Asha sports a green
dotted dress by Ganni
HOW INSTAGRAM TOOK ME OUT OF MY REAL LIFE
and how I decided it needed to stop
PHOTOGRAPHY & WORDS BY ASHA RAVAL
Regardless of how it may appear on @mscoffeeandcream, my relationship to being “seen” as an image in front of a camera has been a very vulnerable part of me for a long time.
Growing up in Silicon Valley, my parents (and the adult community at large) were very focused on success, money, “making it”, and the American Dream to get ahead. I had very well intentioned, loving parents and deep down I knew they meant the best for me. They wanted to empower me to get ahead and have all the tools to be number one. This culture I grew up in is just a fact of life for many privileged groups of people living in America, and I feel very lucky and grateful for all that it offered me. And yet, there was a certain deep lack of connection and attention that affected me.
Since birth, expressing myself through creativity has been just as important to me as water, food and shelter. During High School I had a close circle of amazing creative friends and we had so much fun creating our own DIY photoshoots, oil painting and breaking the rules (as most young artists like to do). We loved sneaking into the library together and using the computers to watch the Chanel runway shows. In Statistics classes we would secretly pass around copies of Vogue. I lived in a powerful fantasy life – fed by Tim Walker editorial narratives, books like Lolita, and pop culture dreams that helped me escape my teen angst and the reality of my lonely family life.
“I loved having the freedom to be my own boss, my own art director and have a space for all my ideas to be visually expressed.”
While I pursued my passion for painting at Central Saint Martins, I was entranced by the fashion scene. I started experimenting with avant-garde outfits and snuck into a lot of fashion shows during London Fashion Week. I really enjoyed creating this external character and becoming more confident and bold through the fashion I wore. I met a lot of people in the fashion industry and ended up working for a creative director. Thanks to this, I would go to lots of shows parties, and even got to model for some really interesting projects but still – I felt empty on the inside. There were only men in charge and they never seemed truly passionate about art or fashion – they just wanted to do cocaine and fuck models. I became depressed as I saw that my fantasy life of the fashion and art worlds were increasingly difficult to reconcile with reality.
I craved a breath of fresh air and was so happy to move back to the sunshine, nature and people that don’t care at all about fashion in the Bay Area. I had already discovered fashion blogs during college and was a big fan of Margaret Zhang and Doina. Instagram started to become so popular and such a fun way to easily access beautiful images. My best friend and I at the time started our own Instagram account shooting mostly OOTDS and thinking that if Aimee Song could use her charming personality and fun outfits to become famous then of course we could too!
I gradually became more confident in my photography abilities and started my own platform as a vehicle for expressing my inner world to the outside and encouraging others to be confident in their own individuality. I loved having the freedom to be my own boss, my own art director and have a space for all my ideas to be visually expressed. It was helpful to have Instagram as a means of expression at a time when I was a young woman searching for a path in the world of so many options.
“I was so intensely focused on creating images that would look great in my virtual life and make me feel seen and heard.”
Once I had some followers, I began started getting free stuff sent to me and I felt a rush of excitement. It felt so good to have the attention I didn’t receive as a child from strangers, and to log in every morning to lots of compliments and get free gifts sent to my mailbox. I was like a kid in a virtual candy store with wide eyes and an open heart.
Instagram eventually truly took me out of my real life. It started damaging my relationship with my fiancé because I spent a lot more quality time on Instagram than with him. I clung to my phone and spent less and less time creating and a lot more time stressing over engagement, algorithms, and numbers. I was so intensely focused on creating images that would look great in my virtual life and make me feel seen and heard.
Real change came to my life when a few weeks ago I created some of my best work and really broke through two months of feeling bored and uninspired with my content. The day before Valentine’s Day I posted a triptych series of my final images and felt that wonderful sense of deep fulfillment when one has poured emotions into one’s work and the final result actually exceeds one’s expectations. The rest of the day I spent working on other projects, running around and ignoring Instagram. Milling about my favorite grocery store that evening to buy dinner, I took a moment to open Instagram and check to see how my work was being received. To my shock, Instagram blasted me with a long message about my posts going against their guidelines. All my beautiful blue and yellow squares had been deleted!
I literally had a break down in the store and started crying uncontrollably. I bought a bar of chocolate to comfort myself and inhaled it. That moment of salty tears, drooling chocolate, desperation, lack of control and anger was when I knew this was unhealthy. I knew this needed to stop.
I decided that what I share needs to come from a space of empowerment rather than a need to survive that hinges on be liked by others. I want to empower other creatives and women to find their confidence and voice. How can I do that when I myself possess such shaky foundations that rely on the admiration of others? Just because Instagram appears to give me certain attention I craved as a child doesn’t mean it is filling that void.
Social Media is not going away anytime soon, and it truly can be used for joy and on the flip side it can be used to tear us apart through envy, jealousy, and the comparison game. We all need to work on developing healthy boundaries to social media, and truly asking ourselves if it is fulfilling and what aspects or habits we need to discard for our own mental and physical health.
Am I deleting my Instagram?
No, not at all.
Instagram has many enriching aspects like globally connecting me to a thriving community that I would have never been able to cultivate without this virtual world. I’m now learning that I am in control of my life. I allow myself to confidently say no to Instagram. I practice small baby steps toward putting my inner happiness before my digital image, and always praise myself with positive affirmations for every small action that is a success.
Wherever you are in the world, you can spark this conversation among your community. We are all learning how to adapt and thrive as happy humans, and our actions and conversations in the present will shape the digital culture of future generations. Let’s leave them with a vibrant, enriching digital culture to inherit and the emotional tools to lead happy lives!