life, filtered: thoughts on instagram and identity


I’ve made no secret about the fact that Instagram is probably my favorite Internet. Instagram is a happy place, for the most part (unless you’re totally following the wrong people), where folks share the beauty and joy and interesting things in their lives. There’s no BuzzFeed Quizzes. No weird out-there political rants. No ugly. No mean. Just all of my favorite things: food, babies, nature, pets, scenery. It’s the first thing I check when I fire up my phone in the mornings, and often the last thing I scroll through before bed.

Which is why it confuses me when people feel the need to “expose” the reality behind the filtered world of Instagram, or confess that Instagram makes them feel insecure.

Look at your own feed. It’s not representative of every moment of your day, is it? Go ahead and make that assumption for others’ feeds too. While this Bustle piece in which the author reveals the behind-the-scenes reality behind some fairly stereotypical Instagrams is hilarious, it is also largely unncessesary. I’ve joked that my Instagram brand is “all the things you hate” (selfies, babies, food, drinks), but the truth is, I post the kind of stuff I like to see. Everyone who’s ever had a meal with me knows I like to take pictures of my food. But I’m of course not showing you a picture of the leftover lentil salad in a tupperware that I ate while writing this post– because while that’s “reality,” it’s not what Instagram is about for me, it’s not part of my day’s highlight reel, you know?

I admit, I take great pleasure in returning home from our Saturday neighborhood farmer’s market trips, arranging everything on the island in my kitchen, and taking a photograph of the bounty. Yes, I usually stand on a chair to get a nice aerial shot. Is that weird? Maybe. But it makes me happy, I love the colors and textures of the fruit, I love composing the arrangement, and then I put away all the fruits and veggies and move on with my day. I think little things like my farmer’s market shots help me to curate the things in my life that give me the greatest pleasure. While I’ve heard that photographing things can actually hurt our memories of the things we photograph, I think taking the time to take a picture helps me to stop and notice, to be on alert for the beauty around me.


And it’s not like my Instagram feed represents all of me, and no one else’s does, either. If you want more reality, you have this blog, where I often admit to shortcomings, guilt, and feelings of incompetence. If you want it REALLY REAL, you could follow me on Twitter and learn about my taste in late night snacks (cheese, wine) and shows on Hulu (lately, back seasons of Top Chef), which I watch while folding the mountains of laundry I never photograph– if you want to see a pile of laundry, I’m pretty sure you could just look at one of your own. There are plenty of places to get really really real. Instagram can just be a place to highlight the happy, and that’s ok. It’s part of our reality, and I think we all know that it’s precisely because of the less pretty, less happy areas of our lives that a filtered, curated stream like Instagram is so enjoyable.

This is why I was super confused by this New York Times Motherlode post about keeping up with cloth diapering for the sake of appearances, because the author wanted to project a certain kind of identity as a mother. One person mentioned in the piece even admits to putting cloth diapers over disposables for photographs shared on social media. Talk about buying into everyone else’s filtered identity and using it to judge yourself! I’m a cloth diaperer. I sympathize with the author of the post, Lyz Lenz, because I too have a heavy wetter– though unlike her, it’s actually made me more likely to use cloth, because while my kids can pee out of every overnight disposable diaper I’ve ever tried (and yes! I sized up!), I can stuff so many inserts into their nighttime cloth diapers that they don’t wake up in a puddle. But here’s the thing: while I really really love cloth diapers, while I write about them and advise others about them and use them most of the time, I don’t cloth diaper exclusively. Because sometimes, cloth diapering just isn’t the most convenient thing, like on days spent away from home or on trips or when my kids have a diaper rash and I need to use creams that would ruin my cloth diapers. And I’m ok with admitting that. You might see a disposable diaper peeking out in some of my pictures, and I kind of just assume that if you follow me, you don’t really care one way or the other. After all, it’s my kid’s butt, not yours.

Don’t buy into the idea that Instagram is real to the point that you feel guilty about your actual reality. Our lives are full of real beauty. It’s ok to highlight that someplace. Our lives are also full of real mess. It’s ok not to photograph that. It’s ok to live it, though, and you don’t have to feel bad about it. Because it’s life, the beauty and the mess. The mess just makes us appreciate the beauty.


2 Replies to “life, filtered: thoughts on instagram and identity”

  1. Oh my goodness YES times a million. I loooove IG for exactly the same reasons. It makes me notice the pretty and it helps me to look back and say “boy did we have a swell time…” Even my photos from hospital stays make me happy. I take pictures of the munchkin resting and remember how sweetly he slept. I can keep the memories of pain, and crying, and messiness, and burnt toast in my head. I won’t forget those things anytime soon. What I need help remembering is the pretty.

    PS: I totally wrote something similar last summer for the exact same reason. Enough with the IG hating. (


  2. Yes yes yes. I love IG, and love using it to look at pretty and happy things, as well as create things I enjoy. I find myself scrolling through my own feed looking at happy times and memories fondly. But I always try to remind people that it is, absolutely, my “highlight reel.” Recently, I was told that someone “hated me” (ah, the high school-esque drama of grad school) because I post pictures of eating out all the time on my grad student budget while she was struggling. While I could justify my pictures (bartender friends, I save up pictures, I work at least one extra job every semester), I had to remind myself that I don’t need to. Because I’m trying to make a positive, happy place, and there’s no room for all that.


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