My Thoughts and Reflections in Regards to Instagram
This has been a long time coming, something like three years in the making. So please bear with me as I piece this together in more of a conversational fashion. Because that’s kind of what it feels like, finally getting to sit down and share it all.
Before I start, I want to clarify that my objective is to be 100% honest and vulnerable. There are some moments I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but I have to believe I’m not alone in all these feelings, so maybe we can all just blush a little as we relate. And if you don’t relate, that’s okay too. But please, no judgment.
When I left social media in May of 2016, I was coming off the illusion that hustle would earn you followers, followers were the ticket to success, and success led to ultimate life happiness. I admit, I had banked a LOT on Instagram.
Somewhere along the road a handful of people garnered an interest in my life, my perspective, and particularly my walks around Tacoma. It was flattering and exciting. It encouraged me to keep looking for beauty in the world around me. But as followers increased, so did a fictitious pressure. I started to see patterns of what people liked and didn’t like and those patterns began to shape my decisions. Not just for what I would post, but where I would go, what I would buy, and how I would post about it.
I started to resent the way this made me feel. I was no longer seeing for myself, I was seeing for everyone else, hoping I would meet their expectations. [I didn’t know it then, but this was 100% self imposed. Those expectations ARE NOT REAL!]. When I first brought up the idea of leaving Instagram, I was challenged with the assumption that I had a following and therefore a responsibility to be an influencer. I had hoped people would cheer me on and say, you go girl, buck the trend, show us it can be done. But they didn’t. So I stayed, and I thought a lot about what it meant to use my influence.
Then I came into a season of life where I struggled to see the beauty. I knew it was there, but my heart and mind were grieving a loss I hadn’t shared with the world at large. Eventually I decided that I couldn’t bear the burden of staying silent, so I posted about our miscarriage.
This experience gave me the freedom to let go of the pressure to post— in hindsight, it feels so narcissistic to think that everyone would be sitting around waiting on what I have to share, concerned with whether it will garner enough satisfaction for them to double tap the screen. But in the moment, something in my brain made me believe it. It was routine.
I also realized no matter how loving and encouraging the responses to my post were, there was still a deep loneliness and heartache I had to face on the other side of the screen. No amount of encouraging likes or comments were going to bring me healing. And it defintely wasn’t healthy for me to be scrolling through so many images of expectant mothers (due at the same time I would have been) and perfect newborn babies. I needed to guard my heart and heal in a way that was healthy for me. I needed real people and screen free distractions--like fresh air and books and giving myself to learning new skills.
I listened to The Boredom Experiment podcast by We are the Parsons, a family who took a year off of social media. That night Jonathon and I began the same journey. I used my free time to tackle a long awaited stack of books, including a lot of Harry Potter, because one can never go wrong with adding a little magic to their lives. I also stumbled upon Shauna Niequist’s books, where I was hooked from the first page of her first book. She felt like the friend I needed to process with. She had been there, and was so full of encouragement and wisdom. I read ALL of her books in just a few weeks time. It was like we had just spent hours and hours sitting at a table, sipping coffee and feeling all the feelings on life and loss and love— I highly recommend her books.
I gave up the notion that I couldn’t achieve my dream of slow living until I had a farmhouse and a perfect garden. I decided to pursue it in any tangible way I could, from where I was. I had long dreamed of life without a car, and while it didn’t seem like a realistic option at the time, I opted to walk and ride my bike anywhere my legs could take me. (I’m laughing at myself now, because here we are with one year old twins and living car free. Oh hindsight).
I practiced being intentional with the relationships that truly added value to my life, and I let go of the pressure to be friends with everyone. It turns out my former title of “social butterfly” is absolutely exhausting to this introverted old soul. Funny how we can change as we grow older.
I learned that “slow living” isn’t about having loads of free time. For me, it is about choosing meaningful practices over convenience. Convenience simplifies a busy life. But the more I pour myself into handmade and homemade, the more my heart finds affirmation in every little task.
It didn’t take long for me to forget about spending time on Instagram. But I was surprised how I still had an impulse to take pictures of every pretty little thing, but without a platform to share those pictures, they would just end up sitting on my phone. Occasionally they would make their way via text to a friend who would appreciate it. But mostly they just sat, without any purpose.
Then there was the freedom to take pictures that were not “insta-worthy”, which turned out to be both liberating and surprisingly uninteresting. This helped me to document more meaningful memories, regardless of the light or background—moments I would have overlooked because of the all consuming need for a cohesive feed—that somehow caused me to forget I could take pictures that were not meant for Instagram—because memories still existed off the grid.
We can laugh at the saying, “If it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen”, but is it possible that we might live like we believe that? I feel like I kind of was—without really knowing it.
I should note though, I don’t entirely blame Instagram for the fact that I don’t like taking pictures in bad lighting. I honestly think that has more to do with the photographer in me. But the training of my mind to keep a “curated feed” stayed with me for a long time.
The good: Through Instagram I learned to see the world differently. I learned to see the beautiful hidden squares of a less than exhilarating big picture. Alternately, I learned to look at the big picture differently too. My eyes were opened to beauty all around me—even things I had looked at a thousand times, but had never really seen. I learned confidence in my perspective and ability to capture light (most notably window light). And I saw the power of community demonstrated in some really moving ways—in the creative world and individual lives.
The bad: Through Instagram I began to form an identity—placing a numeric value on my creativity and self worth. I wasted a lot of time. I compared. I judged. I believed that purchasing and owning certain items would gain me approval, success, and happiness. Admittedly, I fell victim to the romance of insta-fame.
Time away from Instagram was so good and healthy for me. I feel like I came to life in so many ways. Life when on and we experienced some of our biggest life changes while “off the grid”. I was fully engaged in my life, and I never felt that anything was missing. When our one year commitment was over, it was such an easy decision to stay off social media. I was a new mama and I wanted to soak up every moment without added distractions. And the truth is, I knew that I had not forgotten the ways of Instagram—it was such an ingrained habit that I knew if I opened that box I could end up right where I left off—posting, checking, seeking approval, and so forth.
Actually, it was tempting, a little. I was a PROUD new mama! And the idea of showing off my babies, my greatest accomplishment to date (that actually had nothing to do with anything I did), wasn’t completely unreasonable. But I came to the conclusion that the only real comments I needed were from the people in the contacts on my phone. So I would send out cute photos to those who loved my babies in real life, and my heart needed no more than that. No “approval” seeking, just genuine love.
Truly, I loved the freedom of not being tied to social media. I loved not knowing what was going on with everybody, all the time. I loved running into familiar faces and having them see my babies for the first time because they hadn’t seen hundreds of pictures of them already. I loved hearing what was going on in their lives, because I hadn’t been updated daily. It felt real, and like the normal I had been missing. It felt kind of like 2005.
It’s strange how social media is fairly young and yet it’s become so familiar, as if it was always there. Im actually bewildered by how quickly we adapt/accept a new normal—no questions asked, we just hop on board and off we go.
And for that reason too, I enjoyed my time away. It gave me time to ask questions and to observe from the outside.
Because I wasn’t on social media, I didn’t have much to look at on my phone (at least until the baby pictures started). This made me really aware of how often people around me were on their phones. I came to really dislike smartphones. I started to feel some extreme emotions (probably in part related to hormones), and every other week I’d say I want to get rid of our smartphones and the internet.
Unplugging from social media allowed my mind to have space to open up the real desires of my heart. Connectedness with people and nature became two leading factors, next to my faith, in my decision making.
I still 50% would love to get rid of my iPhone, but I keep throwing out excuses of why “I can’t” (or better yet, why it would be more inconvenient than I’m ready to commit to). Instead I’m trying to find ways to set up boundaries that allow my phone to be a useful tool and not detract from my day. (I could probably write a whole post on this alone—maybe one day).
Speaking of “I can’t”. Over the past few years I’ve had more conversations than I can count with people wanting to leave social media. And every time it ends in “I can’t because…”. Let me just say it, YOU CAN (if you WANT to)! So if you want to talk more about it, email me! We can grab coffee or facetime because I promise, you can!
Now, onto the part where I came back after 2 1/2 years away. Ugh. This is still pretty fresh and I haven’t fully processed how I even feel about it.
As a new mama and a creative, I found the utmost joy in making things for my girls. As they wore their mama made goods (bonnets and bloomers and dresses and bows) while we were out and about, I would repeatedly hear things like “you should sell these”, “if you posted them on instagram, people would want them!” and so on. (Please know, this is not to brag. I truly appreciate the compliments and confidence people have in my work. I’m humbled by it, really. )
I pondered the idea for a long time. I had always wanted Ivy & Tweed to be a lifestyle brand. It started as photography because that was the skill I had to bring my brand to life—but always with the hopes of being more. The idea of selling handmade baby goods seemed like a fun next step to begin the brand expansion.
Time, however, was NOT in my favor. I worked on the back end rebuilding my website to host a storefront for minutes at a time for months upon months. I finally came to a place where I had to say idea “ready” was relative. And if I was going to do this, I just need to do it.
So I jumped. I made my new website public and I sent out an email newsletter to all of the people who had previously be subscribed to my blog.
But fear set in. What if I put all of this work and effort into launching a new business and it never ever gets seen if I’m not on social media sharing about it? So I thoughtfully (with some hesitation) made the decision to re-join the world of Instagram. Full of excitement to share my new happenings, and full of nerves about how this would change the normal I had come to know.
And then there was a strange feeling I didn’t expect. Almost like embarrassment. It’s hard to explain but I think I had built up some pride around being off social media. I didn’t realize it, but I had formed a new identity, off Instagram. Funny how that happens. First my identity was being shaped by instagram, and then it seems it was shaped by being off of it.
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time almost vilifying Instagram. To clarify, the app itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s habits formed around using the app that can be problematic.
I made the decision that coming back to instagram was going to be strictly business. I had been “popular” in the past by sharing my personal life, but I wasn’t willing to give up that freedom—to live and be, without pressure to post. So I wrote out some boundaries and I had an idea in my head what it would all look like. I had confidence in my plan to manage bringing instagram back into my world.
Things did not go according to plan. I said I would post 1-2 times a week, and log off for the remaining days. But when I came back, it was all different. There’s now a stories feature, and all these articles for engagement how to’s and what to do’s and not to do’s and the despised algorithm. I felt like I had to learn a whole new system. And keeping strictly to business was harder than I imagined. My business is such a reflection of my personal life and I underestimated how that would challenge me.
Furthermore, I was surprised to feel an unexpected empathy/understanding for moms who share so much of their lives. (I didn’t have any babies when I left instagram, so this whole side of it is new to me). People say the early days of motherhood can be lonely and isolating. And I’ve felt it in some ways. But coming back to Instagram shed a new light on how people are connecting. Instagram has provided an avenue for moms (anyone really) to connect, relate, and share a moment of calm and cleanliness-looking for a shred of acknowledgement before the chaos ensues, and all evidence is lost. For many it’s a tribe, a community, a group of friends. It’s inspiration and information. I get it. I didn’t fully before, but I do now. And I’m thankful for that mama tribe.
I still long for ways to better to live that community off screen. But I’m learning to appreciate it for what it is, rather than rejecting it as a whole.
I had learned in my past that selling something that is close to my heart is a delicate act. First there is fear and questioning if my product will be accepted. If yes, there is the demand to create that same product over and over—causing [for me] a resentment of sorts—for taking away my time to work on anything new, or for my own babies. And if it’s not accepted (or so it feels based on the numbers), then there’s the nagging voice of rejection causing me to question my talent and abilities.
I felt all of this with my return. I felt the compulsion to check my phone often and see how people were responding to my posts. I started to think for the masses, asking questions like what do people want? How do they want it? What colors will they want? And in doing so, I began loosing my own vision while trying to blend in with the beautiful squares around me. Does this sound familiar???—literally all the same feelings that had come over me before I left Instagram. Why does this happen?
I almost gave up. I’ve been sleep deprived and time deprived this entire endeavor. There are a lot of emotions involved here and I literally began to question EVERYTHING.
I felt like it was a huge mistake. I was selfish to want to come back to Instagram and try to sell my stuff. I wasn’t nearly as ready as I would have liked to have been. I found all the holes in my website and business plan after launching it—and it felt like a sinking ship. And who was I anyway, someone who dislikes smartphones and the internet, to be adding to the scroll. I felt like such a contradiction and a hypocrite.
Instead of giving up, I gave myself permission to take a break from Instagram and from needing to make or sell. In turn I found a little bit of clarity and I’m still working out the rest.
I find myself wanting to have one solid stance. But instead I’m resigned to landing somewhere in the middle. The time is such. Technology is such. These things are out of my control. But my choices are still my own, and with that I have the power to choose how and if I will use technology/social media. And just because I make one choice now, doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind or alter my approach when it becomes necessary.
My conclusion is this. Instagram is neither bad or good. Nor is it isn’t necessary, but there are benefits to utilizing it as a tool. It’s not a marketing platform (although it feels like it has become such), so pressure to obtain numbers and engagement needs to be let go. There is a wonderful “community” within that space, and it’s because of that; the real people, the cheerleaders, the encouragers, and friends— I find joy in sharing my story, my heart, and my business.
I tried to put all of this in a box and call it black and white. But it’s just not. It’s a whole lot of color (with a white background--please laugh if you got my joke).
photos by Devon Michelle Photography