What The Instagram Trend I Love To Hate Taught Me About Joy
I’ve seen a pattern on Instagram develop among fashion-minded folks as young as 14 years old – and I hate it.
At some point in the last 5 years, highly-stylized, professionally photographed, unrealistic IG posts transitioned to unfiltered, carefree photos that my boyfriend now calls “Cool Girl Posts.” Admittedly, they are very cool and mysterious. But let me explain why most of the time, I hate them.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s some identifying factors: often stunningly attractive individuals, tight detail shots, sometimes cropped, odd poses and random (probably blurry) outtakes, usually captioned with all lower-case letters. You might see something vague like:
Captions like these are not inherently bad. Caption whatever the fuck you want. But I want to be clear about the message these posts overall convey, at least to me. When I see this, I see “I’m hot, I generally do not give a fuck, and I am vaguely sad.” See also: I am too cool for you. I am too cool to care.
I am not writing this to talk down to or shit talk the people on IG who do this. I both attempt to do this often and admire women who can be unfiltered and raw. When I am feeling vaguely unhappy, there is no desire on the planet greater than my desire to post a hot and somehow blurry photo of my face with the caption “hey.” I sustained 2 years of my life in NY purely on the affirmations from attempting photos like these. But eventually, I realized, I was still miserable.
My vague posts about nothing helped me feel confident until I came across other women who were hotter, who cared less, who were more sad or more artistic. I saw other women attempt the same thing as me and do it better. In my effort to appear different, all the patterns looked exactly the same. As I scrolled through my feed of unique folks I idolized, I realized we all regurgitated the same format.
Unable to accept the idea of not being entirely original, for a while I decided to stop posting photos of myself. I decided solo photos were narcissistic. Maybe I should focus on things that are meaningful, I thought. Maybe I should focus on photos of other people. Maybe I should post a photo with an incredibly self-deprecating caption so people know I don’t take myself too seriously?
At some point down the line, after years of deactivating and deleting IG accounts and starting new ones, I started to see a new pattern develop—one that didn’t make me feel bad. If anything, it made me feel good. I wanted to know, is it possible to engage with social media without making people feel worse about themselves? Can you make people feel better? I wasn’t sure, but someone whose IG feed was full of LOOKS and also made me feel happy and good was Tracee Ellis Ross.
At first, I didn’t understand why. She is stunningly beautiful, successful, and has what appears to be infinite amounts of money and clothes. Why didn’t that make me feel bad? How does looking at photos of her give me more energy instead of less? Ultimately, Tracee has two things that I did not know I needed: confidence and joy.
Starting this clothing company with Andrea has been one of the most fun creative projects I’ve ever attempted in my life. I’ve adored having an outlet for something I spent so much of my time thinking about. I love clothes. As someone who is always feeling 100 different emotions at a time, I love having a daily outlet to express myself.
But as someone who has also desperately pursued the idea of being “cool”, it’s been hard. I find myself thinking we could never accomplish being legitimately cool or unique. Since every idea has already been done before, what is the point of any of this?
I was knee-deep in my confusion and disappointment when I heard Tracee's acceptance speech at the People’s Choice Awards for “Fashion Icon.” Even though I knew she was a bright, bubbling personality, something in me tightened preparing to hear someone make me feel small, someone mysterious and timid and effortlessly cool. Instead, after dancing and smiling and making goofy jokes, she said, “Let your clothes be your superhero cape allowing you to be the best you you can be. Activate the clothes through your joy and commitment to the world that you want to see.”
Joy. That’s what she has. That’s why looking at her photos made me feel good. It wasn’t because they were of other people or they were inherently selfless. She has tons of gorgeous photos of her face or body or of her dancing or whatever she feels like doing. It was because of her joy. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the point of starting this company with Andrea is this. Because I like it. Because it brings me joy.
Unfortunately, where is one place you can get joy? Confidence.
During my four challenging years pursuing being an actor in NYC, choosing what to wear everyday was one of the only experiences that made me feel even a glimpse of confidence. But instead of honing that, sharing that with people, being proud of the few things in my life that made me happy, I posted moody photos of myself looking unhappy or unimpressed, copying the women I looked up to because I thought that’s what confidence looked like.
Now, when I see my lowercase captions paired with carefully chosen photos that said “today sucks hbu” I don’t see confidence. I see timidity. I see fear. How come in all of these cool, carefree, random photos we so rarely see joy? When did our happiness become uncool? And I know I’m already asking a lot of questions here, but if we want to convey to people that we are unique, raw, and special, why don’t we have more to say?I hope that as IG trends continue to fluctuate, we might see a surge in people showing themselves when they are confident or joyful. I hope we will get to see it and have some of it for ourselves. I don’t want people to look at IG and exclusively feel bad anymore (though there is a time for that). Here’s hoping we can start to help people feel good AND cool, activating our clothes through our joy.