It’s a Shakespearian tragedy that I feel so inadequate just as I begin my first girlish dip into the “real world”. I am at the edge of a very large and very beautiful precipice: the suburban girl’s official pilgrimage (er, “move”) to New York City. New York City is not a sphere that I am completely unfamiliar with; I’ve frequented the city with growing intensity as I’ve gotten older (it’s only a three-hour trip from my far-less-glamorous Baltimore County home). What I am unfamiliar with, however, is this brand new Instagram-hierarchy society.
I feel inadequate because I don’t have 10,000 Instagram followers, because I’m not an “it girl” or an influencer, and because I don’t fit my own skewed definition of “cool on the internet”.
“Cool on the internet” shouldn’t impact the skin-and-bones real world, but for a girl on the cusp of kissing her teen years goodbye in 2016, it does. A carefully-curated Instagram feed bleeds incessantly into real life, especially in New York. Instagram pixels brand me like an open-sourced OKCupid profile for everybody to judge, just as I subconsciously judge those same pixels rearranged into other peoples’ faces.
The largeness of the Internet makes it feel like everybody online is getting features in magazines, campaigns for mega-brands, and guest-listed to dreamy, exclusive events. The line between the celebrity and the proletariat is impossibly blurred by the currency of Instagram followers, and it’s hard to engage in Instagram culture and not crave those same hallowed luxuries of the Instafamous.
There’s no official, government-issued statement on when a follower count ceases being “normal” and starts being “Instafamous”. But, like magic, when that unspoken number is reached, the user’s “it girl” status somehow translates perfectly into real life and outernet society. It’s uncomfortably strange, but natural in this modern world, to follow groups of friends online that you’ve never met before (and probably never will meet, although it is vaguely weird seeing one of those hallowed Instafamous persons in public). And, yeah, it’s selfish and ugly and wholeheartedly narcissistic, but I feel inadequate because that’s not me making a living off of my selfies and letting the global community share in my good times. I feel inadequate because, in an era where it falsely feels like everybody is becoming an “it girl”, I’m not one.
Forget the monsters of science-fiction novels and blockbuster movies. The demon haunting me is vanity. I spent eighteen gruesome years learning to love myself for who I am, and now that I do, why can’t everybody else? Why can’t I be “cool on the internet”, beloved by strangers and brands for simply existing? Why do I tremble in fear that peers see me as a lesser for not having thousands of followers?
That’s the great, incapacitating terror in my move to New York. I’m worried that my own Internet presence isn’t up to par with that of the smart, trendy, successful New York City kid (the online stakes are a lot lower in my hometown). But, then again, maybe it’s a comforting thing (and a sign of great overall privilege) that one of my greatest worries about completely relocating my existence is being insignificant.
I can feel significant without limiting my value to a number or “it girl” title. I can post photos online that make me feel confident, passionate, and wholeheartedly “me”. That’s what social media is for, anyways. If, one day, a whole flock of people decide that they see a little piece of themselves in me, and want my Instagram to be a part of their daily routine, that’s great (and super humbling). Until then, I’ll keep on posting my same ‘ol stuff, because 10,000 Instagram followers or not, I want to document my “cool on the outernet” life even if I’m not “cool on the internet”. It’ll make me feel less lonely in the meantime.