Remember ten years ago when you made that MySpace profile? That period when you were probably, and hopefully still, literate in HTML? When “Und3r C0n$truct!0n” was a privilege of a display name? Remember the time when it was acceptable to rank and publicly display who showed you and your page the most love? And most positively, when the ability to create and decorate your online persona had first truly dawned?        

For some of us this was simply a dark era happily discarded into the depths of the cyber abyss, unable to reactivate any curiosity for Blingee stock or Photobucket edits. We all paid our fare for the bandwagon and rode up the timeline of different social media accounts. Maybe you made a Facebook comme il faut, then graduated onto something like Twitter or Tumblr…for the culture, of course.

Then Instagram settled on all of our home screens. It established itself as the intermediary of the social media realm, becoming its own nexus of (amateur) foodies, style bloggers, photographers, skaters, musicians, artists, and wherever you fit in. Your possibilities of expression within the ever-lengthening three-column display are unlimited, dependent on how you choose to limit it. Instagram grants us the ability to micro-curate to our own tastes; the choice of which images continue the cohesion of the account and username.

Oh, I gotta put this flick on the ‘gram but tomorrow morning for the likes tho.

We can’t forget the validating aspect of this application. As indifferent you claim to be towards who double-taps on your aptly angled, amply cluttered full-body mirror pic, by participating in this economy of likes you are inevitably guilty of it. Selfie capitalism can guarantee a hefty profit in likes, comments, maybe some thirst-follows, even promotion to the Explore tab to bridge you to like-minded folk over a sea of algorithms. Instagram as a networking platform is imperative to the modern-day demand of creating and maintaining image. The renaissance of “self-branding.”

To ground us back to the curatorial aspect of an Instagram account, truly anything is possible with recently added slideshow functions and video format. Keeping in mind selective presentation, what do you do with that beautiful landscape you took that would throw off the equilibrium of your coveted, sunset lit, selfies? Or that meme that speaks too literally next to all of your minimal snapshots of potted plants and OOTD’s? Do you post anyway or do you have a place to deposit it?

Cue the entrance of the Finstagram. By now, I’m sure you’re familiar with the terminology or have even been granted the access to follow a few. Finstas, for short, are secondary Instagram pages where you can actually be your damn self. What you post and when you post it is truly up to you. Nothing is off limits here: crying selfies, tasteful nudes, word vomit posts – you name it. The “fake” prefix becomes a bit of a misnomer considering the liberty that is allowed here. The Finsta allows one to momentarily escape from the rigidity of the main account, created by the pressure of fulfilling follower expectations. It lets you take a step back from that fabricated version of yourself.

Main Instagram accounts, or Rinstas as some like to call it, are not completely false representations though. Over time, the pictures you post accumulate into something even beyond your intent. Since accounts are usually perceived wholly, the entirety may not reflect your feelings now. If you’ve been an active user on Instagram for a while you must have developed your own curatorial strategy of deciding what is Insta-worthy or not.  Sometimes this can be a lot of pressure.

   But why does social media, something that we usually regard as leisurely, have to be so stressful at times?

Nina, a 20-year-old education major from White Plains, NY admits her early desire to distance herself from her apps. “I initially wanted to just get rid of my account altogether because I was beginning to feel like it was too manicured and unrealistic.  I didn't necessarily want to just make my public account more personal because I'd already accumulated a following of people who I didn't necessarily want to share that kind of information with.”

She now has two different Instagram accounts, one public and one private. She finds solace in her private account, which she uses as an “introspective and personal” space. “I use it like a virtual diary. It’s a medium to help me express and explore my vulnerability.” The other she keeps for networking and for visually curating her “intended outward persona.”

Regarding her own professional experience with the application, Breanne, a 21-year-old media student from Merrick NY, comments on its strength in comparison to others. “I think Instagram is the best platform for self-branding. The variety of things you can do on Insta are amazing. You can post pictures and stories, already making it broader than Snapchat. The fact that your Instagram pictures can be linked to all other social media platforms is unique also. People love to try to tell their stories through pictures, and Instagram makes a great place to share who you are by using your phone camera.”

Breanne has two Instagram accounts, both of which are kept private. Bearing a more scholastic perspective, she reserves her Rinsta for pictures with family and to document her involvement in multiple school programs. On her Finsta she debuts her more recreational side; pictures with friends, going out, and silly selfies.

Using the application in any of its various ways teaches us something about control: it’s in your hands. Instagram materializes the abstract parts that make up you and your social life. It consolidates and compacts everything under a username and the pictures underneath. The pressure that comes from your followers and maintaining this perceived online self can become sources of conflict in actual life. Ultimately, this is the reasoning for creating Finsta accounts. Setting aside a space to participate in what the app has to offer (the stupid fun part) without all of its pervasive qualities. It is your attempt at re-seizing control.

“I like to think I'll always be in control over my online presence,” Nina adds. “I would say that if anything, it's the people who follow me that have the power to oblige me to present myself a certain way. While that is very humbling and a little scary to realize, I think that at the end of the day, people affect us that way in real life too.”

It’s difficult to escape other people’s influence over our lives especially through social media applications where keeping up is what you must do. It can be a very overwhelming thing, but realizing that is the first step in alleviating any of that stress. Second is realizing that you aren’t alone. Blame it on any millennial phenomena if you wish but do remember that the control is yours. Go ahead and make that finsta, or put your account on private. Block or unfollow those who really need to mind their business. Or simply close the damn app and open it up again in five minutes. You know the drill.  

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