I’m sorry – I really am.
I’m sorry because I really wasn’t planning to weigh in on the Clemmie Hooper/Mother of Daughters drama that’s been all over the news this week (Because who needs to read yet ANOTHER post about it, really?), but, honestly, the whole thing perfectly illustrates some thoughts I’ve been having about Instagram in general lately and, well, here we are. So, this post is sort of inspired by Clemmie, and everything that went down last week, but it’s also sort of not, really, and… I’ll just get on with it, shall I?
(Before I do, though, if you’re currently scratching your head and saying, “Clemmie Who? What the what now?” you’ll find a handy recap of the whole sorry saga here: it’s OK, I’ll wait…)
This whole mess has fascinated me: not just because it involves the industry I work in myself (Albeit on a much, much smaller scale than any of the main players in this particular drama, obviously…), but also because it brings up so many important questions about that industry and how it operates: questions of race, bullying, the use of children on social media, to name but a few. Now, those are all hugely important issues, obviously, and they deserve a far more in-depth discussion than I’m going to give them here, but the thing I want to talk about today – the thing that jumped out at me most when all of this came out last week – is this:
Before the news about Clemmie Hooper’s Tattle Life alias came out, her Mother of Daughters Instagram account had well over 700,000 followers. Seven. Hundred. Thousand. Followers.
I mean, just think about that for a second. Just imagine you have over half a million people following you on Instagram: commenting, supporting you (for the most part, anyway), and validating you, every single day. That was Clemmie Hooper’s life. It was her reality. And yet, despite having these 700,000 people who presumably liked her enough to follow her account, (And yes, I know it’s a bit more complicated than that, and that some of them may well have just been there to antagonise her. Even so, though, it’s reasonable to assume that a good percentage of those followers were, indeed, there because they enjoyed the content, so I’m just going to go with that….) she STILL went and sought out the opinions of a handful of people on a gossip forum who DIDN’T.
And make no mistake: I’m in no way defending gossip sites, or whatever was said about Clemmie on Tattle (Like most people who got sucked in by this drama last week, I did have a look, but the thread was roughly 15,000 pages long, and I just don’t have that kind of stamina…), but the fact is, you DO have to actively seek out that stuff: and, having found it, you have to make a decision to keep on going back and reading more of it, even although you know it’s going to hurt you. By her own admission, Clemmie did that. It somehow wasn’t enough for her to have over half a million “fans” – she also had to try to change the minds of a handful of ‘haters’. And that’s astonishing really, isn’t it?
This is what Instagram does to you, though: it encourages you to place more importance on the opinions of anonymous Internet strangers, than on the people who actually matter to you. It takes over your life. It drives you a little bit crazy, really: and, just to be clear, that’s not intended as a defence of Mother of Daughters either (Because, let’s face it, most people manage to use Instagram without engaging in the kind of behaviour Clemmie has publicly admitted to…): it’s simply an observation that’s been nagging at me for a while now, and the observation is this:
Instagram is basically high school.
And not just ANY old high school, either: it’s all the worst parts of every high school ever – the cliques, the bullies, the queen bees, the… awkward girls. There are good things about it too, obviously (If there weren’t, none of us would use it…) but, as one of the awkward girls – the ones who aren’t part of any cliques or Whatsapp groups, and who don’t rock up at all of the ‘Influencer’ events you see on Stories all the time – I’ve become increasingly convinced that Instagram is just one more place for me to feel like I don’t fit in: and to wonder if I even want to.
it’s all the worst parts of every high school ever – the cliques, the bullies, the queen bees, the… awkward girls.
Is it really worth it, after all? Is the lure of a few hundred (or thousand, if you’re one of the popular girls…) ‘likes’ really worth the time and effort that goes into getting them? Is it worth the way it takes over your life, dictates your feelings of self-worth, and affects your family? Because Instagram can do all of those things: and I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve spent countless hours setting up photos and driving to locations just for the ‘gram. I have spoiled days out and family holidays with my insistence that every moment be captured, and every photo be perfect for Instagram. I have wanted to cry over the fact that my baby was wearing a cute outfit, but I didn’t manage to get a decent photo of it, so how will anyone know? I’ve felt like some of my own outfits were “wasted” because I wore them but didn’t get a photo. If an influencer wears a cute outfit, but doesn’t post it on Instagram, did it even happen? And what would be the point?
Seeing as we’re being honest, I’ll make another confession here: I still do some of these things. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t seem to break out of it: so I don’t post certain photos, because even although they’re cute, they don’t “fit” with my Instagram theme, for instance. If IDO happen to get a decent photo, meanwhile, I can’t wait to post it on Instagram. When it does well, I feel elated: when it totally bombs (as is more often the case), I feel crushed. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that I like the photo, or that it documents an important memory: my entire self-worth depends on the validation of strangers on the Internet – and that’s just not right. It’s so obviously NOT RIGHT that it’s actually quite scary, really… and yet, right now, all over the world, there are thousands upon thousands of people, all hunched over carefully-constructed flat lays, artfully arranging autumn leaves around their sleeping baby’s head, or refusing to allow their friends to eat their lunch until they’ve photographed it from all angles. FOR INSTAGRAM.
I mean… that’s CRAZY, right? It’s ‘Black Mirror’ levels of insanity, and yet we’ve reached a point where this kind of behaviour actually seems fairly normal, really. Which is even MORE crazy, and makes me wonder if we’re all going to look back on this weird, Insta-obsessed period of history and just wonder what the hell we were thinking. Because I’ve already started with that, actually. I look back at some of the photos I’ve posted over there, and instead of thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s that gorgeous dress I loved,” I think, “That was the day I insisted on walking to the middle of a muddy field in stilettos, because I thought it would look good on the ‘gram.” And then I hate myself. A lot.
I’ve become increasingly convinced that Instagram is just one more place for me to feel like I don’t fit in: and to wonder if I even want to.
To answer my own question on whether or not it’s worth it, though, the fact is, for people like Clemmie Hooper, and other influencers of her stature, it most definitely is. For people with that level of following, Instagram isn’t just a hobby, or a social network: it’s a job – and a pretty damn profitable one, at that. There’s a lot of money in Instagram, IF you have a big enough following, you see: A LOT of money. And for some, I guess it’s not hard to see why that kind of security would make it worth it. The thing is, though, it’s not just the big-name influencers who are bending over backwards to make their mark on the ‘gram, is it? No, it’s not: in fact, it’s not necessarily only “influencers” who do it, either – there are plenty of “normal” people out there who get a whiff of that sweet scent of Instagram success, and start wanting more of it – not because they want to partner with brands, or become professional influencers, but simply because of the validation it gives them – which is also understandable, I guess. Understandable… but also a bit sad, and scary, really, and I say that as one of those people myself.
So, what’s the answer? I mean, it would be awesome if I had any kind of answer to that, really, but I’m afraid I don’t, so, yeah, nothing to see here folks, sorry to have rambled on for 1.5K words about nothing! I may not have all the answers, though, but I definitely have a lot more questions, which is why this most recent scandal has been so fascinating to me. It kind of feels like we’re on the cusp of something – some kind of big change in the way we use social media, perhaps, or, at the very least, a realisation that the way many of us* are using it right now isn’t particularly healthy, really. One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s that the events of the past few days have helped open a lot of people’s eyes, by lifting the veil on some of the things that REALLY go on behind the pretty pictures and the apparently perfect lives of the Insta-Elite- and it’s going to be very, very interesting to see where that revelation leads us.
[*Whoops: almost forgot my all-important disclaimer, which is here to point out that yes, I am aware that not everyone who uses Instagram is like this, and that there are still plenty of people out there who are simply using the platform in the way it was intended: to document their lives, without setting up photoshoots in order to do it, or obsessing over likes. If you’re one of those people, then good for you: and may more people follow your example…]