(This is my favorite photo from 2017. It’s blurry, grainy and was taken in the dark with my phone … but it’s our first morning waking up at home with our daughter and I’ll cherish it all my life.)
As we’ve been blogging for over 10 years now we’ve seen a lot. Trends come and go. Ethics get debated, and new standards and best practices evolve all the time. Many things stand the test of time as well. Overall, it’s interesting to watch and we’ve learned not to take any of it personally, and to roll with the punches.
Lately, a topic that has been on my mind is the pressure or standard to create a highly curated Instagram feed. I think so many people compare their own photos to those that are highly curated, yet aren’t willing, aren’t able or don’t want to do the large amount of work it takes to achieve this look. It’s like an unspoken standard for bloggers, but is it really benefitting us?
So I want to open this topic up today! I want to share my opinions and even some thoughts I am still working through. And I want to hear what you think. I’m definitely guilty of overthinking a lot of this stuff!
First, let’s back WAY up with a little history of Instagram from my perspective. I’ve used Instagram almost since the beginning, for almost seven years now. It has changed SO MUCH in this time. When I first started posting on Instagram, it felt so random! I would post photos of the most random parts of my daily life using the built-in (very heavy) filters and borders that IG offered at that time. It quickly became my favorite social media app (I don’t really use Facebook and I haven’t logged onto Twitter for years).
As the years went on, I and many other people started to put a little more effort into what we posted. I would sometimes post a photo from a blog post that I really loved or a professional photo here and there. But, for the most part, I mainly shared photos I took each day, throughout my day. I didn’t care about how well my grid matched. I didn’t use the same filter for each photo. I really didn’t put that much effort or time into it. But it was was growing like crazy. I would often get thousands of new followers in a day.
The other big difference was I posted a LOT more. Six photos a day was totally normal for me back then. I never felt self conscious about anything I posted. I never checked back to see which photos got more likes. And although you couldn’t edit captions and my feed was littered with typos, I really didn’t care.
Much like the beginning of blogging was for me, it was just FUN. It never crossed my mind that I was building some kind of important asset for my business or that we could eventually use this platform to make money.
Over the years, so many phases and stages have completely changed how we use IG. I remember when people started to do sponsored posts and everyone flipped out. I remember when it suddenly became a big deal to keep your grid looking nice and create a theme (matching filters, varying compositions, etc.). Most recently, the big algorithm changes shook a lot of people up and completely changed what type of content thrives for many accounts.
Over the past few years, we’ve all noticed a trend towards HIGHLY curated feeds. I’m talking about photos of real people at real places, but that feels more like a photo from a magazine than a photo from a person’s life. These extremely curated feeds are polarizing to many. I am truly torn on how I feel about it all. From a creative standpoint, the aspirational style of these photos is inspiring to me. Yes, they are more perfect than anyone’s real life could possibly be, but that’s also what makes these photos interesting to look at. I consider many of these photos art and feel truly inspired by a collection of work like this. I can see how much effort, time, money and creative passion goes into creating these feeds, and I respect the hell out of that.
At the same time, everything starts to look the same. It’s becoming more and more common to find these stunning, perfectly curated Instagram accounts and at times they do start to blend together.
And lately I started to wonder if having a highly curated feed is actually making it more difficult to stand out. Are these epic photoshoots that people are creating beginning to have diminishing returns because too many other people are trying to do the same thing? As it becomes common to have professionally photographed, magazine-quality photos as an entire Instagram feed, does that devalue it for the people who invest so much to create them?
On a personal note, before we left for China, I was feeling discouraged and bored with my own Instagram. I was making new mood boards for myself nearly every month but continually feeling burnt out and unhappy with what I was creating. I was feeling really insecure and uninspired.
As a personal experiment, I decided to not care AT ALL about how curated my feed was for a while. Since our trip to China was the opposite of a blogger vacation, I didn’t have the option to try to create the kind of photos I normally would anyway. I didn’t even take my camera with me and I didn’t bring any cute outfits to wear in photos.
I just decided to take a break from feeling guilty about it for a while.
I started posting whatever I wanted, at weird hours of the day. I didn’t vary my content at all, I just let my feed go and posted about what I was happy about from each day, which was my new daughter. And it grew SO MUCH. More than it has in years. I was expecting a lot of people to unfollow me because I feel like there’s an unspoken rule on IG that if you only post photos of your kid, you’re boring. But then the opposite happened and I had thousands of new followers who felt personally invested in our story.
I can’t tell you how refreshing it felt to know that people were interested in my life and that they didn’t care if my feed looked “good”. I felt a sense of community that I hadn’t realized I had been missing for years.
I realized that for me, caring too much about following these “rules” was actually holding me back. I realized that trying too hard to use matching colors or post a variety of different things would have taken away from our story in China, not added.
But, most of all, I just felt such a huge relief to let the pressure go. I had been feeling like I was failing for a while. And that was my choice. No one was forcing me to overthink all this—it was just an unhealthy habit that I didn’t even realize I had. I cared too much, but about the wrong things.
While I was trying to create a better, more aspirational IG account, I was actually creating a more boring one. And when I stopped caring and just posted from my heart, I found a way to finally feel creatively satisfied because I started to focus solely on the stories and memories.
I do believe that Instagram is coming full circle, at least for me. I have no doubt it will continue to evolve and change. As we overdose with one thing we crave the complete opposite—it’s human nature.
The main takeaway I have from my recent “not caring” experiment is that I am ready for a shift toward caring far, far less and just having fun with my Instagram. And I’m also feeling a need to focus more on memories and moments and less on the quality of my photos. It’s all relative anyway—an imperfect photo becomes perfect the moment you decide it does. I am feeling so refreshed by this simple shift in my goals and approach.
The purpose of this post is to just share some food for thought. Maybe you’re needing a shift of your own and maybe you aren’t. Maybe you think analyzing this so much is ridiculous and I can’t argue with that at all. Haha! But I wanted to share this because it’s been on my mind lately.
I would love to hear your perspectives on all this. I always think there is room for all different types of creative expression, but it’s also fun to analyze what I’m currently drawn to and why. Just please don’t use this comments section as a way to bash other people. As I said above, I respect the hell out of people who work so hard to create a curated Instagram feed. I even consider it art. And if that’s what’s making you happy, lean into it.
I also think that for many of us, the goal of a curated feed is actually holding us back from being creatively satisfied. And if that’s you, maybe try your own experiment of just letting all those expectations go.
Please note: I wrote this post from the perspective of my personal Instagram, not my businesses. I realize that different accounts have different goals and I am not meaning to paint them all with with same brush. In this post, I am only talking about accounts that are sharing photos of daily life.