It's the summer of 2005 and 18 year-old Me drives a hand-me-down white nissan altima and taps out t9 text messages on a gold plastic Nokia brick phone.
I favor dELIA*s, polka dots, and lacey floral camisoles. Cardigans over everything. My favorite item of clothing is a mid-rise, knee-length red polyester a-line skirt I bought at Kohls with my own money.
In the fall, I’ll be attending the University of Georgia to study art, but right now, I’m working as a shampoo girl at the neighborhood salon, washing out perms for well-to-do middle-age southern women. I let one of the stylists cut bangs into my long curls and straighten them for fun.
Later, I’ll play in a band, earn a BFA, move to Alabama, get a cat, move back to Atlanta, get another cat, lose my mom to cancer, get engaged, and get married, and so on.
But right now, my best friend is making me a profile on TheFacebook.com.
It’s long before they dropped the The, before high schoolers and then everyone else and your mother was invited to join. In 2005, your profile shows your favorite bands and movies but also your course numbers and status updates about which dining hall you’re going to for lunch. There is not yet fake news and foreign interference in American democracy.
A lot has changed since 2005.
It’s hard to believe I’ve kept a profile on the platform for 14 years. It’s been deactivated and reactivated many times. I’ve never quite got the nerve to delete it permanently, if only because you are sometimes left with no option but to use one to get something done.
Early on I was an active user, uploading entire albums of photos from a single house party, tagging everyone around. In the three years before smart phones became a thing, Facebook was a different place than what it would become. Enter the iPhone.
After the smart phone gained dominance, people started engaging with the platform differently. Suddenly you could be checking Facebook… any time you want. You could scroll infinitely anywhere you were. It became so entrenched in all moments and arenas — people started using it not just at home but everywhere. With time my disenchantment grew.
My longest stint Facebook-free was five years. Occasionally I’d look over a friend’s shoulder and see what ever happened to that one person we used to know, but otherwise my life continued; my friends were still my friends. Whenever I quit I it, no matter how long for, I felt relief knowing I didn’t participate in that nonsense.
To be fair, I’ve kept a personal Instagram account since 2012, so I don’t claim to be some Digital Puritan. Now Facebook owns Instagram and What’s App too, my top two most-used apps. So while I don’t get caught up in Facebook drama, I can hardly claim to be any less addicted to their products.
But 2012 Instagram wasn’t the pastel rat-race-Times-Square it feels like now.
Back then, Instagram was all the useful things about Facebook with none of the lame extras. I could see what my friends in other states were up to without being inundated with baby photos from that one person I barely remember from high school. I could share cat photos to my heart’s content. It was a dominantly visual platform, which suited my artistic sensibilities just fine.
When I started writing this blog, I also started a public style Instagram account. By this time, Instagram had featured ads and advanced marketing tools for a while. In an effort to build an audience here, I started an account there. It’s just what you did if you wanted to get in front of eyeballs.
Slowly but surely I built up a following by posting daily outfit photos for almost the entirety of 2018. I’d comment dutifully and engage with users in a way that felt like it was leading somewhere. I legit discovered great brands and wonderful people. I thought it was leading back here, to the blog, the place that matters to me where thoughts can be unspooled far from the shadow of an algorithm.
But with the benefit of hindsight, I think it was leading more toward destruction, and I had to remove myself from it.
With a curated feed and all the right hashtags, Instagram seemed like the #1 way toward success. But what was success even? It was supposed to be elevating this place where I write about things that are meaningful to me and share my art with candor. It’s here that I can share what’s in my head, not just what I wear.
But along the way, success became something else entirely, something that did not actually bring me happiness or fulfillment, but rather anxiety and envy.
I’m actually a pretty private person. To be able to upload a photo and caption to 700+ people (my peak follower count) at once is kind of a big deal for a private person. That’s not a huge number by many standards in the social media world, but it was enough.
It twisted me in ways I didn’t like. I became obsessed with the metrics, the likes, the comments. If someone with a bigger following @ed me, I’d be pleased over my corresponding bump in followers. More followers = more people who wanted to read what I have to say. It was all in support of this blog, right?
Oftentimes I mused that Instagram would be a better place if the stats were hidden; if you couldn’t see the number of likes or followers or comments and could like a photo because you liked it, not because liking it would drive engagement; if you shared what you wanted to share, not what you thought would get the most likes; if you didn’t compare your numbers to someone else’s numbers.
Plus, so much of the engagement is hollow. It’s no marker of real impact. Honestly, how many times have you passively double-tapped a photo even as you continue scrolling to the next one, and the next one? Yes, there is authenticity to be found, good conversations can be had in the comments section — but how well do you really know the people you are trading heart-eye emojis with? How well do they know you?
When you disappear from the platform, how long will it take for them to notice?
When I took a break from posting on Instagram over the holidays last year, I didn’t plan on quitting altogether. It was only as December bled into January and I hadn’t posted any daily outfits in a month that I realized… I kind of LIKED not posting a daily outfit. I liked not strategizing over the best hour of the day to post to maximize engagement.
My day job was going full-throttle, and choosing my clothes, setting up a tripod, taking a bunch of shots to sort through for an OK one — all before heading to the office — had become a chore that no longer brought me satisfaction. And so in a very clear-headed moment mid-January, I deleted the style account.
From January through March, the way I dressed without a public audience fell into a rhythm of alternating between about four sweaters, three pairs of jeans, and two pairs of boots. After my company handed out branded Carhartt hoodies, most days found me zipped up in that. Sometimes I put in more effort, but sometimes I didn’t.
For many weeks I was working so much that I gave myself permission to come home and go to bed without worrying about accomplishing anything. My mind was tapped.
As work slowed to a manageable pace, I found myself more alone with my thoughts and ideas came like crazy. Without the specter of narrating my inner dialogue on a daily basis for the approval of others, I was able to really work though my values, to turn them around in my head until the outlines sharpened and fog gave way to detail.
I’ve thought a lot about what the purpose of this blog is, and what space it fills in my life. What is clear to me:
I want to continue writing and about my wardrobe, and about my home, and about all the things that are worth sharing.
I refuse to engage on anyone else’s terms but my own. I will set my own boundaries.
I will not build my home on a platform that is not mine.
That’s the short version. The longer version will continue to unfold on this blog as I continue to evaluate what is important to me.
The best part of having a public Instagram account was connecting with other women who were as obsessed with style as I am. If it weren’t for my style account, there are some delightful people I wouldn’t know. Some of the best ones were right here in Atlanta all along. I wonder if we’d have crossed paths if I never made a public Instagram account?
The worst part about having a public Instagram account was the way I let what other people think affect not only what I shared but what I wore on any particular day. I tried to stay true to myself, to my voice, to my vision, but there was this unspoken dynamic of competition and performance that left me feeling more and more drained.
Inevitably there are days where you feel good about what you’re wearing and days where you don’t. Having all the days chronicled in public was exhausting. Even when people are “keeping it real,” it’s not the whole story.
In the three months since I deleted my style Instagram, I’ve felt free in way that was unattainable when I posted for the engagement of others. When I take a picture, it is for me first of all. When I have ideas, I write them down. When I am alone, I am truly alone.
I continue to wear clothes.