Why I left Instagram, and What its Future is for Me

Why I left Instagram, and What its Future is for Me

On Tuesday, I quit Instagram.

I returned on Saturday… ish. It doesn’t sound like long, but it felt it.

On the Sunday night preceding this, I wrote a lengthy piece on a private OneNote about the discontent I’ve been feeling with Instagram for several weeks, just to get it out. I started off writing about my follower count, wanting to have more followers than posts, wanting to get to 1000, feeling the pressure of doing giveaways at milestones like everyone else. I wrote about the ruthless lengths I’ve seen some Instagrammers go to get more followers, hitting 1000 within weeks while following over 2000 accounts themselves (seems a bit hollow, if you ask me). I didn’t want to be associated with a culture of number chasing – begging people to like, follow and so forth – instead wanting my work to speak for itself, letting others decide if they want to follow me as opposed to being pressured into it. At this point I asked myself: If I don’t want to number chase anymore, what’s the point? I found that question difficult to answer.

I tried to explore that I still want my voice out there, still want to make some change in the world, and that having a social media platform is a good place to start. Only it’s taken a backseat in my mind because I love my job so much and I wonder if I’m happy just focusing on that. Yet, there’s another question too: How much has Instagram influenced who I am?

My content is very highly specialised to The Smiler, which is honestly a bit of a corner I’ve backed myself into. I can’t deny its influence on my life – it saved me – but it’s inspired so much change in me and I want to share that too. I feel pressured to post only about things related to The Smiler, or it won’t get enough likes, won’t get me more followers, won’t get me more attention for the words I want to say. So I tried to post more ride pictures and they got a good number of likes, but they were overshadowed by the stagnation, and even drop, of my followers. What I came to realise as I explored this whole thing was that I felt like if my posts weren’t getting the attention then it must mean that no one cares and that I’m not good enough. It’s all I could feel. I understand not everyone presses the like button on posts that they like – I am one such person – but the numbers became an obsession that my self-esteem became attached to. I walked straight into the trap, even when I said I wouldn’t.

So all that had been going through my head, highlighted more by a day I spent in non-Smiler related clothes and feeling lighter and more free for it… And then came Tuesday.

It was impossible to escape the Black Lives Matter movement on Instagram. I agreed with everything they were standing for but also remained in the stance that real life is not social media, just as social media is not real life. I didn’t want to post about it, believing that it’s not going to have much real world impact to the victims and their families to say a few words that will be forgotten in a few weeks’ time. If I was to say something, I wanted it to be honest, from my heart and no one else’s. I tried to stick to my guns, but the pressure to make posts about it, to share stories, was incredible! I’d seen the words “Silence is compliance” bounced about. It’s fucking not! Just because someone doesn’t make a post about the matter on social media does not mean they don’t sympathise with it in real life – social media is not real life. But then the music industry started the idea of posting black pictures with nothing attached, and everyone – even people who up until this point had said nothing and hadn’t posted anything in months – seemed to jump on it. I didn’t want to add to the fad, but felt utterly convinced that the longer I left it, the more harshly people would judge me if I did say something. The pressure was overwhelming! So I quit. Logged out. Blocked the app on my phone. Highly restricted several other social media platforms too. I just wanted to rediscover who I actually am when social media is taken away and to return to the idea that that’s good enough.

Two days later, I watched this video by Cornelia Grimsmo. In it, she speaks about the situation in America, and specifically talks about not judging people for not posting, that everyone reacts in their own way. It was such an incredible relief to see it, for someone else to acknowledge what I was feeling as okay. I briefly broke my Instagram sabbatical to post it to my story, then immediately logged out again. I still wasn’t done. I was still rediscovering myself.

As I write this, it’s Saturday. I’ve just come back from seeing the Alton Towers gardens and eating a picnic on the grass, huddled under an umbrella with Matt against the rain. Sometimes life’s simplest moments really are the best. I loved us looking like a pair of idiots sharing an umbrella in the middle of a vicious downpour. I even posted a single picture of me in the gardens, although I took many more – a post I had planned since buying tickets which the intention of going back on my sabbatical straight after. Instead, I’ve made some serious changes to my Instagram.

Almost as soon as I dumped Instagram, I started to re-emerge. There is an overlap between what I post on Instagram and who I am, but it’s not the whole story. As I’d posted more Smiler stuff to continue number chasing, Instagram had started to take over my identity. When I quit it, I felt a fire relight somewhere inside me the next day. That fire is my spirit, it’s a particularly strong one, and it doesn’t like being doused by pressure and expectations. And so, for the first time in quite a while, I got my makeup out and applied some eyeshadow and mascara in a way that reflected my inner strength, but was still subtle and fitting with the rest of my fair tones (dark makeup can look very harsh on my face sometimes). As soon as I did it, I had the biggest smile I’ve had for weeks. Finally, who I am on the inside was reflected on the outside. I took some pictures and one is my new Instagram profile picture. I’ve also changed my bio and unfollowed 30 accounts. Instagram now has strict timers on it, and I’m intent on reserving a time when I can scroll so I don’t look the rest of the time. I’m tired of the pressure to post certain things, to present myself in a certain way for likes or followers. I’m tired of letting expectation and number chasing douse my flames. It’s not going to be for the numbers anymore.

Someone once posted about how they don’t look at the numbers; if they’ve made one person happy then that’s their job done. I didn’t used to be able to accept that for my own ends; now, I understand. I’m still going to post about The Smiler and theme parks more widely – I’m still Emma Smiler Alton – but I’m going to live my truth from now on – the truth of being Emma Nicole Smiler Alton – and that means nurturing my fire, not dousing it. My Instagram may not have a particular theme for a while while I work all this out, but I’m much happier and feel more relaxed about posting what I want, rather than what I think others want to see. If that’s not your ball, I fully accept that and understand if you don’t want to follow me anymore. If you decide it is, great. I’m not going to fight the toxic landscape social media can become on my own. Whilst in all of this it appears my reason for using social media has become somewhat blurred, I know one thing still remains: I live to inspire you to bring positive change to the world and to strive for better in your own lives.

I end with my own quote: Your path is yours to walk. Don’t be pressured into walking somebody else’s.