Instagram: compare and despair
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Instagram: compare and despair

For years now, I have wanted to write a column with the headline "Instagram is the Devil". You see, I’ve always been wary about what an app concentrating on the visual could provide other than angst, envy and avarice.

I had seen Insta “stars” make their way into what is mainstream media today and wondered just how the hell they got there. I mean, what do they actually do? All I saw were pretentious poseurs with plumped pouts – people I would like to, well, politely, punch. If these people are seen as “influencers” to others, I decided I would rather remain uninspired.

Instagram: Surely there was more depth than bikini photos and plates of fancy food to be discovered?

Instagram: Surely there was more depth than bikini photos and plates of fancy food to be discovered?

Photo: New York Times

Each time I went to write my views on Insta, I was hit with the fact I was a hypocrite. How could I view it accurately from the outside? Surely there was more depth than bikini photos and plates of fancy food to be discovered.

And so, with the arrival of my cherubic new puppy, Roxy, this month I decided it was time to give Insta a go, as I had something worth sharing (OK, hiding behind). Photos of my little minx would make others smile. My contribution would be a community service of sorts rather than the usual boasting and bravado.

Well, several weeks later and I am seriously considering anti-depressants. This is not an exaggeration or a joke. Yes, I believe seasonal affective disorder or SAD (depression believed to be caused by light deficiency during winter) is a factor in my current bout of ennui, but damn Instagram hasn’t helped. You see, I was right. The site makes me feel like crap.

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These last few weeks it seems like everyone on my feed is in Europe, lounging with cocktails in Mykonos, frolicking in Positano, dining out in Florence, climbing the Acropolis in Athens and holding hands in Paris at twilight. I’ve endured beachside mansions being built, glamorous dinner parties I didn’t attend, cherubic children being cute, impossibly fit bodies, flawless faces and fierce fashions.

Meanwhile, I viewed all of the above in curry-stained flannelette in front of a heater I can barely afford to run trying to dry clothes while constantly mopping up puppy poo. My eating out has been Uber Eats coming in and romance has been confined to canine cuddles. And what is annoying is that I say this as someone who normally loves her life, who feels eternally grateful and generally upbeat, and who is most aware that should you scratch the surface of anyone there is pain. But Instagram hides this fact; it’s like everyone is a glossy magazine and I'm a toilet paper tabloid in comparison.

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Now, I am mature enough to know I am making myself feel this way, that none of it is real, but when already down there is little doubt it takes you lower. Which makes me most disturbed contemplating the pervasive effects Instagram must be having on the 90 per cent of young people using social media who are not so self-aware or assured.

And I am right in fearing so. A UK study of 1500 teens and young adults, #StatusOfMind, has shown that Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing, contributing to high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and “fear of missing out” or FOMO. Out of five social networks included in the survey, YouTube was the only site that received a positive score. Twitter came in second, followed by Facebook and then Snapchat – with Instagram the most negative.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which conducted the research, noted: “It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

The report noted that seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life. “These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude ... social media may be fuelling a mental health crisis in young people,” the report summarised.

Carmen Papaluca, from the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, has also conducted studies into Instagram’s influence on women aged 18-25 and found it creates insecurity and social pressure around body shape, diet, exercise, fashion, style and general appearance. However, body-related imagery was a primary cause of dissatisfaction, asmost of the participants in the study were already experiencing negative emotions in that respect. Many of those studied said Instagram creates unrealistic pressure about how life should look, yet they still felt the need to conform and emphasise their own life highlights on the site.

Perhaps one of the best examples of the corruptive nature of Instagram comes from the young woman with the most followers – a whopping 139 million and counting – singer and actress Selena Gomez. As someone who has been candidly open about her struggles with depression and anxiety, she admits she has a "complex relationship with Instagram".

"[Instagram] has given me a voice amid all the noise of people trying to narrate my life for me,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “So, it empowers me in that way because it’s my words and my voice and my truth. The only thing that worries me is how much value people our age place on social media. It’s an incredible platform, but in a lot of ways it’s given young people, myself included, a false representation of what’s important."

Hear hear! Because in my small time on the site not only have I felt less – when I know intrinsically I am not – but I have ironically also made others feel that way too. I received a text from a close girlfriend days ago urging me to get off Instagram.

Selena Gomez: "It's an incredible platform, but in a lot of ways it's given young people, myself included, a false representation of what's important."

Selena Gomez: "It's an incredible platform, but in a lot of ways it's given young people, myself included, a false representation of what's important."

Photo: Supplied

“You’re killing me,” she wrote. “All those pics of your beautiful puppy are making me miserable. I want one so bad but we can’t in our apartment. And now [our daughter] Elly keeps saying how she wants to move in with Wendy and little Roxy. Thanks a lot.”

Wendy Squires is a Fairfax columnist.