There is no doubt that online platforms can be harmful — plenty of studies show how being bombarded with overly edited bodies and seemingly perfect lifestyles can create an unachievable idea of "normal."
But the contrary is seldom considered. Instagram and other social media are rarely viewed as an art form or a vehicle for personal expression.
“We have to be careful about saying that social media is the root of evil when it comes to any kind of problem,” warns Marnie Wedlake, assistant Health Sciences professor at Western University and registered psychotherapist. “I think if we get into those binary assessments, we start to get into a really slippery slope. Like all things that can be used, it's cliché, but for good or for evil — as an art form, it's fabulous."
But Wedlake explains that Instagram’s artistic elements are not always straight forward.
“We are thinking, feeling creatures and our emotions are present in almost everything we do. So even someone who says ‘this is pure art for me,’ there’s still an underlying emotional agenda,” Wedlake says.
“Art is evocative. You’d have to ask the person who’s doing it, and the person who’s viewing it — they may have different perspectives.”
It is much easier to deem Instagram users who share an idealized version of themselves as fake — and perhaps that is correct in some cases. However, viewing influencers as designers who are merely crafting a body of work could be a practical assessment as well.
“When you are able to find the people who are using [Instagram for] personal expression, it's really refreshing,” says Wu Xiao, a second-year Ivey Business School student. “I really like the visual aspect of it where you’re encouraged to make your photos pretty and more aesthetically pleasing.”
Instagram has been a resource for Xiao to edit and archive her photography. But finding a way to appreciate other peoples' illusions without being overridden by self-comparison is challenging.
"I mean, everybody is a journalist, everybody is a documentary filmmaker, everybody is a musician, right? So I think creativity in our world has been really blacklisted at the expense of other things like the STEM world. And so social media is wonderful, because it gives everybody a chance to be creative,” Wedlake points out. “Everything in moderation, I suppose.”
Once users realize Instagram is a glorified highlight reel of someone’s life, they can avoid putting a user on a pedestal above themselves.
There becomes more room to practice crafting your own illusion. One that is not the basis of confidence, but one that is an imaginative interpretation of your life.
“I craft my feed by simply posting what I want only. I’m not for following trends and instead, I create my feed to truly mirror who I am,” says Nicholas Heaton, a second-year business management and organizational studies student. “Because my interests pertain towards fashion, my feed is just pictures of me wearing different outfits.”
How Instagram users frame themselves is completely up to them. An Instagram feed becomes uniquely their own through careful, meaningful construction.
Wedlake calls for students to ask themselves “what is my motivation for putting this out there?” before posting a photo.
And maybe more importantly: “How may someone react to this?”
All of these things are important to consider before entering the fabricated, yet somehow intriguing realm of Instagram.