What happened when I deleted all my instagram posts
There are many things in life that you think you’ll never erase. The steadfast things that uphold your identity. For you, it might be your family photo albums or your passion for all 750 types of cheese produced on the British Isles. For me, it is my love of sultry 90s prog-rock, my tattoo, my fervent belief in the value of liberal arts degrees and up until recently, my instagram photos.
From 2015-2016 I was known as ‘the instagram friend’. The one who would always take photographic evidence of every event, spend 5 minutes faffing to get the shot just right and could be relied upon to be online at all hours of the day. Curating my instagram feed, editing it with carefully chosen VSCO filters and building a beautiful digital version of my life had started to become as natural as breathing. I could make a humble latte from Pret seem ethereal.
From the outside life looked glamorous, effortless and fun but as we all know that’s not the actual reality. Friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time stopped contacting me because they could just log in and look at my page. When I did speak with a few of them, living outside London, I could see that my edited exterior had isolated them. One of them, a best friend since aged 13 even said that I was ‘clearly too cool to be friends with [them] anymore.’ I was meeting new people, being invited to widely publicised events, I even got picked up for a fashion job and yet… and yet.
I’ll now happily admit that my instagram habit was a coping mechanism, a form of control exertion over a life that didn’t want to co-operate. It worked for me at the time, a time of extreme highs and lows of my both my bank account and my personal wellbeing but there reached a point where that level of daily content and curation was not sustainable. It was not sustainable for someone who was doing it for completely the wrong reasons. It was not sustainable who was isolating her true friends, turning her daily experiences into opportunities for content and not dealing with the issues all this filtering was really trying to soften.
By 2018 I had found what I was looking for. A daily purpose in my career, my social life and in my personal identity. No outside validation required. I had moved on. I was posting maybe a few times a month. Each photo one I really liked, even if it didn’t necessarily match ‘my vibe’. A nice selfie with my boyfriend looking disheveled on a cold trip to Paris. I looked tired with errant hairs but I was undeniably happy. Sharing projects from work that I was really proud of, excerpts from articles I had published, fun snaps I had covered in emojis because it was fun to.
After a while it started to become pretty apparent that even though I had changed, my instagram hadn’t. I’d set an unrealistic ideal for my followers, and myself, that was still desperately clinging to a part of my identity. My personal brand, my ‘online presence’ had become indistinguishable from who I was as a person. Three years ago I was still pursuing being a fashion writer and so wanted to fit into that aesthetic. Three years ago I hadn’t yet discovered my passion for education, for tech, that my motivation for writing about fashion was actually a fascination with the culture. The bits that looked good but also the bits that didn’t. The old version of me, the one everyone had grown to expect was following me around. Making me feel like a failure for posting non-curated photos. My followers dropped, my likes dropped and with the new algorithm, my online ‘clout’ really took a hit. I shouldn’t have cared, but in a world where numbers show social validation and provide daily dopamine, the change felt drastic.
Much like my possessions before Mari Kondo entered my life, I had instilled a huge amount of value in my instagram feed where perhaps there is actually very little that still remains. Akin to a valentines card from an ex or an out of date syllabus for a course you never took, instagram is an object that makes us feel weighted under the burden of our former selves. It demands that we keep recreating what has come before, that we compare the past to the present that we live with one foot in either place.
Fortunately instagram has a handy ‘archive’ option, which allows you to remove photos and stories from your page and store them in a private place. It’s not a delete button, but it’s a nice layover on the way there. After thinking long and hard - and doing a lot of scrolling and procrastination - I finally went through and archived every single post. This process of analysing each image, reading the caption, remembering the moment taught me a few things:
Almost every single nice photo on instagram that looks candid, isn’t.
You can have too many photos of coffees, foods but not of cute dogs.
Most people’s captions are either attention seeking, banal or literally an after thought. Only a few really add value.
The photos that were hard to archive were with memories about people, places or emotions attached. The prettiest ones, the ones about products, shopping or showing off a fancy place were easy to let go of.
I really liked to take selfies.
After I had finished it only took a few hours for a friend to DM me asking ‘Where have you gone!?’ as if something dramatic had happened. Truth be told, something had, I no longer felt my instagram defined me. A weight had been lifted. So, despite unarchiving a few posts over the months that followed, bringing back a few that held memories, I did so with intention, with positivity and with my identity firmly detached from the photo.