Yesterday in my Food Media class, we did a focus group about how students use Instagram and if/where food fits in. I learned so much. Most of my students started Instagram accounts when they were in middle school. I, on the other hand, was 27. What would I have shared on social media when I was 13? (Cringe, shudder, facepalm.)
Typically, when my students use Instagram—the account named with their actual name, where they project the very best and most perfect version of themselves out into an uncertain and often unkind world of job hunting and social judgement—they post relatively rarely and anxiously. They don’t post (or delete) any photo or caption that isn’t “good enough.”
Their Instagram rules made me reflect on mine and my own embarrassing beginnings on the app.
As someone who’s never deleted anything off of Instagram, I went back to my first 10 posts to think about the stories they tell and why they’re worth keeping, even though the photos and captions themselves are definitely not “good enough.”
1. My first Instagram post was of words in an Ikea catalogue that related to my research on trophy kitchens. I have no clue why I chose such an unreadable angle. Or that horrendous border treatment.
2. I remember being proud of how I staged this strategically (un)packed bag for vacation. (Sigh.) I was too body conscious to wear all but one of those swimsuits, but I rocked that hat, hard.
3. These are the poster boards I mounted above my desk in our “garden level” apartment in Brookline. It was basically a basement but in the best neighborhood we’ve ever lived. It’s where I wrote all my seminar papers as I studied for my MLA in Gastronomy while still working for Kaiser, which was difficult. The bulletin boards above my desk at TU are similarly styled. I’m not sure what to make of that.
4. This very grainy, truly bad photo is of my husband and I at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston. (It’s called something else now.) We were going to see Girl Talk, for the third time, I think. It was a gorgeous night outside, I danced the whole show, and I’m glad I have this terrible photo to remember it.
5. This is the first of my posts to ever get a like. Yes, one like. (And I still love Kate Spade.)
6. This post got two likes. I was right, but I haven’t written this paper, yet.
7. This post got ZERO likes, but I LOVE it. KC and Barbara were with me when we chased Laura Shapiro down in the street after the Siting Julia Symposium to tell her how much we loved her writing. Just recently, I re-read Shapiro’s essay on Instagram as a food history archive with my students.
8. Sometimes we use Instagram to complain and mark painful moments. This was one of those. No one liked this photo. I was truly alone in my GRE misery.
9. Look at me trying to be all artsy capturing the sun flare. This is by all measures a bad photo, but it marks the first time I visited Connecticut and ate a cider donut, which was life changing and became one of our annual New England traditions.
10. This is my forty-fourth post, my first of food. I was in New York City to present at the Cookbook Conference. Barbara and I enjoyed this six course (!) brunch before we took the bus back to Boston after a huge snowstorm.
My point in sharing these (mostly very bad) photos is that we are our histories—the good, beautiful, and celebratory; the bad, ugly, and downtrodden—whether we visualize and share them, or not. My students have mostly opted for a compartmentalized social media life. They share perfectly curated content for public consumption on one account. On a private one, they’re openly honest and intimate.
As for me, I’m trying hard to blend these approaches, on and off social media. When my mom turned 50, she sat my sister and I both down and said that she wished she could give us the confidence she felt at that moment. She’d crossed a threshold of womanhood that made it so she could finally give zero f*cks. (She definitely didn’t use those words, but it’s what she meant.) She could be free.
I never really succeed, but I try every day to live like I’m a 50-year-old woman, unafraid to be and share all the weirdness that is me, to call folks on their garbage, and to know I’m good enough, and so are my dang photos.