Instagram Fame: What is it really?


In 2012, I become obsessed with Instagram fame. I had considered myself a writer for a decade and rolled my eyes at the term ‘blogger,’ but I fell for the lust of Instagram popularity anyway. I became enamoured with where Instagram could take me – physically, metaphysically, emotionally, financially – and it became the cornerstone of my lifestyle and, admittedly, the overarching reason behind most of what I did.

Several years later, after surpassing the 40 thousand follower mark – which is double or even quadruple the size of most of the small towns in the US – I found myself in an emotional state of guilt, shame, and self-ridicule. I began asking myself questions like, Has my Instagram success really benefited me or others in the way I imagined? Have I been able to make a real difference through my audience? Or have I just been perpetuating a massive white lie?

Reaching Instagram Fame: My Story

At the onset of my climb to Instagram Fame, my life was beautiful. I took my freelance writing job with me abroad, studied in London, lived in Budapest for a while, and travelled around Europe. I was obsessed with photographing scenery and architecture, and the Instagram connections I made along the way seemed authentic.

I moved back to Vancouver and attempted to keep my Instagram feed interesting. I committed to continuing to travel regularly, party because I love to travel and partly because I felt such immense pressure to continue progressing as a rising Instagram star. The year I returned back home, I went on more than a dozen vacations. On a freelance writer’s salary, I’m still not even sure how I made this happen. 

I then began networking with other Instagram influencers, began to understand the business of Instagram, and started earning revenue by offering paid brand sponsorships on my feed.  

By 2015, the number of Instagram influencers began growing rapidly, and when the Instagram algorithm was introduced the following year, the entire industry turned into a frenzy. The competition became insane, engagement dropped, and the authentic connection I once knew on Instagram was replaced by the need to engage purely for the sake of reciprocity.

You can get into a more in-depth, actionable look at how I grew my Instagram account here.

The Reality of Instagram Influencer Status

Instagram fame requires most people living a normal life to implement what I like to call the art of exclusion, which manages to drastically enhance reality. It perpetuates an implication that says my life is actually like this, which is almost always untrue. 

You get to be Instagram famous by promoting what’s aesthetically pleasing and totally forgetting to mention (or feeling pressured to forget to mention) any aspect of yourself or your life that won’t rack up as many likes. The Instagram platform began to promote authenticity, but as features changed, ego and the lust for fame destroyed it.

Exclusion is kind of synonymous with lying because it takes things out of context and – when the result is misleading – omitting the truth is the same thing as telling a lie. In my opinion, it’s totally harmless unless there’s a damaging result, which sadly in the case of Instagram, there is.

Most of the curators behind famous Instagram accounts are not intending to mislead others. Many are wonderful people with much to offer the world, who simply love the creative aspect of piecing together an impeccable, beautiful feed. Some use the outlet to promote hugely authentic pieces of content they share on their blog. And a few even manage to be totally real and somehow still “likeable,” though this feat tends to require off-Instagram too. 

The odd reality is that a degree of lying comes naturally to most of us, both on and off Instagram. It’s honesty that takes immense personal growth to accomplish. Complete honesty requires self-awareness, discipline, and excruciating vulnerability, and the fear of rejection tends to keep most of us from ever reaching this extremely liberating place in life. This is true for Instagram, too.

Because Instagram fame usually requires the curator to do just that – curate – erring on the side of untruthfulness is really hard, if not impossible, to avoid. It scales up the more you want to be financially successful, ranging from simply wearing an item of clothing in a photoshoot you plan to return because you can’t afford it, to posing with a Kinder Bueno for a $1,000 dollars even though Kinder Bueno once made you vomit (because, hey, rent money). 

The Big Lie We’re Perpetuating

The industry perpetuates these “enhancements” which often involve deliberate posing, heavy filtering, and even digital tummy tucking, and ultimately misleads those who don’t understand its rules. What can be left in its wake are a bunch of people who are upset about the comparisons they’ve drawn from their Instagram feed, because if you didn’t know any better, how would you know that what you’re seeing isn’t real?

I’ve talked to young girls who look at me with stars in their eyes, and I know what the next few years of their lives will be dedicated to. I’ve watched women in their fifties spend a gruelling 30 minutes on their vacation attempting to replicate a whimsical photo, and I know why they’re doing it. 

When exclusion is used creatively, it results in art. But when it’s used on a platform that was intended to document normal life, it can cause a lot of misunderstandings, jealousy, distorted comparisons, depression, and even death (in the very misfortunate cases of suicide and Grand Canyon attempts at the perfect Instagram shot). Ultimately, it seems to be perpetuating this one overarching lie that can be so incredibly destructive: that this is real life and yours doesn’t compare.

I remember long before I was Instagram famous I was basically just a bundle of unpolished creativity and ambition. From a humble, middle-class family, I like most of us had to climb the ranks one rung at a time. I was on the eager lookout for a hand up, for someone of greater power and influence to notice my ambition, and this desire led me into unfavourable relationships, situations, and emotional states.

One of these emotional states was resentment and even depression. Generally unable to find that “hand up” in the real world, I naturally turned to TV, books, and social media for a kind of pseudo mentor. I remember time-and-time again feeling disappointed by the lack of honest advice or guidance I was able to scour from these forms of media. All of the successes in the world seemed to discuss their “self-made” status and rarely did I discover any stories that made me feel like I, too, could be something someday. 

I’ve experienced the very same emotions as an influencer, because once you reach this status, the comparisons don’t stop. You simply start comparing your life to those you deem your peers, which just so happen to be other influencers with mega-curated Instagram lives. 

Being Honest on a Platform of Perfection

I’m not saying Instagram is evil. Instagram is a powerful platform, which can be implemented by anyone to develop a personal brand, a cult following, and an easy-access portfolio that can potentially land you jobs, sponsorships, endless opportunities, and even free travel. But how do we remain authentic on a platform that so caters to perfection? I don’t have all of the answers, but I’ve compiled an actionable list here to keep your feed from becoming inauthentic.

The reality is, the systems in our society are built in such a way that preys on our darker aspects. Capitalism feeds greed. Advertising feeds consumerism. Fame feeds ego. Instagram feeds self-doubt, envy, and dishonesty. It’s so easy to get caught up in.

Something that crosses my mind from time-to-time, which no one has really proved is associated with social media, but could very well be is this: humankind is at the best place we’ve ever been in the history of our existence, and yet we’re also the unhappiest. Suicide has been steadily increasing since 2000, after decades of decline. It’s obvious to see that the youth in our societies are obsessed with taking selfies. Could it be a social media-spurred epidemic of reality-breakdown and ego inflation?

My life and my business circulate around social media in many ways, and I’m certainly not suggesting any of us delete our profiles. The positives of Instagram outweigh the negatives, and I applaud those who’ve managed to achieve Instagram fame through authenticity, vulnerability, and remaining humble. 

I’ve made mistakes. In my climb to Instagram fame, I took on sponsorships I didn’t believe in and promoted events I didn’t care about just for the pay cheque. I sold my talents at a cheap price. I opted for capturing events on Instagram instead of being present and enjoying them with the people I love. And, at times, I became overcome with ego and greed.

I wouldn’t change any of it because it’s been the most humbling experience of my life. It’s taught me a major lesson in honesty and vulnerability, and there’s no better feeling than being aligned with your values.

If you’re on the rise to Instagram fame, I hope you will remain authentic and humble throughout the process. Or if you’re someone who follows an Instagram influencer, I hope you will remain undisturbed in the realization their life isn’t everything it seems, and yours, my darling, is beautiful just as it is.

Alexa Suter