(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.
Totally!! I started an Instagram account solely exploring this idea. I think we need more real, authentic content on social media. Check out @unstagedlife if you want to see what I’m doing 🙂 Thanks for this article, lots of good stuff!
I totally agree. I removed my Instagram recently
I’m researching the pros and cons of a “curated” Instagram feed and very much enjoyed reading your story/progression with Instagram. I, too, have been guilty of “overthinking it.”
Agree. I removed my Instagram recently
I must admit, the super curated accounts are usually the ones to catch my attention first. However, it’s the ones with good stories behind each photo that keeps my attention. I like to hear the person stories behind a picture or someone’s life. It makes me more relatable.
Just……thank you. x
Dear Elsie, I’ve follows your blog for many years, almost since the beginning (I think I discovered it in 2008) and one thing I’ve been missing in recent years is you. I like a beautiful mess, with its recipes and super cute diys, and all the new ventures like the ap and oifresh. But I love your personal Instagram and thelarsonhouse blog. You share so much love and joy that never seems put on or false. It’s refreshing in a sea of sales ads. I follow beautifully curated pages, and I appreciate them, both the style and the effort. But I’m moved by the grainy private look into your first morning as a family. Thank you for sharing your life with me and keep those real life pics coming. They make you sparkle.
Thank you thank you thank you for this post! You are such an amazing and inspiring human Elsie ❤️
Before, I was posting illustrations right after I finished them, which I probably will go back to. Lately, I have been working on multiple things and just posting them later on, after I’ve had time to reflect on them. I liked posting them right after I finished them if I was proud of them because they I could just move on to the next thing.
I agree so much, I actually deleted my Instagram recently. I thought I would miss it, but I don’t. I think I’m over most social media, though. If I want to find out what’s going on around me, I’ll check the posters up at my local coffee shop.
Could not agree more with this! I too am an IG user from the beginning and do miss the days of it being simple care free. Thank you for this post. It came at a much needed time!
wow! Elsie you really tapped into something here with all these comments. I also have been having the same feels. I was feeling flat out tired of trying too hard. I had to take a break for a month and now I’m back, posting what moves me during the day. So happy to see so many other people were feeling the same way.
I have always loved your instagram (been following at least 5 years), but this is def my fave season of it! I love seeing you as a mom! I don’t even scroll my feed, I go right to your insta to check for new photos and stories! It’s just the sweetest experience to watch!
Also – I don’t understand the stigma around posting pictures of kids. I don’t have any of my own, but I love when my friends post pics or text them to me if they aren’t into social media. I even encourage more pics!
I totally agree with the sentiment, and honestly I’m glad that Instagram is starting to value more real-life feeds and photos than it used to.
That said, I’m not sure that your trip to China is a good measure for this. It was a huge, exciting time, and I think you were naturally going to pick up more followers as the (wonderful, awesome, beautiful) journey began to unfold.
I would be more interested to see how day-to-day feeds that aren’t focused around a big event are affected by the same change in mindset 🙂
Thank you so much for this post. For a long time, I have wondered if I was the only one thinking that a lot of accounts look the same. It is reassuring to hear form a professional (even if you talk from a personal point of view) that yes, actually, they do look the same. At first, I wanted my account to look clean and neat as well, but that takes so much work. More and more I think that it is just a waste of time to try to make mundane things look beautiful. Bathing a baby is bathing a baby. Why put petals in the tub? Sometimes, the rawness of reality is so much more beautiful than a curated and filtered representation of it.
Wow. This is so me right now. I’ve been feeling the exact same way. I’ve never had curated feeds in either of my IG accounts and was discouraged that maybe I would never have time to do that. I studied those types of feeds and even thought about planning to start my own. But that seemed like a lot of time and I was already wasting a lot of time without even posting anything.
Finally I remembered why I started using IG. I never started doing it for followers. I do it to document my daily life (Project Life 365) and to share my photos. So, this year I just started having fun again. Not worrying about followers and just posting what I want when I have the time. I seem to be getting a lot more engagement, even though I don’t have a large bunch of followers. And that’s fine. It’s back to being fun and that’s why I started in the first place.
Thanks for sharing. It’s always reassuring to hear from others that they feel the same way you do and you’re not the only one.
I have been feeling the same way about Instagram. Thank you for this post, it was encouraging to me. I kind of miss the old days when Instagram was just random snaps of daily life taken and posted in the moment. With IG Live and IG Stories, I feel like maybe some of that imperfectness is coming back. I kind of hope so! Right now I only have a personal IG and I don’t care about followers and likes so I don’t worry too much about a curated feed. I decided when I start up a business account again, I want to keep it separate (from my personal account) so I can still post what I want to post without over-thinking. Thanks again for writing this!
When I started IG, I vividly remember coming across your account. I believe it was like 2013? Anyway I agree that it is way out of control now. Would you agree that you/your business pages played a large role in the evolution into magazine perfect curation?
I haven’t taken the time to read through the other comments (yet), but your post really resonated with me and a lot of things I’ve been feeling. I used to love Instagram, and while I don’t have a big presence, I loved following a lot of bloggers and brands. About a month ago I unfollowed over 100 accounts because I was so tired of being bombarded with curated feeds. The Instagram I loved felt like people sharing pretty or interesting pictures of things they cared about. Now it feels like reading a glossy magazine. Instagram started making me feel simultaneously bored and inadequate. Now I follow only the people who make me feel good. Mostly friends and family, but some some bloggers and even brands as well. Anything that feels too curated gets the cut.