You know when you’re Liking a picture of a celebrity or a fashion blogger on Instagram, and you see that there are 100,000+ comments, and you click into them, start scrolling, and think to yourself, what loser would actually take time to sit there and write a mean comment on Gigi’s cute picture? Well...I would.
Or at least I did, for a brief period in time when I somehow became an Instagram troll. Now, I’m 'fessing up in the hopes of making it right — and trying to understand how the hell I wound up actually getting banned from a total stranger’s account.
I was, and still am, an Instagram fanatic. I wake up, wipe the drool off my face, and start scrolling. It's visual, never-ending content that can be accessed anywhere, anytime. It can transport you to faraway places, give you inside access to your favourite celebrities, and even teach you how to do your makeup in the morning. It is dynamic in every sense of the word, and with 500 million average monthly users, it’s obvious that I’m not the only one who’s developed a habit. But somehow, my lurking turned more malevolent.
It all started innocently enough. A big part of why I like Instagram is that it helps me keep up with what my friends are doing. But the bigger reason I like it is that I can follow bloggers and models whose pictures make me feel that unique mixture of voyeuristic euphoria and complex jealousy.
Take, for instance, @JuliahEngel, a.k.a. @GalMeetsGlam. If you haven’t looked her up, do. She looks like just about the nicest human on the planet, is kind to all her fans, and is super humble. But all of that was lost on me.
I came across a picture of her eating a cupcake, and immediately tagged blogger-shame account @YouDidNotEatThat in the comments in an act of shade. Why? Because I wanted to make some sort of statement about reality — that this person whom I did not know lied about what she ate, and that I was too cool to do that. But, mostly, I didn’t know why I did it — and I was confronted with my lunacy 10 minutes later, when she commented back.
“Actually, @itsmetinx, I did eat that cupcake…” I froze. I had never in a million years expected her to read all her comments. I felt so stupid. I would never comment on what someone did or didn’t eat in real life, so why did I feel it was okay on Instagram?
But the feeling soon dissipated, and I found myself on one of my favourite accounts, @RosieLondoner, in the comments section. There was a photo of Rosie posing with a fancy handbag and some shopping bags, with a caption that complained about being stuck in traffic. I tagged a friend, typed out “Another tough day for Rosie,” and capped it off with a crying-laughter emoji.
The next day, I realised that she had blocked me.
I was completely mortified. I felt mean and like a bully. No, I didn’t write out a death threat, or even throw rat-emoji shade on Taylor Swift’s now-famous post. But trolling doesn’t have to be R-rated. Comments sections are like ecosystems, and if you start letting a little negativity in, soon, they can become overrun with vitriol. Rosie knew that, and took swift action against my seemingly mild brand of negativity.
Here’s the thing: I love Rosie’s account. I use her recipes all the time, read her blog, and follow all her social media accounts. Her life seems pretty gosh-darn fantastic from afar, especially from my vantage point — I was stuck in an entry-level fashion job that didn’t inspire me, wondering if I could afford to go get a second coffee that day because I couldn’t stay awake, wishing with every bone in my body that designers would send me free stuff, too. That’s the thing about bloggers and Instagram. They don’t mean to make you feel bad, but they really do. You kid yourself into thinking that checking on their page is a nice little mental break at work, but constantly looking at people who professionally make their lives look awesome can make you sad. It’s hard to admit this so plainly, but it’s true.
I was prompted to take a hard look at myself. Why did I care? Why was I using my spare time to spread negativity rather than positivity? Honestly, I felt like a loser. Yes, bloggers and other Instagram celebrities do put themselves out there, but that doesn’t give everyone else the prerogative to be a jerk.
I spoke to psychotherapist Amy Jones Ed.M, LCSW, about what might have led me to make those decisions. “When we see something on social media that brings up an immediate gut reaction or makes us gasp, it can be a really interesting opportunity to learn about ourselves. Sometimes the reason we disparage other people [on social media] in comments, to our friends, or in our heads, is because that part of being a human being is something that we have completely repressed in ourselves.”
I needed help in my own life, and was put off by other people's abilities to put themselves out there. Jones also brought up the fact that not all negative comments are emblematic of insecurity: “It could be the case that you’ve done a lot of self-reflection and decided that entitlement is not a value that you are down with, and that your negative feeling is more of a measured response, not a gut reaction. And that's a different thing — [your comment is about] an incompatibility of values, not a reflection of an unintegrated part of yourself that you have shame about.”
To play my own devil’s advocate, or at least to explore further why I might have felt the need to comment on these women’s pictures, I want to call attention to an article by the brilliant New York Times journalist, Hannah Seligson. She wrote a piece for The Atlantic called “The #LuckyGirl’s Lie” and was subsequently featured on an episode of R29’s Podcast, Strong Opinions, Loosely Held.
I needed help in my own life, and was put off by other people's abilities to put themselves out there.
Seligson argues that much of our frustration and even depression that comes from stalking fellow women on Instagram is due to the distinct lack of recognition as to the effort it takes to have one of these "perfect" lives. These bloggers we follow never post photos of slogging themselves to the gym to get their perfect bodies, nor do they caption a picture “It took me 70 minutes to do my hair this morning!” Does this excuse my behaviour? Nope. But I feel a little better knowing that I'm not the only person who has reacted poorly in response to this phenomenon in which someone else's picture-perfect feed causes you to feel bad about yourself.
What I learned from all this nonsense is that: A) I need to spend less time checking Instagram; B) I need to take everything on there with a pinch of salt; and C) I need to hold myself accountable for my actions online. They count as much as anything I do in my real life.
And that brings me to my final thought: Julia, Rosie — if you’re reading this, I want to say I’m deeply sorry. I understand your choice to ignore my apology tweets, emails, and carrier pigeons. I hope you understand that I was acting out of a sense of misguided jealousy, and the truth is I am glad you have lovely lives. I wish you endless cupcakes and Chanel bags. And I really mean it.