Why More People Should Embrace The Real Side of Instagram

December 2nd 2015

Laura Donovan

I recently had a cooking disaster and shared a photo about the experience on Instagram. For months, I wanted to make Guy Fieri's baked potato soup recipe, and on a chilly Monday evening, I was ready to throw myself into a cooking project and reward myself with the tasty results. I wasn't sure how the potatoes were supposed to look after 45 minutes in the oven, but my boyfriend seemed discouraged once he began cutting into them. When we were ready to serve up the food it was clear we made an irreparable mistake.

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Thinking that all the planning and work we put into our meal had been a waste, I cried like a toddler, and I made sure my 600 Instagram followers knew about it. You may be wondering why anyone would admit to that. After all, you can't tell from the photo below that anything was wrong with the soup. But I didn't want to be one of the many Instagram users who only tells half the story.

In recent months, many people have come forward about the contrast between what we see on social media and what's actually happening in a person's life. Many tend to edit their lives to only show the positive aspects. In 2014, Bustle writer Olivia Muenter confronted this reality with a viral post titled, "What I Instagrammed Vs. What Was Really Happening, Or My Entire Life Is A Lie." Bustle fans got a laugh out of that while still relating to the post, but not all stories about the real vs. fake nature of social media have a good ending.


A photo posted by JeSsIe CaVE (@pindippy) on

Last year, University of Pennsylvania freshman and track runner Madison Holleran shocked her community when she committed suicide after posting a peaceful image of park lights on Instagram. ESPN went on to publish an extensive piece highlighting the misleading sense of happiness and fulfillment on Holleran's Instagram account, which includes many photos of her with friends. Nothing in the picture collection suggests she was sad or contemplating suicide.

"The life Madison projected on her own Instagram feed was filled with shots that seemed to confirm everyone's expectations: Of course she was loving her first year of college," wrote ESPN's Kate Fagan. "Of course she enjoyed running. Her mom remembers looking at a photo on her feed and saying, 'Madison, you look like you're so happy at this party.' 'Mom,' Madison said. 'It's just a picture.'"

Since Holleran's tragedy made news last year, more people have come forward about the deceptive quality of social media. Several weeks ago, Instagram model Essena O'Neill tearfully explained in a YouTube video that she was quitting social media because it doesn't represent reality. O'Neill, who had more than 590,000 Instagram followers and 260,000 YouTube subscribers, initially edited some of the captions of her Instagram photos to provide more context to her images, many of which appeared to be taken spontaneously but were actually paid promotions for various brands. She went on to delete her Instagram page and YouTube account, wiping her anti-social media clip off the Internet as a result.

Essena O'Neill

"I'm the girl who had it all and I want to tell you that having it all on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life," she said in her video. "Everything I was doing was edited and contrived and to get more views ... Everything I did was for views, for likes, for followers."

ALSO: Essena O'Neill Faces Backlash Over Quitting Social Media

After O'Neill went viral for calling out social media, model Stina Sanders was inspired to be more honest on Instagram. Sanders, who once posted only glamourous shots, started sharing photos about the uncomfortable process of body hair removal, dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and having lazy days. She lost thousands of followers as a result, but after speaking out about her decision to show her true self on social media, Sanders gained tens of thousands of followers. She currently has 123,000 Instagram followers, and many of her fans have praised her for being so open about what's really going on in her day-to-day life.


A photo posted by STINA SANDERS (@stinasanders) on

"It's been amazing to see how many people actually can relate to the images I shared and also how they too believe that social media is a fake platform," Sanders told ATTN:. "I think I will continue to show the humorous side to my life however if I take a nice selfie, then I'm going to share that too."

ALSO: Model Stina Sanders Just Lost Thousands Of Instagram Followers For Being Too Real

Sanders, who said she's received an overwhelmingly positive response for her experiment, told ATTN: that she believes public figures and non-public figures alike are going to start embracing the truth on social media.

"I think there will be a shift in social media now," Sanders said. "I think people will have a mix of the two. Here is me at some awards show and here is me the day after with my make-up down my face, looking very tired. I think we'll see a lot more reality than glam very soon. It's definitely important because social media can be rather poisonous, especially to young girls. No one's life is perfect and that needs to be highlighted just as much as the fun side of life."


A photo posted by STINA SANDERS (@stinasanders) on

"Oh the IBS is bad!" Sanders wrote on Instagram. "So it's colonic irrigation time....."


Comedian Bella Younger is another Instagram influencer to challenge the insincerity of social media posts. Her Instagram page, Deliciously Stella has more than 77,000 followers and pokes fun at the #cleaneating and #thinspo trends by featuring photos of Younger eating junk food and intentionally appearing untidy. Younger's photo below, for example, highlights the fact that drinking red wine can redden one's mouth and teeth. Many Instagram users would just post a photo of a glass of wine to indicate a night of fun, but Younger likes to show the aftereffects as well. She has also posted hangover photos.

"My lifestyle isn't for everyone and #eatingclean all the time can be hard to sustain," Younger wrote. "Especially when you're hungover from Halloween. That's why after big weekends I like to eat delicious pizza in the bath."

Younger told ATTN: that the response to her Instagram account has been very positive and that a lot of people will tag her in their Instagram photos "when they're tired and fed up and going for the [doughnuts]."

"I think there's a sense of camaraderie about just admitting that you're not always healthy, you're not always happy and you don't always have a full face of make up and a filter on," Younger told ATTN:. "Instagram was starting to look like a walking [advertisement]. It was more like looking at a magazine than real life. If you've got time to find the best angle on your abs, hats off to you, but some of us are busy living our lives... and having poor photography skills."

Younger added that it's crucial to remember that many popular health influencers lead drastically different lives than many of their followers:

"I think it's important that accounts like that are held accountable for the unrealistic precedents they sometimes set, especially for women. Sometimes it's easy to forget that a lot of these bloggers monitor their diet, exercise and outfits for a living so it would be impossible for your average girl to be as preened, toned and earnest all the time. I'm sure that doing headstands on the beach all day and only eating spiralized vegetables is brilliant, but when I'm chained to a desk eating yesterday's pizza, watching the clock I don't want to be measured against someone [whose] sole job is to look really pretty holding a coconut. There's nothing wrong with a bit of aspiration, but when things get as humorless as chlorophyll smoothies, you know that something has to be done."

Regular people and Instagram stars are making a conscious effort to tell the truth on social media. Many have embraced the #divorceselfie hashtag to combat the stigma surrounding divorce, which up to 50 percent of married couples experience, and remind their followers that not all relationships last forever. More than a year ago, Arizona resident and life coach Nicole Holt went viral for taking her own divorce selfie:


When asked why she decided to post about her divorce on social media, Holt told ATTN: that she wanted to be open with her life coach clients.

"I couldn't really keep it quiet because I feel like it's my job to inspire people, so I wanted to turn my mess into my message and let people know that sometimes it happens," Holt told ATTN:. "I'm not pro-divorce. I didn't want them to see that it has to be a negative thing. It was something that had to be done and I wanted to talk about it because I know there are a lot of other people who are in miserable marriages, and scared to leave, and going through things that I've gone through, and I wanted people to see that you can be OK."

Holt said it wasn't easy or "super fun" sharing her divorce story but that it was a worthwhile post if it helps at least one person in an unsatisfying relationship.

"I think for a lot of people, it's nice to be able to edit and crop your life and make it look better," she said. "I think a lot of people are just lonely and think that they have to make their lives look perfect for people to like them, but I guess when it's on social media, you're still pretty lonely because we don't actually know you."

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