A couple months ago, my husband and I were standing in line at a very popular restaurant in Los Angeles waiting for a table. It was a Saturday, and we were there for brunch. The occasion was our anniversary and I, being an avid TripAdvisor-er, had chosen this place based on its stellar ratings and attractive Instagram feed (and I do consider that a veritable source these days). We couldn’t have picked a better time to be “part of the crowd”. Everyone was looking at everyone, and everyone seemed to have had the foreknowledge that they were going to be looked at, and all dressed accordingly. There were felt fedoras, handle-bar mustaches, Chelsea boots, plenty of Rag and Bone, plenty of Madewell, and beautiful hair all around. Each young man and woman had worn their brunch-day best. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I participated to the best of my own capabilities.
Another defining mark of each crowd member was the presence of a phone, likely with Instagram open and snapping away at the restaurant’s gorgeous interior (and I arrived at this conclusion based on the amount of phones in the air, camera apps visible). When plates of beautifully presented #brunchporn made their way to each table, the phones were out again. I tracked the restaurant’s hashtag continuously and watched it update consistently throughout the couple hours surrounding our visit. New photos, new dishes, new perspectives by the minute. The same thing tends to happen to me when I enter coffee shops. It doesn’t even matter if the latte I’ve ordered comes with foam art (though all the better if it does); I manage to take a picture, play around with filters or frames for a minute, and perhaps upload it to Instagram with some small expression of how I am enjoying this or that.
I sometimes wonder how I’ve picked up these habits. Would I have thought coffee to be such a wonderful amateur photography subject were it on not for the countless other pictures of coffee that I’ve encountered on Instagram? Would I ever think to photograph my eggs on toast again if I hadn’t received a record amount of likes on that brunch picture? Or is food really that beautiful and worth my time? Is coffee truly that lovely that it deserves an artistic interpretation for hundreds of others to see when the point is to just drink it? I guess what I am asking at the end of all things is this- Am I a cliche? A “basic” white girl completely consumed by the culture of the world she lives in, minding no attention to the moment? Am I typical? Am I just doing what everyone is doing because we’re all doing it and we all seem to like it? Am I a slave to trends? Am I sacrificing all originality and all creativity for the sake of giving my “followers” what I think they might like? After all, one of the most common pieces of advice given in articles these days discussing the do’s and don’ts of Instagram is to “be original”. Don’t do what everybody else is doing! People want to see something different! You need to be different!
The answer to all of the aforementioned questions might be … Yes. But that “yes” may also need to be followed by … and don’t worry about it.
You see, for myself, Instagram has brought with it a large sense of shame. Shame for the fact that I, like so many other people, want to take a picture of myself when I love how my makeup looks. Or when I love my hair. I mean, how narcissistic must one be to want to take a picture of themselves and share it with others?! I feel shame for the fact that when I am now served my latte, I attempt to find an attractive surface to place it on so that I might take a picture of it, just like everyone else. I feel shame for the fact that I have no excuses for posting that picture of myself; only the excuse that I wanted to. I feel shame for the fact that I am not always entirely “present” now as I go through life in the sense that I’m no longer just “going through it”; I’m also looking for little Instagram opportunities, just as others around me are. I feel shame for being like everyone else. I feel shame for being me.
And it is here, my friends, that I believe I am met with grace.
It’s strange that in the world of Instagram, of all places, I find the shame of my false self crystallized and yet I am also presented with the gift of being myself. I take a picture of something I am enjoying, but then feel shame for “being like everyone else”. I attempt to create and share beauty with a photo I’ve taken, but feel shame for flagrantly expressing that this is what I truly perceive as beautiful, especially if it’s one of the millions of lattes under a coffee hashtag. Or my baby for the millionth time. I want to be perceived as different, as unique, and yet here I am again, uploading a moody picture of a frothy beverage in a ceramic mug handed to me by some mildly pretentious 24-year-old with a fade and some vague resemblance of a beard. Just like everyone else.
And yet, in those moments, I am enjoying. I am delighting in and capturing beauty. Though I may be acting as thousands of others do, I am being myself. I would never have thought of coffee as a thing of beauty were it not for Instagram. I would never have thought to stop and look at the appealing presentation of my eggs on toast were it not for the camera in my hand. I would never have thought to look up and observe the space around me from an artistic point of view were it not for the possibility of snapping a great photo of it. Instagram has given me a radar for beauty in places that I might otherwise have ignored it, and I love that.
There’s a vulnerability to social media. We take pictures of what we see as beautiful-including ourselves!-and dare to share it with the world as a declaration of beauty. We say, Look! This baby! This city! This face! This pair of shoes! This plate of salad! It is a beautiful thing, is it not?! This can be a very delicate dance between earnest self-expression and vain, outright self-promotion; of genuine enjoyment and mindless impulse. It is a good and righteous thing to be aware of why we take and upload the pictures we take. However, I believe that when we are conscious of the subjects of our photos, mindful of why we are sharing what we are sharing, taking true joy in what we are doing as we put our finger to that camera app, and delighting in beauty for goodness’ sake, we are actually being our true selves. And there is no shame in that.
Our fear of looking like everyone else, of being perceived as just another face in the crowd, of being a nobody, is overcome when we delight in what is good. My fear of being seen as “basic” and “typical” is washed away when I just enjoy; my shame is overcome when I freely admit this sense of enjoyment. Am I once again opening my VSCOcam app to snap a still shot of my iced coffee? Yes. Am I freely enjoying my iced coffee as a thing of beauty in doing so? Yes!
Yes, I am participating in social media trends that millions of others are participating in as well. And no, I needn’t worry about the millions of others. Why? Because I am being myself. I am taking joy, I am delighting in beauty.
I write all of this because I’ve struggled for some time over the subject matter of this blog and it’s “reboot”. I knew this blog would inevitably involve selfies posted to Instagram. I knew this blog would involve lengthy discussions over topics that many deem superficial and nothing of substance. I knew this blog would require me to be vulnerable in expressing how much I love things like mascara and Emma Stone’s hair, knowing full well that many may scoff and find such expressions “a waste of breath”. And I write this because it’s time for all that to stop mattering. I believe I have been called to be myself.
I hope you can receive and accept the same grace that I have found in being one’s self. To enjoy beauty, to delight in goodness, and to share it whether in speech or on social media- you are called to be yourself. And if that means another picture of a latte on your Instagram feed, that is perfectly all right. xo, MR