The Sunday Magazine

'Like-minded': Three 20-year-old-women reflect on the role Instagram plays in their lives

Three smart, funny, thoughtful young women are trying to change their relationship to Instagram, one of social media’s many anxiety-inducing, virtual popularity contests.
Kiki Cekota, Julia Lloyd and Emma King give an honest account of their relationship to Instagram, one of social media’s many anxiety-inducing, virtual popularity contests. (Submitted by Kiki Cekota, Julia Lloyd and Emma King)

"I think my nose looks like Pinocchio," says Julia Lloyd, referring to a recent photo she posted on Instagram. "I notice my nose in every photo."

"Nobody can even see that," Julia's friend, Kiki Cekota, says.

Julia, Kiki, and their friend and roommate Emma King, are thoughtful, funny and smart young women. They are all journalism students at Toronto's Ryerson University.

And they're all heavy Instagram users.

They downloaded the app in high school, but now as 20-year-olds, they find themselves re-evaluating their relationship with the photo-sharing app.

"You feel like you're in a competition all the time with all these other girls," Kiki explained. She often takes up to 50 selfies, edits and shortlists a couple and gets her friends' approval, before posting a photo.

"I started following all these people from Toronto and I saw all these girls getting hundreds of likes," Kiki, who comes from British Columbia, said. "It was so weird to me because no one in B.C. was getting that many likes. So I was like 'oh my god, I need to step my game up.'"

The selfie game

She's not the only one feeling the pressures of the virtual popularity contest.

Emma says she uses an app called Perfect 365, to smooth her skin before posting her selfies.

According to Instagram's website, the app has more than 800 million users worldwide. It's widely used for visual storytelling by everyone from celebrities, to newsrooms, companies and millenials.

Users can follow celebrities or friends, and can decide to tap the small heart underneath each photo, giving it a 'like.' The total number of likes is displayed underneath the photo.

A high number is sought after, and it some cases, obsessed over.

Emma and Julia say they've deleted photos that didn't get them enough likes.

The three Ryerson roommates downloaded Instagram in high school. They each say they went through a phase where they were 'obsessed' with the app, and now they're trying to step back. (Submitted by Julia Lloyd)

"If I get like 20 likes in 20 minutes, I'd probably delete the photo because the ratio of one like a minute is not good," Julia confessed.

"I would be posting probably four photos in a row over four or five days and deleting all of them," Kiki said, adding that the behaviour "shows insecurity."

For the three young women, an unfavourable "like ratio", compared to the ratios of their fellow Instagrammers, reads to them as a sinister truth.

"I'd be like 'they're getting more likes and I'm not. So I'm ugly,'" Julia said sadly.

'Not so easy to just disconnect'

Kiki, who used to post a new photo every couple of days, has cut back on her usage of the app.

"What are likes, really?" she asked. "Is that the equivalent of someone coming up to you and saying 'you're doing great?' It's not the real thing."

Emma says she's been growing up and growing away from the app, but still checks it every 15 to 20 minutes. "You can feel it making you less smart, almost. Like you know it's not good for your brain but you can't stop," she admitted.

She attributes part of the anxiety she has dealt with throughout university, to always being connected to social media and available to people.

Julia has also been trying to take the app less seriously. She admits she portrayed herself as someone else on Instagram, especially when she was struggling with her mental health.

Now, she openly shares her story of how social media played a role in her anxiety, in hopes of inspiring others to open up about mental health and let go of social media pressures.

"The relationship that I want [with Instagram] is just to have it there for my entertainment when I'm bored; not for my entertainment when I'm trying to escape thoughts," Julia said hopefully.

Click 'listen' above to hear Talia Ricci's full radio documentary, "Like-Minded."