Instagram, as far as I can tell, is made up of two main components: pretty food and prettier people. Like it or loathe it, on the surface of it at least, that’s what we’re dealing with.
My explore page, allegedly tailored to me and my interests, features both things fairly heavily. In fact a skim of it now reveals videos of women in expensive dresses and even more expensive lycra, and pretty pictures of pretty cupcakes. (Two things fairly close to my heart, actually, maybe it is more targeted than I first realised??).
And theoretically, that’s harmless. It’s good, even… I’m sure most parents would rather us see gingerbread biscuits than soggy biscuits, burpees over beastiality, cupcakes before crystal meth (you get the picture) but, in actual fact, the juxtaposing images, when combined, are entirely problematic.
And they are combined often. There is a reason that they make up a hefty chunk of popular content on the platform.
Before narcissism became so ~in vogue~, or before the general public realised that the rules that exist in real life (try not to get caught looking in a mirror or else risk being thought of as vain) aren’t the same on social media; basically posting borderline slutty pictures on the internet is almost perfectly appropriate behaviour, the platform was used as a means of showing off our food.
Why? I don’t know. But still there exists a running joke amongst societies’ elders that they’re the generation who are still capable of going out to a restaurant without needing to take a photo of their dinner.
Food was the OG of Instagram. A timeless classic. A crowd pleaser. There will always be a place online for a well decorated donut and emergency sausage roll on a Sunday morning.
But as acceptable narcism crept in, food lost it’s position centre stage. Still very much a well loved option, but not quite as likeable as a glimpse of side boob in a candid beach shot. Soz.
This turned Instagram into an entirely different beast so that now “looking pretty” has become a fairly integral part of the user experience. It has put pressure on everyone and as a result insecurities arise, often directly as a result of the perfection that those on Instagram churn out on the daily: both from those who., like me, do it for a living and, almost more worryingly in a lot of cases, from are in-real-life friends.
Instagram’s very existence manipulates reality and thanks to editing apps like FaceTune, most the time the things that we see online aren’t real to begin with. It’s a problem.
But I digress. Because that is not the problem that I want to focus on today.
That’s not the whole problem anyway.
The whole problem is the bit at which the two worlds meet. It’s the growing spot in which food and looking pretty collide. It’s the centre of the Venn diagram. It’s my explore page. And it’s really stressing me out.
To spell it out for you, my real problem with Instagram, the thing that gets my goat arguably more than any of the rest of it, is beautiful women posing with food that we all know full well they haven’t even thought about eating.
It’s a fascinating phenomenon and the platform is heaving under it’s pressure. I am heaving under it’s pressure.
When I was younger and unhappy in my body, I had an undoubtedly unhealthy obsession with knowing what other people were eating.
I would watch my skinny friends shovelling pieces of toast into their mouths, four at a time, I would count the chocolate buttons they ate, the slices of pizza, the fizzy drinks and I would then be overwhelmed with thoughts of: well how the fuck are they doing it?
I apparently only needed to think of a cocopop before another fat roll would appear and yet here these people were crushing away to their heart’s content and remaining utterly perfect.
I would shovel the cocopops in too of course, and the toast, and the chocolate buttons, but I would do it all shrouded in sadness and bitterness.
I knew nothing of metabolisms, of macros, of energy expenditure, of nutrition. I knew calories, but more often than not I lost count of those (usually deliberately when I exceeded the amount I was supposedly allowed that day). All I really (thought I) knew was that my friends were eating all of this and they were “getting away with it”.
I never understood this and for a while attempted mimicking them in the hope that i might cotton onto the trick that apparently everyone but I knew about and that would seem me star as Kate Moss in the celebrity remake of the Very Hungry Hippo.
They eat a pizza, okay I’d think, I can eat a pizza. They’ve taken a forkful of chips, I will do the same. On and on it went. I’d constructed a perverse sort of logic that I reasoned would enable me to match my friends morsel for morsel; I would either end up as thin as them or they’d end up as fat as me. Either way I won’t be different anymore. I told you it was perverse. But I was perverse. I was also very unhappy.
I thought I’d be safe. If I could do what they did, I’d be safe. Safe and protected.
My fascination though, did not stop there. In my copy-catting-phase I would watch the eating habits of almost every slim woman I came across whether that was in real life, or on television.
Such was my perverseness I think I managed to convince myself that whilst Blake Lively wasn’t actually a high school attending New York dwelling socialite, she WAS actually surviving on everything that she ate during her time on Gossip Girl.
It was a crushing blow when Leighton Meester’s character Blair says to Serena in one of the later episodes “oh please, you haven’t eaten bread since the eighth grade”. Fuck, I thought. No one mentioned that.
And of course therein lies the problem. Well, one of the problems. It is finally acknowledged that Serena stays so thin by not eating bread, something that I couldn’t have known, mostly because it’s a television show so it’s all irrelevant anyway.
But I was experiencing similarly confusing problems with my friends, sure I watched them eat, I watched them eat a lot, but I didn’t follow them home. I wasn’t there all the time. I didn’t know if they were gobbling down break time biscuits because they’d missed breakfast or weren’t going to have lunch or if they’d been swimming that day and were hungry or if they just fancied a few custard creams. But I carried on clutching to the information that I had and then of course dramatically jumping to conclusions.
Thankfully, for the most part, I’ve got over this. And for that I am desperately grateful, not just because it was a hugely unhealthy way to live my life, but because I cannot begin to imagine how an obsession like this would manifest itself on Instagram.
Already users of the app are susceptible to the manipulated reality displayed and nowhere is this more apparent than when a photo appears of an extra small girl with an extra big pizza and a shamefully misleading caption.
Because you’ll notice, that it is always the extra small girls posing with the extra big plates. This is something that confuses and disgusts me in equal measure. How eating ten portions of chips in under five minutes is fetishised when it’s a thin person doing it, but evokes revolting abuse when it’s a fat person is confusing and depressing. Thin privilege is something that I have written about before and nowhere is it’s existence more apparent than on Instagram. See for yourself, just watch what happens when a plus size person uploads a photo with an ice cream.
But again I digress… ish.
The problems of food and Instagram are SO extensive that I don’t really know where to start, or how to finish, or what kind of conclusion I can possibly derive.
What I do know though is that in a country that sees education surrounding body image and food so woefully lacking, many of us cling on tightly to whatever it is we can find. Normally, it is a bit of safety. We are looking for safety, and that, we’ve been taught, comes in numbers.
It sounds so trivial, as I try to wrap this up and try to draw some kind of conclusion, pleading with people to be responsible with their Instagram and only upload photos of things they are actually going to eat.
But it isn’t, because there are people out there manipulating their audiences. Portraying themselves as these “chill girls” who can eat whatever they want, who are CARB MONSTERS and SUGAR ADDICTS and they’re doing it knowing full well the picture that paints to the outside world.
They’re doing it, I am sure, because they have their own issues with food, unaware, I hope, of the affect that their actions will have on others in the same position.
Ultimately they’re not posing with this food so as to influence others to eat it, they are posing with it to show the world how great their life is, that they get to look like a supermodel AND take on chocolate brownies three at a time. They’re showing us what they have “got away with”.
I’m not talking about people who upload photos of themselves on a Friday night with a well deserved pizza. I regularly do that! I’m talking about the people who make a career out of relentlessly misleading their audiences into thinking they are doing something that we all know, deep down, they’re not.
I want to finish with a little message for anyone who can relate to what I was describing earlier, who is looking to these influences and finding themselves confused and upset and overwhelmed by decisions:
It doesn’t matter what anybody else is eating. It doesn’t even really matter what you are eating. What matters is how you FEEL about what you’re eating. What matters is that you are healthy and happy.
Take some time to get to know your body. Remember that you are deserving of whatever it is you want and that every single body is different. You don’t need to eat something because someone else did. You don’t need not to for the same reason. It’s your life, your body and your story.
In the meantime, I would implore you all, simply: to eat the fucking cupcake.
(If you feel like it is taking over your life in a way that you can’t control I would implore you to please consider finding some help, there IS help out there, I’m leaving a link to BEAT here, just in case.)