We live in a rapidly changing world, where our online lives are becoming just as important to us as the life we lead offline. For years, so many of us have debated the ‘perfect images’ in magazines and on TV and many have fought to show the reality of the beauty and fashion world, as well as those in the ‘public eye’.
The fashion industry, as well as the beauty industry depend on consumers buying into the idea of ‘perfection’, the perfect body type, the perfect clothes to be ‘on trend’, as well as the perfect skin. When social media began, it was about connecting with those we knew, whether it was the classmate from nursery you wanted to reconnect with, or the colleagues or family members we see on a daily basis, or like it was for me, keeping in touch with those who lived far away so we could have a daily insight into what family members were up to.
I always shared a very honest snapshot of my life on social media, then it was just Facebook, but soon I began to see that those I knew well, who had personal struggles, were projecting something completely different on their ‘online profile’ through photos and status. I wrote about how I gave up Facebook and survived when it began to feed my own insecurities and a negative side to me, that I didn’t even know I had.
I then set up my Instagram feed, I had a private profile and often was told that people would love to see more, so The Woodland Wife was born and the personal feed was closed and I shared an insight into our life here in the woods to the public.
Growth was rapid, really rapid in fact, and the majority of the work I do now, isn’t just through people finding me through Google or pieces that have been written about me, I would say 95% of what I do with The Woodland Wife comes from Instagram. It has been a fabulous tool to connect with like minded folk, small as well as large brands to collaborate with and I LOVE the community. Then came the… *duh duh duuuuh* THE INSTAGRAM ALGORITHM and things for me, as well as many others began to change.
You don’t have to do much searching online, or even just exploring on Instagram to find out about the algorithm; why it was introduced, an insight into how it works, as well as how a lot of instagrammers have felt about the change.
I have always been very fussy with followers, if I suspect spam, it’s blocked, there are ‘lurkers’, I know there are… it’s the people I knew from years ago who just can help having a peek, but for the most part, I have a wonderful community who support and enjoy what I share. The Woodland Wife social media following has been amazing, but going forward, growing a larger community, whilst not something I desperately strive for, something I suppose I just assumed would happen after a while, has become increasingly difficult.
Why? Well, I think the simple truth is, what I share isn’t for everyone. I get that. My life isn’t glamorous, it is far from perfect and it quite honestly it simply isn’t to everyone’s taste. Just as I wouldn’t follow someone who buys all the latest designer clothes and photographs themselves on luxury yachts with wads of cash, those people are not going to follow a ‘country girl’ from Kent who loves nothing more than a simple life, with little money and tatty clothes!!
However, there is something new that has started happening…
Over recent months, I have seen feeds that I have always seen myself on a level with, totally transform themselves. I still LOVE what they are doing and enjoy their posts, however seeing these posts and the rapid growth and success they have had, I started doing the inevitable comparison game. For me, it starts with a pang of jealousy “damn that’s good!”, swiftly followed by a genuine comment about how amazing I think it is, then something else begins to happen… it is the voice I would get as a teenager looking at the perfect image in a magazine while I was covered in painful acne… “why can’t I do (look like) that?”, I then open my profile, I look at it and start picking holes in my feed.
I KNOW I’m not alone in this, there is no one feed that makes me feed creatively inadequate, there are a few. I also know that people enjoy my feed, my photos and my captions too, but as I look at those feeds and play the comparison game, it as if I am back in school in art class where the ‘star pupil’ has excelled herself once again, while I am doing the same familiar style and not really moving things forward.
I wrote this post not as a whinge or a bitch, I have been entirely open about how I have been feeling on Instagram recently. As mentioned above, I know we are all different, and there are people who enjoy my feed just as much as they always have. I also know that because I like to remain totally authentic, a photoshopped or stylised version of me, just wouldn’t work and isn’t what my loyal community of followers would expect, or even want to be seeing.
What strikes me though, as I move on in accepting where my feed is and the minimal continued growth, is that surely those feeds with the almost surreal, often Dali-esque stylised photos must be something a huge amount of thought and work go in to. Instagram has gone from sharing a snapshot taken on a mobile phone, to sharing a sharp professional image from a digital camera and edited, to now a professional image, then edited in photoshop. TV stars are editing out the blemishes and natural, curvy waistlines, while creatives are photoshopping themselves into stylised images. With online profiles, now we seem to not only share a status update, we are able to project an image of a life that may not be entirely representative of the reality, Instagram feeds are now being shaped, ‘designed’ to project an image, a lifestyle that has been created entirely for an audience… much like those images in magazines that we have all worked so hard to start to demand change!
It begs the question why? and who are we creating these photos for? Yes, many are a form of artistic expression, or for the people in the public eye, it is to maintain an image and a lifestyle people have already bought into. I so understand that, but in an app such as Instagram (Insta… as in instant) is such a curated feed really what people out there are enjoying more than the more authentic representations of life? What kind of pressure does this not only pile onto impressionable young things, or those just starting out, either in the public eye, or on a creative online journey.
Are these people able to take a step back and post a simply photo which is truly representative of a moment in time? If they do and numbers slip, is this something that will start to affect their own mood offline, like that of someone who goes on a shopping spree for ‘retail therapy’, that ‘fast fashion’ fix… once you start getting the incredible growth and feedback from the buzz of posting a great image, do they worry about making sure that the next image is just as good, if not better than the last. It is no longer a case of ‘posting your best’ version of you, we are now creating imagery to post for a particular audience, for a particular feeling…
Often I open my Instagram, and thanks to the algorithm I see these stunning images, like walking around an art gallery, I love what they are doing and I imagine how the image has been created. I don’t tend to follow the reality TV stars, who photoshop their skin etc, as it is these sorts of people I gave up on, due to feeling completely inadequate when I was so self conscious growing up, but I do worry about the next generation with these sorts of people, if I felt that way when I was younger, I didn’t buy the magazines, but when my daughter is older and online, what sort of pressure will that put on her?
I continue to enjoy Instagram, I love the community, just as I love those feeds who post such incredible arty images, the ‘comparison game’ of mine has stopped… for the most part, I can truly separate what they are sharing from what I am doing, as I realise I am sharing what I love to share, an honest account of me and my life, any more I wouldn’t feel comfortable, as I don’t think it would be an honest representation of myself. I share the ups, and the downs, I write about my health, my family and our life here in the woods, and I hope that will always be enough for my followers. I share an instant image from my iPhone, sometimes I share an image from my camera, I edit using Instagrams editing features, but anymore than that, it’s not for me.
I wonder how the image shared above of myself ‘wandering the woods with a blue tit’ will be received when I share it on my Instagram. It is an image I photoshopped as an example of how someone’s reality can be altered for an audience; as a designer, it was fun to create, but I think I will stick to the reality, rather than creating images from my imagination, apart from anything, any more than a simple bird on a branch would be a huge amount of work, and anything more than this, wouldn’t be a true representation of me and my life.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this; like me, do you ever play the comparison game? Are you someone who follows my feed and would actually prefer to see a more imaginative side to my feed? Do you worry about the pressure on the next generation? Do you edit ‘selfies’ of yourself? Are you someone who shares more creative imagery and love where this style is taking you? Or do you share this kind of imagery and suddenly feel the pressure to keep it up? Do you think online ‘perfection’ is sustainable, or do you think, like magazines, suddenly people will go against the grain?