Photo by Atikh Bana on Unsplash

Your Instagram Sucks

It doesn’t. I just, well … you’ll see.

Bless your beautifully composed, gorgeously shot, brilliantly art directed slice of wholesome modern life you’ve captured. You look stunning. That view’s impeccable. You must be over the moon. We know the levels and layers of intention, love, gratitude and joy that went into crafting the perfect moment. You are #lifegoals. You are #squadgoals. Just you and the waves. You and the mountains. You and the quiet Sunday morning. You and … wait, what the hell?

Now, obviously, I did not take this picture. It was cribbed from the Internet. But this isn’t going to be another one of those “social media is ruining society” posts where this old man yells at the cloud and tells you to be present and turn the camera around. No, you know what? No one asked me to tell you how to live your life. If you want to call up luxury hotels and schedule a shoot, so you can cultivate some hashtag weekend vibes, be my guest. I ain’t mad. Well, I am, but not for the reasons you think.

I mean, what’s so wrong with the Instagram influencer, anyway? Yes, they draw ire from those of us not aspiring to be “lifestyle bloggers,” “digital nomads,” “global citizens,” “mindfulness gurus,” or “entrepreneurs.” And perhaps if you’ve caught yourself staring down the barrel of a perfectly accessorized outfit against a pastel wall, and thought, “you know what? Fuck them.” Have you stopped to ask yourself why? I did today.

At first, I thought, “this is so clearly staged and inauthentic.” It’s a fine signal flare to shoot up into the sky. And that, for most people, is probably where their thoughts stop. But I didn’t want to stop there: I wanted to know what that thought said about me, and see what deeper, darker truths lie beneath. Perhaps it is staged and inauthentic. I let my feelings marinate a bit. But the true answer, of course, rests somewhere deep within my own psych— not within this “influencer” behavior I’m questioning.

People have been documenting their lives since the dawn of time. It’s how we passed knowledge down through generations. It’s how we spread news. It’s how we bonded with our fellow world roamers. There’s authors, philosophers, poets, broadcasters, narrators, reporters, activists, bloggers, essayists, twitter personalities and more.

People have been taking photographs since the invention of photography itself. Some people — myself included — take trips and set aside dedicated hours to snapping professional-ish quality photos of interesting structures, landscapes, coastlines and eggs benedict.

In these pursuits there are no shame. I willfully document my life quite transparently: not just the airbrushed dayglow of happiness and graciousness personified, but in the raging hell of the hardships and pathologies that make up the mosaic of the human condition — my human condition, even.

It is in that spirit that, when it comes to the influencer — they who document their lives by putting their winsome faces squarely in the center of the experience — I must confess something: my cries of “this is not real life” and “the world is out there” and “turn the camera around” are rooted in something else entirely: good ol’ fashioned envy. Allow me to explain.

I’m not envious of their lives: no, I, too, indulge in avocado toast. I, too, have a penchant for jet-setting and architecture and art and beaches and accomplishing far too much too quickly to process. No, I am quite fine with my game film compared to their highlights. I’m as hashtag blessed as anyone … this is something altogether different.

What is it that propels influencers to fame, notoriety and adoring, fawning followings? Sure, there’s humor, wit, a keen eye, depth of character, kindness, optimism and compassion. I imagine a few of them, contrary to our bellows of “vanity” and “narcissism” possess some or all of the above. However, one unifying trait seems to umbrella them all: These are all very pretty people. And that, candidly, is not me. And that insecurity, candidly, is on me to work through.

For as long as I can recall, I’ve actively despised having my picture taken. I don’t look good in them. I am not photogenic. I smile too weird. When my face is in front of, rather than behind, the lens, I become a horror-show. A nervous, fractious jumble of “are we done yet”s and “there’s no way this will turn out well”s. I do not know my angles. I do not accessorize well. My shirts don’t fit the way I’d like them to. I don’t know where to look. My hands shake too capriciously to hold the camer — err, phone — still.

But it’s deeper than that, honestly. Someone could easily teach me these things. Probably an influencer could … I’m friends with a few, after all.

No, this pathology stems from an actual poor self-image. Not underneath. I feel I have a fairly kind soul, and I’ve done a lot of work on myself as a reclamation project to try and become a better, more decent human. I mean, flatly, skin deep. I think I’m ugly. Well, not altogether gross, but, rather unremarkable. A solid five out of ten. Someone you wouldn’t do a double-take on if we were to pass on a crowded street, or even on one that was empty. I look like a blank canvas upon which you could paint another, more attractive human.

My face isn’t all that symmetrical. I have little-kid teeth. My jawline isn’t very square. My shoulders are as broad as cooked pasta, and my forearms are just as soft. I’ve got a spare-tire around my waist that’s carrying an extra 30 pounds in beer and pizza. I have the arms of a T-Rex and the legs of a corgi. I look like the travel-size version of another, more handsome man. I dress like a 15 year-old in his dad’s office attire. I don’t even have any spellbinding ink or piercings to give me an “edgy” look. No, I’m just me. My Medium avatar is, quite literally, the only professional photograph of me ever taken with my consent. I did it to promote an album I dropped in 2015 that sold 200 copies.

I’ve always had body issues. I grew up shorter, scrawnier and softer than your average red-blooded American cisgender male. And that’s what I see when I look at the life of an Instagram influencer. Not the airbrushed, inauthentic, perfectly art-directed snapshot of a life I wish I had, but, instead, I see a reflection of myself. I see my every imperfection, the every physical gift I was not given. I don’t think it’s a small stretch to extrapolate from there that I write as a way to differentiate myself, to do the Internet version of getting someone to do a double-take when we pass on a crowded street. These streets are incredibly crowded, and it takes a clever twist of phrase to cut through the clutter. That or impeccably defined abs.

I say all this not to rail against the Influencer Industrial Complex, or to tell you to stop taking those pictures. I don’t even say this to garner pity, sympathy or empathy. I say this merely to put words to things I’ve been feeling; to potentially move forward toward a more positive self-image. Perhaps I could ask my photographer friends to take pictures of me until I become comfortable in front of a camera, or until I relent through sheer exhaustion. Perhaps I could lose those last 30 pounds. Maybe I would feel better.

And I get that, to a degree, it’s silly to even vocalize such banalities, particularly because of who I happen to be. There isn’t a lot of pressure for men to look good. Not in the way women are prized and fawned over, as well as ridiculed, shamed and picked apart for their appearance. Men get off relatively light.

But if I could, I’d like to one day exist in a space where I can see a picture of myself and think that was just me and the waves., or the mountains, or the quiet Sunday morning, and smile back at what I see. And say to myself, “you know what? That one turned out quite well,” and have the way I see my outside match the way I feel inside. That would be #lifegoals. Even more than the luxury hotel.

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