beyond measure. They were simultaneously fighting to be the most visible in the house, while feeling increasingly disconnected with reality the more air time they got. The experiment had to be shut down (for obvious reasons). Harris wasn’t happy though. He wanted to take this live streaming, this shit show of total visibility to its logical conclusion. So, he set up cameras in his own house. The idea was to record himself and his partner for 30 days (I think, could have been longer) no matter what. Every bit of their lives (and I mean every single bit – including washroom breaks) was made available to a voyeuristic public. This time though, the people watching could also give live feedback. And they did. Harris and his partner started behaving in the same way the participants of the first experiment had – they became more aggressive, less sensitive, more radical, and more depressed. They started fighting more, because as it turns out, that was what got people going. And as they fought, they noticed that the public opinion was usually with Harris’ partner and not him. When the experiment ended, the couple broke up, and Harris moved to an unknown location – became a recluse for the next couple of years.

Now, as shocking as this was at the time, it is much more uncomfortable to read now. Not only did the man predict (with uncanny precision) how the internet would change all of us, but the effects most of us feel (at least I know I do) are the same. I can’t stop putting stuff out there. And most of the times it doesn’t even make me happy. I want to post even though I feel deep revulsion for my online persona as soon as I am done posting, but I still can’t stop doing it. The worst of it is the Instagram stories. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe because they are temporary, I don’t feel like I need to put in effort and can post whatever I want. But it isn’t that effortless either. I always think about it. I keep going back to the app, and whenever I do, the first thing I check is my story. How many people viewed it? How many people reacted? What does the story look like from someone else’s account? I’m not even as bothered about comparing myself to others on social media as I am to comparing myself to what I put up online. Anyway, I could keep going on about this. Go check out the book if you have time, I promise it is worth it.

Body hair and such like things

There are people in the world who are naturally hairless. And there is nothing I envy more. Except maybe natural mathematical ability. And a purpose in life. And people who know how to drive manual. Ok, so maybe there is a lot I want but can’t have. But nothing is more jarring to me than the fact that I am not one of those naturally hairless elites. Of course, nothing says I need to stay dissatisfied with my body. There is a lot I can do to change this about my appearance. I can shave, wax, or even permanently laser this off my body. The first two are temporary and the third one is slightly more permanent. I didn’t know laser body hair removal was a thing till I was about 21. I’m generally a pretty spaced-out person, so this isn’t surprising. I was on a trip with my cousin and her friends. At some point on the trip, there was a possibility of extending the trip for a couple of days and I was all for it. But we couldn’t do it, because one of the girls had to (HAD TO) be back home by a certain date. She said it was because she had already undergone laser hair removal on the left side of her body (I think) and needed to get it done on the other side. Now, it is entirely possible that this is scientifically incorrect and/or I misremember the incident. Maybe she had done the lower half of her body and needed to get the upper half done. All I remember though is how the procedure was only half done. Apparently, her mother was making her do it because she comes from a long line of women who are ‘very hairy. Plus, there was a possibility that her long-term boyfriend might propose, so naturally, all the hair had to go (?!). I was amazed. I remember being very excited at the prospect of sharing this newfound knowledge with my mother and getting it done myself. Not to be folks. The idea was, rightfully so, shot down immediately. And I’m glad.

Is that even necessary?

Now, I’ve spoken about plastic surgery and my mild obsession with getting a brow lift (among other things) done before. But it turns out my idea of what ‘plastic surgery’ is, was entirely skewered. There are a lot of things that I never thought of as being plastic / cosmetic surgery which do fall into that category – including laser hair removal. If you have seen the episode on ‘Plastic Surgery’ on Netflix explained, you know that our conception of what it means to look attractive, and what you can do to attain it (both in terms of things that are seen as ‘necessary’ and ‘optional’) is constantly evolving. If you haven’t seen that episode, I highly recommend it. For example, till a few decades ago, having body hair was considered entirely natural. But somewhere along the line, celebrities started showing up to events completely waxed and plucked – and then hairless became the new natural. So, what was an ‘optional’ thing you could do to improve your appearance (i.e., getting hair removed) now became a necessity (it isn’t considered a beautification method anymore, it is considered weird if you don’t do it). I remember watching Titanic as a kid and thinking Rose was pretty unhygienic for stripping down naked when she hadn’t even taken the time out to do the basics like shave her armpit hair. Which is ridiculous because who was going around worrying about their armpit hair in the early twentieth century. No one. And peer pressure, as it turns out, has a lot to do with this.

I’ll do it if you do it

I saw a video on how people feel the need to get this surgery done because everyone around them is getting something done. South Korea is famous for plastic surgery, often even referred to as the plastic surgery capital of the world. In Korea in fact, plastic surgery makes for a very common graduation present for children who have just completed high school. They have the highest per capital plastic surgeries in the world, as it turns out. Coming in at a close second, is Brazil. A woman in Brazil, in the video, talks about how she felt ‘left out’ when she found out everyone else had altered their appearance and she hadn’t had anything done yet. When people talk about getting breast augmentation done because everyone around them is doing it, it seems a little outlandish. There is no way you’d be willing to go under the knife to change something about yourself that you might be ok with just because everyone else around you is doing it. Right? Well, no. It is hard to reconcile just how much we are willing to do under peer pressure when we talk about extremes like surgical procedures. But consider the trend of wearing bright tights under skirts. I never once in my life thought this was a good look. I hated the contrasting colours and the silhouette it gave me. But I know that I, along with most other girls who attended school with me, went along with it. To my mind, that was a terrible year for fashion all round. Having said that, everyone did it because, well, everyone else did it. Ok, maybe this example is too mild. Wearing badly coloured tights is not the same as injecting chemicals into your body or cutting it up to reshape it. But what about something like Keratin treatment then? Almost everyone I know has gotten this done in the last couple of years. It is advertised as something that smoothens and straightens out your hair by injecting keratin into it. It is supposedly less toxic than re-bonding your hair. But it doesn’t just inject keratin (which is a naturally occurring protein). It also uses chemicals like formaldehyde. This is a known carcinogen. Meaning, we all know it causes cancer or can cause cancer to grow. We still went ahead and did it though. I did it too. I hated what it did to my hair. For the first two days I was told not to wash it, and I went around with poker straight hair smelling of animal fat. Disgusting. Anyway, the point I am trying to make, is that even though we think we are impervious to the things around us, there are a lot of chances that we will end up doing things we are uncomfortable with under peer pressure. Including plastic surgery.

Instagram faces

That is one part of it yes. But plastic surgery has been around for a while now. Why this sudden interest in it? Because I see it around me all the time. This used to be something I knew about but never really bothered much with – better left to the reality stars in outlandish TV shows who do it for the camera. Recently though, it has taken over my social media feed. There is a rise in the number of plastic surgeon influencers all over. These people advertise themselves, talk about the procedures you can get done to become an influencer, or just to generally fix things you don’t like about your appearance. And they are all over the place. It is like two sides of the same coin. On the one hand you have a bunch of influencers who all look the same (not surprising since most of them buy their faces – and it is always the same kind of face, the ‘Instagram face’ with the foxy eyes, plump lips and narrow noses), and on the other hand you have professionals who are promising to turn your face into the faces you see online.

I’m addicted to…

And apparently, there is a possibility, that once people get started with cosmetic surgeries it might turn into an addiction. First, you will have to keep repeating procedures (in all probability) to maintain the face / body you’re after. And the more you do it, the more reliant you become on it. Kind of like the filters we use. I simply cannot post a picture without using filters or editing my pictures. To the extent that I hate looking at pictures of myself that other people have clicked. This is a very real thing. Before we had social media, we just had body dysmorphia disorder. Now, we have many, many variations of it. We have filter dysmorphia, snapchat dysmorphia, Instagram dysmorphia – you name it. In an interview I saw online, a plastic surgeon talks about how earlier people would come in with pictures of famous people or celebrities they wanted to look like post plastic surgery. Now, people just come in with edited images of themselves. And why not? Once you get used to looking at unblemished, contoured versions of yourself, it becomes increasingly difficult to like your actual face.

I know I have been going on about cosmetic surgery for a few posts now. But I can’t help it. I’m probably going to do a deep dive into this in a couple of more posts too. It is just so fascinating to me. I can’t stop obsessing over it. On the one hand, we are taught to dislike and attempt to change things about ourselves. On the other hand, we are also taught to promote and hype ourselves up constantly whenever we do make an appearance online. The split is maddening. No wonder I hear and read about so many people practicing the art of ‘shifting their realities’. Which is also something I’m excited to write about, but that is going to be a whole different thing.

The beauty algorithm

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on Pexels.com

As someone who has grown up with the internet, I feel like I have had the privilege (maybe) of being born in just the right generation. A generation older and I would have been out of date. A generation younger and I would have lost whatever little semblance of sanity I have in this day and age of media consumption.

I’ve experienced this with the use of Instagram. Let me give you an illustration. Before I started being active on Instagram, at a time when I would only log in once in a while to upload pictures of momentous events or congratulate someone on their life events (I’m talking weddings and graduations), I had about 3 skin-care products on my bathroom counter at best. I had a basic face wash, a body wash and shampoo+conditioner. Since I have started using Instagram regularly, I have run out of space on my shelf to store all my different (and unnecessary) skin-care products. It started with looking at pictures of pore-less and perfect skin. Even after I found out about filters (and I’m sure the use of make-up) were involved, it didn’t stop my brain from comparing my skin to what I saw online. Stored between these images of unattainable beauty were advertisements for the many products you can buy to look like your role models on screen. I think the first purchase I made was for a toner. Then came the separate water-based and oil-based cleansers. Then the face packs, not to be confused with the face sheet masks which followed suit. Then the night cream (separate from the day cream even though both of them seem exactly the same). The night cream won’t work alone though, and it certainly won’t work on all parts of your face (?!). You need a night / sleeping mask, eye masks and night eye creams. Oh and also, the day cream has to be used before the applying the sunscreen but after you’ve put on your serum. Did I forget to mention that you also need serum? And don’t forget the many, many essential oils you need (the cold-pressed variety too, and that is separate).

Losing track of everything you have to do? Of all the different, but equally important serums and creams you have to lather on to your face if you want even a shot at looking as nice as the people you see on your screen? I did too. Don’t worry. Once you start making your purchases, the algorithm will start throwing beauty gurus in your face. People who will tell you the exact sequence in which these products have to be used in order to be effective. There are variations too. The 3-step skin care routine, the 6-step skin care routine, the 12-step skin care routine. You name it, they have it. AND YOU CAN NEVER SKIP A DAY. Otherwise, say hello to all your old skin problems again. Mind you, we have only covered the off-the-shelf commercially available products you have to use. You may also, depending on your skin (and if none of these work, it is always the fault of your skin), have to use prescription drugs and ointments.

Now, everything I have spoken about is just one example of the effects of active social media can have on your life. There are definitely others, and far more sinister than an extended skin-care routine. And this is just one app. The worst app, from what I hear, is TikTok. By far. I’ve been watching a lot of videos on how TikTok has an in-built ‘beauty algorithm’ which means that only people who are considered ‘conventionally attractive’ are promoted on the app. Now, since most of such algorithms are protected as intellectual property, this claim can only be conjecture. Conjecture supported by some serious experimentation though. For example, one study claims that under the Instagram algorithm, “photos in which the subject is scantily clad are promoted and viewed more in user’s feeds”. TikTok, however, seems worse. Not only does the app promote a certain idea of beauty, certain leaked internal documents also show that, “TikTok instructed moderators to not promote content from viewers with “ugly facial looks.” The document tells moderators that videos of people with “abnormal body shape,” “too many wrinkles,” “obvious facial scars” and “facial deformities (not limited to: eye disorders, crooked mouth disease and other disabilities” are “less attractive, not worthing to be recommended to new users.”

I don’t know if all of you already knew this, but this genuinely came as a shock to me. Having never considered that the oh-so-perfect faces and aesthetically pleasing content was being pushed out by the apps themselves, I had always taken it on face value. In a video I saw recently, the creator talks about how in our everyday lives we rarely see genuinely ‘beautiful’ people (I use beautiful to mean what we consider to be conventionally attractive, or what we have been taught to consider as attractive). Contrast this with what you see online – image after image after video of beautiful people with perfect skin on your timelines / ‘for you page’. That has got to be a recipe for disaster, and it is.

I’ve seen the internet evolve into the behemoth it is. So, at some point down the line, I can still differentiate between what is real and what isn’t. I can still, though it takes effort, convince myself that it is neither normal, nor necessary to look that perfect or be that well put-together all the time. But, for the younger generation – the generation that has only known one way of living, I can imagine how difficult it must be. There is a lot to be thankful for, but I guess one of the things I am most grateful for is that I didn’t have to attend high-school in the age of TikTok.

Why am I on Instagram all the time…

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

I’ve had an Instagram account since 2013. I was 18 when I started my page on Instagram. At the time it was just something people used to post pictures on and the concept of an influencer did not yet exist. In fact, some of the first accounts I followed were just random accounts of photographers posting pictures of nature, or interesting travel destinations. I had, I think, about 32 followers within the first year – all from people I knew from school. I also remember that I thought I had stumbled upon a fairly unknown app that I could use just to scroll through pictures for ideas (something like Pinterest maybe). I wasn’t an active user of the app for many years – logging on only once in a couple of months to post pictures of something truly momentous (like weddings, graduation or travelling to exotic destinations). I never used hashtags for the first couple of years, kept my account private and couldn’t care less what people thought of my account or how many (or few) followers I had. I didn’t feel compelled to follow people I knew in real life on Instagram and I didn’t use it as a comparator to see everything that was wrong with my life – especially when compared to the glossy perfectness of other people’s lives.

But a few months ago – October of 2020 in fact, I decided I want a change in life. A very dramatic one, in fact. I had a bit of a mortality crisis and thought about how I really did not want to spend all my time sitting behind a desk. Every morning I woke up with the conviction that I would quit my job and become a full time artist. I started reading all these posts about artists who had risked it all and made it big. But in addition to this brand of ‘all-or-nothing’ preaching, I also came across something that resonated with me. I’m sure all of you have heard of the artist ‘Banksy’. If I ever become a renowned artist and have to talk about my influences, his name would definitely make it to the top three (I’ll probably write about my artistic influences later on). He’s notorious for never revealing his identity, and never taking money for his art works (even though they almost always sell for millions in second hand sales). His opposition to the commercialisation of art is the stuff of legends. If you don’t know much about him, and have even a fleeting interest in the arts, I suggest you google him. I promise you, it will not be disappointing. Anyway, Banksy says that because of the internet, for the first time ever, we don’t need snooty and highbrow art gallery people telling us if our art is worth anyone’s time or not. The internet is free, and everyone has access to it. So go ahead, post yourself.

And I did. I decided I would use Instagram as my artistic outlet. I would make art – physical, digital, whatever I could – and post it online. It took me sometime to get over my fear of judgment and social anxiety to start posting my art. I even made an anonymous account on Instagram and posted some art on that page, and when I saw that people didn’t completely hate it, I shut down that account and started posting under my own name. Yeah, it was a whole journey.

Now there are two schools of thought at play here – in any field really, but more so in the creative field. One is what I like to call the ‘Lonely Genius’ trope. Where your creativity and artistic skill is a gift straight from god (or whatever other higher power you believe in) and you should toil for the sake of it. Your intentions have to be pure and limited to bringing your wonderful art into the world without caring about where it gets you. The second idea is that being talented is all well and good, but it won’t get you anywhere if you don’t adequately market yourself. So, as mortifying as it sounds, make sure you get out there and promote your own work. There is no point in being a great artist if no one knows you are a great artist.

I went the first route for some time. Then I got tired of not getting enough attention. I got tired of trying to act like I was too cool to advertise my own work (I think I was just too shy to do it). That is when I started researching how I could grow my presence on Instagram. If you have ever googled the words ‘how do I grow my Instagram account’ or some variation of it then you know that the internet is full of advice. And I mean, full of it. I poured through articles, sat through tons of youtube videos and even signed up for a free newsletter course just to try and figure out the secret to getting internet famous. As a side effect to all of this, I became hyper aware of my Instagram account and how it must appear to outsiders. I developed a social media addiction – but of a slightly different kind. I wasn’t logging in to check up on my friends and family or to compare myself with others. I was logging in to pour over my own account, to see how many people had viewed my stories, to see the kind of likes my art was getting. I also made the mistake of switching to a business / creator account on Instagram. Just to clarify, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with the creator / business accounts – I just don’t think it helped me a lot. I was obsessed with my own online presence, a sort of convoluted modern day Narcissist who couldn’t stop looking at her own reflection.

I did everything the articles told me to do. I posted consistently. I kept a track of the right time to post. I made my captions long and explained (or at least tried to explain my workings and the idea behind a piece in the captions). I put in the relevant hashtags. And in all these months – I think it has been roughly 11 months since I first got started with my Instagram obsession – I have managed to grow my account by only about 200 people. Now to any weathered Instagram user, these are rookie numbers. And I agree. You have pages online dedicated to bursting bubble wrap with millions of followers. How insulting must it be to put in all that effort, to make art, to do everything by the book and still not be entered into the upper echelons of Instagram fame. But here is the thing, I couldn’t be happier with my growth.

Firstly, these are 200 people. Can you imagine 200 people in real life? Hosting an art viewing in person and 200 people show up – that is a huge success by any means. The idea that real life people live behind their Instagram handles often gets lost on us sometimes. We are so obsessed with numbers and statistics, that we often forget that behind each username there are actual people who made the effort of going through your work and thought to themselves, “hey this isn’t so bad, I think I want to see more of what this artist has to offer.” Ok so maybe some of them might have been bot accounts, but you get the idea. If you stop thinking you are entitled to internet fame just because you showed up and played by the app’s algorithm, then you will realise what a privilege it is to be supported by each and every person that shows up.

Secondly, even if there was no one looking at your work or where you have come, it wouldn’t matter. And I know a lot of people are going to read this and roll their eyes. But it’s true. It really comes down to a simple question I ask myself every time I want to post something or if I do post something and it doesn’t get any likes (or as many likes as I would want). Will I stop making art if other people stop liking my stuff on Instagram? No. So, I stopped caring about the statistics and just put myself out there.

I also like the idea of having in place a ‘legacy’. This is a concept I got from a YouTuber I love – Ali Abdaal. The notion that if you have a body of work and you post it online, you create a repository for yourself even if you never blow up. You have something to look back on and something to show for all your effort. I couldn’t agree more. I may not have had an astronomical growth online, but I love looking back at how many pieces I have created and put out.

I know this post went to a lot of places, and even though it dipped a little in the middle it ended on a good note. I want to spend some time in the future talking about how becoming obsessed with my social media affected me in bad ways. I know that there is already a lot out there talking about the ill-effects of social media addiction, and I may not have anything new to add to that. But still, I’ll try just the same. Having said that, if you are also starting to put yourself out there, I hope this is helpful.