We all have little routines that help keep our lives on track. For example, every weekend I do a cleaning sweep of my room, addressing all the folded laundry or stacks of books that accumulated during the school week rush. While I’m at it, I also take a few minutes to scroll through my Instagram and unfollow several accounts.
Yeah, I know: The etiquette around unfollowing people on social media- particularly on Instagram, where one’s “numbers” are visible to everyone and their dog account- is still a vast gray area. In most conversations I’ve overheard (read: eavesdropped on), unfollowing someone on Instagram is nail in the coffin of a relationship, regardless of whether there has been an in-person falling out or not.
The first time I Marie Kondo-d my Instagram was right after graduating from high school. Determined to put the last four years behind me, I cleansed my feed of any images that felt too closely tied to the past. In this process, I unfollowed most of my classmates—not for personal reasons, but rather I simply didn’t know them and, while I wished them all the best, didn’t feel a need to see pictorial documentation of their lives going forward.
I realize that may sound harsh. As I mentioned above, we’ve been groomed to interpret an unfollow as a judgement against our worth. In the midst of our obsession with validation in the form of likes and comments, someone unfollowing you seems to imply that they either don’t care or don’t like you enough to keep up with your activities. In other words, it’s the online equivalent of being uninvited from a kindergarten birthday party.
As someone who now unfollows accounts more than she follows new ones, I would argue that our culture’s associations with Instagram unfollows are misplaced. It’s true that the decision to unfollow someone is incredibly personal, but not in the way we interpret it.
The second time I cleansed my feed was a desperate attempt to free myself from the imagery and captions that fueled negative emotions in me. From banal jealousy to dangerously destructive self-image issues, that “purge” was a step in my personal healing process. On the days when I was going to check social media at all, it was important to me that what I saw wasn’t constantly upsetting or triggering.
Long story short, my decision had nothing to do with the individuals, brands, and influencers I unfollowed, and everything to do with me.
Instagram is a peculiar platform. While mulling over the subject of this piece, it struck me just how much of it is grounded in a tug-o’-war between the internal and personal internal and the performative and detached. In light of the fact that what we share is now permanently entrenched in the Internet, those images have both everything and absolutely nothing to do with us as individuals. When we zoom the lens out, it’s all part of the same void.
I’m not really interested in another conversation about the consequences of social media. But regardless of whether you scroll for hours a day or only check in a few times a month, I think it’s imperative that we learn how to practice self-care in the Instagram world.
Reflecting on my own experience, Instagram has been one of the best and worst things in my life. At its best, it connected me to people I call my friends, introduced me to new opportunities, and opened my mind to issues I didn’t know existed (not to mention astrology memes—these are also very important). On the flip side, it acted as an accelerant to very destructive thoughts and behavior. Over just a few weeks, the practice of keeping my feed as supportive and trigger-free as possible not only reduced the amount of time I spend on my phone, but also lifted a weight from my shoulders. Without the constant influx of content that fuels negativity, I suddenly have so much room in my heart and mind to work towards building a more positive outlook.
One of the big lessons I’ve learned over the past several months is that we cannot shield ourselves from everything. Just like we cannot control the weather, we cannot control other people, or how the environment around us might empower or discourage our mindset. What we can do is take small steps to make the hard moments less abrasive, and to create more opportunities for happiness.
So, I clean my room. I vacuum the rug, I throw away crumpled paper, and wipe down all the surfaces. I also unfollow Instagram accounts that make me vulnerable to negativity. It’s not the popular or perhaps most polite thing to do, but it helps me to “be.” I’d suggest you try it, as well.
By Olivia Land
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