I was always disappointed when my mom used to steer our grocery cart down a checkout aisle that wasn’t filled with classic gossip magazines. The glossy pages and eye-grabbing headlines seemed to call my name, and I wanted to take a peek into the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Today, with our smartphones in hand, we can look into the lives of thousands of other people with just a few swipes. One of the most prominent apps to share one’s curated lifestyle is Instagram. As of September 2016 Instagram boasts 500 million active monthly users.
While Facebook has become a melting pot for video sharing, photo albums, and status updates, Instagram’s simple interface means it is used for pretty much one thing only: posting pictures and short videos of one’s life, often accompanied with clever captions.
Although the pages of People feature photos and stories by paparazzi and gossip columnists, Instagram promises an authentic look into the lives of celebrities. And while true celebrities are certainly active on Instagram, there is also the presence of those who are “Instafamous.” These Insta-celebs attract their followers through photos of colorful smoothie bowls, hipster Mason jar coffee, and stylish outfits (to name a few examples).
Yet while these carefully edited lives may seem perfect to outsiders, some Instagram celebrities are coming forward about the realities of their lives. One of the first examples of this was Essena O’Neill. Over her three years on Instagram she amassed over 750,000 followers, yet on the eve of her 19th birthday she posted an open note to her followers. The confession revealed her battles with depression, over-exercising, disordered eating, and general insecurities. O’Neill articulated the pressure that consumed her to put forth a perfect persona.
For all the Essena’s of the world, there are many more Insta-celebs who might fight these battles yet keep them private. This means the thousands of commoners who scroll through these stars’ profiles late at night only see the picture perfect version of other’s lives.
A study published called “Instagram #Instasad?” found that among teenagers, the more strangers one follows on Instagram the more likely one is to exhibit symptoms of depression or insecurity.
The whole point of Instagram is to put forth a snapshot of your life, so girls sometimes feel under pressure to have the perfect profile. A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that among teen girls, those who interact more on social media report a higher dissatisfaction with their bodies and engage more frequently in dietary restraint.
Of course, like all social media apps, Instagram is not inherently evil. I follow various accounts that provide me with teaching ideas, recipes, body positivity and yoga inspiration. I would even say scrolling through these accounts elevates my mood.
And a newly released app called Jet.me is a faux-Instagram targeted for children under 13 years old that pairs with Jet Parent. Jet Parent allows parents to see the profile and activity of their children and any users they do not approve of can be easily unfollowed.
Another part of digital literacy for children in schools needs to include understanding that a beautiful stranger’s social media profile is often a performance. Many Insta-celebs manage their accounts with a diligence that they would any business. Fortunately, a study in the British Journal of Psychology found that showing a short media literacy video (such as this one) to adolescent girls can lessen the negative effects of social media on body image and show children that the instagrass is not always greener on the other side.