Picture Perfect?

Nothing is what it seems. Not only magicians and politicians are experts at hiding the truth, arguably everyone participating on social media is some kind of illusionist. Creating the illusion of a perfect life, a perfect family, a perfect career. Showing the trophy without the training, showing the victory without the struggle. Throughout my blogs I have been considerably positive regarding social media and its influence. Now I feel like it is time to discuss some literature on how social media can genuinely affect people. A more critical approach on my account. As you could probably guess by the title, this blog is discussing a very popular social media platform: Instagram.

Source: instagram-brand.com

Instagram is an application active since 2010, founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger (Wikipedia 2018, Instagram 2018). The application  has increased in popularity enormously since its year of emergence. Instagram’s current director is Adam Mosseri, someone who has worked at Facebook for over 10 years (Instagram 2018). Logically, this means that Instagram is strongly connected to Facebook, as the two are almost inseparable nowadays. In September 2017 Instagram announced that they had an estimated amount of 800 million users (Wikipedia 2018).

Too good to be true?

But what do these 800 million users do on Instagram? Research by Stapleton et al. shows that there is something to say about a young person’s self-worth and self-esteem when looking at their intensity of Instagram use (Stapleton et al. 2017, 142). This study subscribes to the idea that the use of Instagram (and other social network sites) could have a substantial influence on a person’s self-confidence and self-worth (Stapleton et al. 2017). This influence could be either positive or negative, but the fact that people feel the need to validate themselves through Instagram is concerning for a society.

Not only self-worth could be shaped by Instagram. Instagram could also genuinely influence people’s emotions. Social comparison was introduced by Festinger (1954) and comes down to the idea that people have an innate need to evaluate themselves through comparison with others (Festinger 1954). Not only might this affect self-esteem, but more at the basic level it could influence your emotions. In a study by Park and Baek (2017), the researchers show that social comparison could influence the type of emotion a person has depending on their social comparative orientation (2017, 83). That orientation could be opinion based or ability based (Festinger 1954, 117).

Social Comparison – Explained

“(…) people with a strong ability-based SC orientation view the relationship between the self and the comparison other through a competitive lens (e.g., “who is better between me and him/her?”).”

S.Y. Park, Y.M. Baek 2018, 84

This quote shows that people with an ability-based social comparison orientation focus mostly on improving themselves, and creating advantages accordingly (Park and Baek 2018, 84). Even though I agree with the idea that one should maximize his or her potential, I don’t think that the ‘who is better’ evaluation of oneself could genuinely improve said potential. 

” On the other hand (…) people with a stronger opinion-based SC orientation may view the comparison other as a role model or an exemplar from which they can learn, rather than as a competitor (as assumed by people with a stronger ability-based SC orientation).”

S.Y. Park, Y.M. Baek 2018, 84

In other words, people with an opinion-based SC orientation are looking for self-evaluation and well, social acceptance. Rather than looking for and advantage, the people with this orientation look for improvement in a more educational sense. In this study, the researchers compare the mental well-being of people who have the ability-based SC orientation to people who have the opinion-based SC orientation.

This (and other) research shows that both orientations can influence emotions deeply. In general it is safe to say that Instagram and other social network sites can influence emotions. Envy, depression, optimism, inspiration; these are the types of emotions that Park and Baek looked for in their participants, and they concluded that people with the opinion-based orientation are mentally in a better shape (Park and Baek 2018, 90). Arguably one could say that neither are in a good place mentally, but compared to the ability-based orientation, the opinion-based participants in the research were more likely to have a better well-being psychologically (Park and Baek 2018, 90). 

Looking at these facts and the whole concept that people need to feel validated through Instagram (or other social network sites), or that they look for advantages or social acceptance is worrying and disturbing. Writing this blog has raised so many questions. How did this happen, how could we allow to shape our society in this way? And what will happen in the future? Will people only do their groceries if they have social approval of their OOTD (Outfit Of The Day)? This whole concept is blowing my mind and I just wonder what the future has in store for us through the means of social media. The strangest thing about it all is that I happen to enjoy using Instagram. Isn’t that ironic? What does that even say about me? And regarding this blog: Do I even want to know? I am confused. Maybe a disappearing act of this judgement-based, insecure, digital dimension in modern society is the only way up. What do you think?


  • Festinger, Leon. 1954. “A Theory of Social Comparison Processes.” Human Relations Vol. 7 Issue 2: 117-140. 
  • Instagram. 2018. “Company.” About Us. Accessed on November 3, 2018.  https://www.instagram.com/about/us/ 
  • Stapleton, Peta; Gabriella Luiz, Hannah Chatwin. 2017. “Generation Validation: The Role of Social Comparison in Use of Instagram Among Emerging Adults.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking Vol. 20, Issue 3: 142-149. DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2016.0444
  • Sung Young Park, Young Min Baek. 2017. “Two faces of social comparison on Facebook: The interplay between social comparison orientation, emotions, and psychological well-being.” Computers in Human Behavior Vol. 79, February 2018: 83-93. 
  • Wikipedia. 2018. “Instagram.” Accessed on November 3, 2018. https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instagram 
Show CommentsClose Comments


  • Sabine
    Posted November 5, 2018 at 10:27 pm 0Likes

    We are enormously occupied in displaying ourselves in a certain way, the way in which we think others want to see us, or/and the ‘best’ version we want to see of ourselves… It also seems like we want instagram to work like a unification on this part. We want others and ourselves to be convinced of the person we display/project on instagram.

    And the funny thing is, that there exists as many different versions of ‘me’ in the minds of all the people I know. The person I view as myself only exists in my mind, and usually it’s not even clear if I indeed know ‘myself’. Everyone in this course has a version of ‘me’ in their minds, and I have a version of ‘you’ in my mind… Because this is extremely fragmented , instagram feels almost like a unification tool. Not a necessarily good one though… but It could explain partially why we like this kind of displaying/projecting.

    Like the subject!


    • Sarah
      Posted November 6, 2018 at 5:23 pm 0Likes

      I wholeheartedly I agree with the idea you state here. The versions of ‘me’ that exist in other people’s lives is blowing my mind to an enormous extent. Thank you for your comment!

      • Sabine
        Posted November 6, 2018 at 8:50 pm 0Likes

        You know what is also ‘funny’… the camera function on instagram..
        You always see yourself mirrored , because you cannot ‘look’ at your own body the way other people do. thats why people don’t like themselves on most pictures (taken by other people).
        Instagram has their camera function on this mirrored view.. because if you use the normal camera function on your phone (the front cam/selfie cam on iPhone ) you first see yourself mirrored but when you click to make the photo this images flips itself to a ‘normal-outside-of-yourself-view’.. Instagram camera does not do this, they do not flip the images..(if you take a selfie)

        This may sound like a very small thing, but this function of Instagram makes sure that if you make a selfie, that the chances of you not liking yourself on the picture is reduced…so your own image yourself (the version only you see) is strengthened.

        because honestly I do not like flipped pictures of myself 🙅🏻🙅🏻🙅🏻, it feels so different.

        • Sarah
          Posted November 6, 2018 at 10:45 pm 0Likes

          That is so strange! I never noticed that. It’s so weird how Instagram is actually manipulating its users in that sense. I am as freaked out as I am intrigued by this idea. I wonder what influence Instagram might have on the beauty ideal. Does it subscribe to the idea that every face has a ‘better side’? I mean not like: Barbara-Streisand-who-won’t-sit-on-the-left-side-on-an-interview-level of face division but just in the normal sense? Instagram is so weird and strange and still I can’t seem to stop scrolling.

  • itsjesslay
    Posted November 6, 2018 at 11:17 am 0Likes

    I can relate to this validation complex of social media, I think it was something I was very heavily invested in as a teen but as I’ve grown up into a young adult I care less and less for ‘likes’. But, every now and then when I hit a ton of likes I do feel the tiniest bit of satisfaction, its almost a guilty pleasure.

    • Bas
      Posted November 7, 2018 at 2:03 pm 0Likes

      I feel the same way about that. The older I become, the less I care for confirmation or acclaim. But when I was a teenager, there was no Instagram yet. And maybe you look for different ways of confimation when you get older.

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