I’ve had an Instagrammable few weeks. In that, it’s been photogenic but also sort of ridiculously indulgent. I got married and went on honeymoon and those are two occasions during which you are positively encouraged to view yourself as a rich and glamorous person, even when you are not. (In the lead-up to my wedding, I regularly said things like “What’s another £500, you know?”, which now, a few weeks later and without that £500 in my bank account, seems ridiculous.) And as well as being photogenic and generally luxurious, it’s been a straightforwardly happy time. So I’ve been very present on the social media platform that values nice cheerful imagery above all else.
I’ve basically ignored my Twitter (I associate it with work) and while I’ve been tagged in Facebook posts, I haven’t shared anything there because Instagram is – as I saw someone refer to it this week – a “good news platform” and the place where I feel most comfortable depositing happy little items about my life.
There is a giddy girlishness about Instagram that is actually pretty sweet. All those red hearts! All those women complimenting each other! On the whole, Instagram is a platform that is embraced more by women than men, with 2016 figures putting the gender split at 58 per cent to 42 per cent, female to male – and on my feed that split is more like 90 to 10. Perhaps it’s that overwhelming girlishness that makes some so suspicious of Instagram. The steretopically feminine pursuits of homemaking and dressing up are exahlated and it can feel a little like being a teenager again, all outfits and envy, but the camaraderie it engenders is positively teen-like, too. In the messaging function, I exchange short notes with other women , discussing our lunch and our days and it can be as banal or as strangely intimate as we like.
My few hundred Instagram “followers” and the people I follow on the platform are pretty much my work friends, my sisters and some people with whom I’ve struck up Internet friendships. I am not an “influencer”, nobody is sitting around waiting for my “content” – but there is a little community there that I can dip in and out of, and it’s a pleasant way to pass the time, scrolling past pictures of fancy outfits and newborn babies (hi, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.) and other people’s special occasions. I even like the avocados.
I had one of those typical Instagram experiences when I saw the picture: I felt happy for her, almost like I knew her, before I realised that I have actually never met her
The major criticism of Instagram is that it doesn’t look like real life and that it promotes an unhelpful beauty standard and yeah, I get it – it’s a visual platform where people attempt to ape advertisements in order to sell an idealised version of their own lives. But alongside that, it’s a place where people tell stories – literally with the Snapchat-like Stories feature or in the captions beneath their pictures. Women I follow discuss the difficulties of breastfeeding and the vagaries of freelance working. They talk about depression and endometriosis and the realties of disability. If your feed is all skinny influencers and contouring kits you should actively seek out more interesting accounts to follow.
And even those impossibly glamorous women, the ones with tens of thousands of followers and deals with advertisers, can startle you with their candour. This week, Katherine Ormerod, an influencer who regularly shares pictures of shoes and really expensive bathrooms, posted a picture of herself with a burgeoning baby bump. I had one of those typical Instagram experiences when I saw the picture: I felt happy for her, almost like I knew her, before I realised that I have actually never met her. But it was her caption in which she outlined the reality of her pregnancy that really made me take notice. She explained that while she was struggling to get pregnant, Instagram pregnancy announcements made her feel “jealous and really sad” and so she wanted to be honest.
“Really I just want to say that if you're out there struggling to conceive, dealing with infertility or absolutely miserable with sickness and feeling down, you are so far away from being alone,” she wrote. “Instagram is a good news platform, so it's easy to believe that everyone else just falls pregnant immediately and coasts effortlessly through their 9 months...But…the truth is a smidge bleaker. Nothing – even good news – is perfect and there are always two sides to every picture.” It’s an announcement particular to the times we live in, with that anticipation of the envy, that acknowledgement of the untruths contained within our posts. And for that reason, I found it moving.
In the middle of my honeymoon, there was a day when I didn’t post anything on Instagram – no Italian tomatoes, no dramatic cliffs. I had a violent stomach bug. I lay shivering and sick in the bathroom for 12 hours, I couldn’t even drink water so taking a paracetamol to reduce my temperature was impossible. I was sweating and hallucinating, with outlines of animals jumping in front of my eyes. “All I can see is rabbits and lizards,” I screamed at my husband, who was hovering around with a flannel and some extra loo roll.
“You won’t be putting this bit on Instagram,” he said. And yeah, it’s true. I didn’t. But if any nice women want to slide into my Insta DMs and discuss the particular horror of simultaneous vomiting and diarrhoea, I’ll be down with that. Just because we like nice pictures doesn’t mean we can’t be real.