I have a friend who primarily posts Instagrams about three subjects: pizza, anal and refusing to get out of bed. To nearly 6,000 adoring followers, she’s the patron saint of doing whatever the f*ck you want — calories and commitment be damned.
It’s commonly said social media offers us the opportunity to craft a new persona online, a representation of the person we wish we were. Scrolling past photos of In-N-Out fries (animal style, of course) on my Instagram feed, I struggle to understand why fast food photos and memes about wearing sweatpants all day are so successful online.
After all, the social media editor posting those images is surely sitting at her desk job sipping a Grande Dark Roast from Starbucks. She's not lounging in front of Netflix all day, and neither are you. Instagram runs on an unhealthy illusion.
Similarly, the aforementioned Insta-famous friend posting images of greasy dollar slices hasn’t touched carbohydrates since high school. While she’s uploading a post dedicated to breakfast burritos, she’s actually wrapping her hands in preparation for a kickboxing class.
When I asked if I could include her in this article, she agreed with the proviso that I wouldn’t identify her and, in doing so, totally invalidate her brand.
And there it is, the epitome of all Millennial woman.
We live one way, we post another.
Five days a week, myself and every one of my friends swallow down fibrous kale leaves and forgo wine. In the name of a healthy lifestyle, we sign up for overpriced hot yoga classes and slog through miles on the treadmill.
Scrolling through Instagram after a cold post-sweat shower, each of us "like" half a dozen posts about doughnuts and hating to run. Instead of patting ourselves on the back for a lifestyle well-earned, we’d rather applaud the illusion of an effortless facade.
The modern woman is a product of both her environment and the media. From a very early age, we’re taught that a woman who’s smart and put-together intimidates potential partners. Instead of aiming to be her, we aspire to become the “cool girl," who can toss back craft brews with the bros and chow down on wings without a second thought about refined sugar.
Instagram's culture can be distilled down to an idea we like to call the "Pizza Complex," wherein women aim to create the illusion of chowing down on a gooey slice without ever ingesting a single gram of grease.
It isn’t just men we have to consider, either.
There’s no way Karlie Kloss can eat the junk food she Instagrams and stay so thin. In reality, she has a beauty team, a personal trainer and, of course, a nutritionist. However, it’s easier to believe the fantasy than adhere to logic, so we continue to pine for her mile-long legs and clear skin.
The illusion is so damaging, it's sparked parody accounts like You Did Not Eat That, dedicated to calling out TV hosts pretending to taste ice cream and bloggers packing tablescapes with cartons of french fries.
It’s a vicious cycle. We expect to see thin, beautiful women photograph junk food, so photographing our own junk food has become sort of a status symbol in the female Instagram community.
Even though body acceptance movements have made steps to normalize all shapes and sizes of women, the outdated expectation of svelteness holds strong for every friend and coworker in my life.
Desserts and doughnuts become forbidden fruit.
Uploading photos of a hamburger you didn’t eat is a way of fetishizing food. Also, if you do eat it, every other woman in the room will stare you down like a hungry bear recently roused from hibernation.
There’s no winning, so we Instagram.
The truth is, eating greens every day, working for a six pack and occasionally skipping happy hour are challenges that take willpower. Training for a marathon after an exhausting day at work takes serious dedication.
No matter the goals you attain, discipline just isn’t culturally seen as sexy or exciting. Because we try to lead lives of purpose, the pizza-eating, svelte “cool girl” has become our great heroine. We’d all like to be her, even if she only exists in the land of illusion and Photoshop that is Instagram.