My Perfect Life: A Careful and Complex Design

by Emma Gilpin

The squares line up evenly and perfectly, forming a beautifully neat grid which I can scroll through, a photographic record of all the best moments of my life from the ages of 15 to 19. Four years of my little life, cherry picked to create a filtered reel of selected highlights. This is my Instagram account and it is one of my proudest achievements. When I find myself feeling listless, Instagram is often my first port of call; it’s like an art gallery that I can visit whenever I want a flash of beauty and my feed is full of illustrations, interior design, cute girls on expensive holidays, cute girls looking cute, cute girls with all their cute girl friends, books, bunnies and Berlin.

A lot of psychologists and writers have been investigating and exploring the impact that social media has on us and I think that Instagram is one of the most interesting online spaces. Whilst Facebook is a place to connect with family and share photos of friends, parties and holidays, ranging from goofy selfies with cousins to gorgeous edgy shots which might have been taken by professional photographers, Instagram’s focusses entirely on the aesthetic. You can design a life where it is always sunny, you are always on holiday or at a party (even months after the holiday/party is over, #tbt) and you never feel lonely, or a little bit rubbish. Your feed is completely in your control; you can never be tagged in an embarrassing photo of you eating a burger, which is seen by too many people before you have a chance to send a self conscious “Hi Chloe. I don’t like this photo…” Your life is there, curated and edited into a beautifully packaged version of itself that you think other people might want to see.

I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing; I enjoy looking through my Instagram photos and seeing this version of my life reflected back at me. It shows me how many fun and exciting things I have done, reminds me of concerts I went to when I was 16, t-shirts I loved and wore to friends’ birthday parties, art projects I was proud of, bops, holidays and days out with my family. But equally, there are some days, less good days, when I have nothing I would like to share with the people who follow me on Instagram or when I look through those photos with a more critical eye. I look through those photos and see a series of lies staring back at me, because that was the day when I had really bad food poisoning and that was the day when I was overwhelmed by work stress. Or simply because there are so many things that an Instagram photo doesn’t tell you. For every 1000 words a picture speaks, there are 10,000 that it doesn’t. Two of the cute girls in that night out photo might have had a terrible argument when they got drunk. The guy who just uploaded a gorgeous snap of him on holiday in the Maldives might be feeling a bit fat today. People aren’t lying or trying to deceive other people when they upload these photos, but it is an easy way to feel in control of a life that is often a lot more complicated than the sleek grid which gives an Instagram account its minimalist beauty.

When you’re having a bad day and start scrolling through Instagram (or Facebook or Snapchat or Twitter) it’s easy to forget that the fun, perfect, exciting lives that other people seem to be living whilst you’re writing a mediocre essay are edited and filtered. It’s easy to allow yourself to feel pangs of jealousy and inadequacy. Sometimes I wonder whether I should delete my Instagram account, whether I am simply contributing to this bizarre and perhaps damaging narrative about the perfect life, whether I am simply caught up in a competitive game of who can get the most “likes”. But of course, I do like seeing photos of my friends having fun at university, I like seeing the cheesy grins of people who I haven’t seen since the summer holidays and I especially like the bunnies. Maybe every Instagram account should come with a disclaimer. Proceed with caution: the rest of my life is not this beautiful.

Follow me on Instagram @emmatheowl – like for like?


The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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