Instagram and the Self: Are the Filters Worth It?

Its 2016 and we’re all familiar with Instagram: the mega popular photo sharing platform that lets you curate your life—well, only the best parts—for all the world to see. ...

pexels-photoIts 2016 and we’re all familiar with Instagram: the mega popular photo sharing platform that lets you curate your life—well, only the best parts—for all the world to see.  If you didn’t gram that apple pie you baked last night did you ever really bake it?  If you didn’t gram yourself, arms thrown up, at the top of a mountain, did you ever really summit the peak?  Would you ever have even done either if it weren’t for Instagram? Does the answer to this question matter? In today’s world of personal branding and making yourself look cool, the gram is throwing some people directly into the limelight, and a lot of us want to be the one thrown in.  So the question is, are we leading true fulfilling lives and expressing our authentic self through the platform, or are we just “doing it for the gram”?

Instagram is an exclusively image driven social media platform, which makes it convenient for a quick glance between classes and visually appealing aesthetic, but it’s also extremely superficial.  As Hannah Krasnova says in the Slate article “Here’s why instagram is even more depressing than Facebook”, watching other people come off as happy, rich, and successful in a photo inherently makes you want the same for yourself.  This brings us to her idea of the “envy spiral”, where we essentially engage in an unspoken photo battle with the Instagrammers we follow, going back and forth with new “authentic” photos in a desire to make our lives look happier, more luxurious, or more adventurous than theirs.

The quickness and convenience of such a platform also seems to be a fallacy.  We would all like to say that our perfectly filtered photo of our sunrise run was as effortless as getting back into bed once it was over but this doesn’t seem to be the case, with Marketingland stating that the average millennial spends over seven hours per month on the platform. On average it takes a user 15 minutes to properly filter their photo then think of a caption and hashtags for it—because they want everyone to know they went on their sunrise run. After we post our perfectly filtered photo for the world to see, we spend even more time browsing strangers and friends’ accounts comparing ourselves and spiraling deeper into envy. But while the negatives of this app can be easily blown up, we must also look at the positives.  If a photo inspires a user to go out and do something they wouldn’t normally do, think: climb a mountain or eat a healthy meal, should it matter that Instagram is the reason they engaged in the action? Instagram is a platform that provides a sense of inspiration to the public that that humans a generation before would be dumbfounded by.

However, most studies still provide that overuse of Instagram could be detrimental to mental health and a persons sense of self. There are many instances of Instagrammers coming out and acknowledging that their Instagram use wasn’t authentic to their life, and in the long run was debilitating to it.  Instagram model Essena Oneill is the perfect example of this, later going on to re-caption all of her photos, and publicly voicing how unrealistic they were and how she felt no gratitude towards the filtered image of her “life”.  And it is true; we do often create distorted perceptions of others’ lives when judging them purely off a staged and filtered photo. The trend seems to be that it is beneficial only when the photo receives a positive response (increased likes and follows), but if said photo doesn’t do well on the platform a large amount of millennial users end up feeling worse about themselves (Mair, Strunz). As strong as Instagram is for personal branding and marketing, it’s about time we all put the phone down and look at the world through the billion-megapixel camera that is our own two eyes.


Beck, Martin. “Mobile Millennials Spend Almost An Hour A Day On Facebook [comScore].” Marketing Land. N.p., 24 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. < >.

Gajanan, Mahita. “Young Women on Instagram and Self-esteem: ‘I Absolutely Feel Insecure'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 04 Nov. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. < >.

Mair, Carolyn, and Lisa Strunz. “The Influence of Narcissism, Sense of Self and Subjective Well-being on Instagram Usage.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <>

Pearson, Rebecca. “The Ugly Truth behind My Perfect Instagram Shots: A Model Confesses.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. < >.

Winter, Jessica. “Here’s Why Instagram Is Even More Depressing than Facebook.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 23 July 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. <>.

Author: Gabrielle Natale

A senior at the University of Vermont interested in media, food, and wellness, with a side of off-beat dance moves.

Advisor: Rob Williams Ph.D., University of Vermont Professor of Media/Communication


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