For four years I’ve had a finsta, or a “fake Instagram”—a revered second Instagram account for those lucky enough to be part of my inner circle. What began as the perfect solution for sharing mediocre selfies has morphed into a library of over a thousand posts: drunk vlogs from my dorm room, reposts from Britney Spears’ incredibly chaotic Instagram account (#FreeBritney), and videos of Margaret Zhang speaking about the importance of distinguishing between your public life and your private life (the irony—more on that later). My finsta is an undefined space to share my life and the things that I love whenever I please. It’s my journal; a simple scroll through my feed delineates my exact day-to-day aesthetic and mindset.
But there’s an inherent issue in mixing a personal journal with social media. Social media is, at its core, a place to perform for others. A journal, however, is a place to sort out who you are in a safe space shrouded in privacy. So is it possible for the two to be synonymous?
As somebody who fundamentally enjoys shouting my thoughts from the rooftops, I feel like nothing is real for me unless the world knows about it. So if I feel inspired or emotional, I post my feelings on my finsta, willing my thoughts into physical existence. Throughout my life—even when alone—I’ve always performed, imagining that somebody I care about is perpetually watching me. I’ve always strived to create a persona rather than just be my natural self.
Call it manifestation, but the performative nature of my finsta has helped to construct the identity I have today. After four years of presenting content—curating this persona of a quirky, funny girl—I think I’ve almost become that person. My curated identity has been validated over the years by friends referring to my account in conversation and jokingly calling me by my username. In a roundabout way, if I can persuade the people around me that this is who I am, then who’s to say it isn’t?
But beyond the need to persuade others of my identity, I think that ultimately I’m trying to persuade myself of it. My finsta is a tangible way of validating that, yes, who I think I am is real, and what I’m feeling is real. Whether this need to define myself publicly is healthy, I’m not sure. But it’s fulfilling. My finsta, albeit potentially delusional, provides me with a sense of self.
Sometimes, though, I question whether my finsta is just a toxic mechanism for broadcasting my emotions. Scrolling through my grid, I come across many angsty teenage captions: “Perhaps it’s time to get those scissors and cut another person from my life.” “Stayed at school for as long as it took to drive there and listened to ‘911 / Mr. Lonely’ all the way home :(.”
I didn’t realize this was an unhealthy habit until I came across Killer and a Sweet Thang’s article “Is the Finsta Toxic?” Madeline Crawford writes that she utilized her finsta as an alternative way of reaching out to people; ultimately, she notes, “I was indirectly telling friends I needed help without actually seeking out any real assistance.”
I’ve seen this practice not only on my own account, but on countless friends’ accounts as well—with captions announcing their depressive episodes or passive-aggressively attacking ex-boyfriends. These posts are always followed by a stream of meaningless comments—“Love you!” “You’re beautiful!”—resembling the fake comments we all make fun of on public Instagram accounts. Have we really diminished our deepest, darkest emotions to shallow posts on Instagram?
And really, why do we feel this need to share everything in the first place? This ongoing battle between sustaining some form of privacy versus feeling compelled to post has been a conflict since my finsta’s humble beginning, with one of my first posts being a paradoxical photo of a diary entry:
“So last night I made a spam Instagram account and oh god has this opened a window into even more social media obsession!? Have I just condemned myself to oversharing and a lack of mystery?”
My sister explained to me that this tendency to share is just who I am. It’s evident in the Snapchat streaks I send to friends, acquaintances, and a friend of a girl I met on a cruise ship two years ago. It’s evident in the blog I created when I was 14, as a way to shout my emotions into the abyss of the internet. It’s evident in the newsletters I created as a child, updating every relative about the birthday party I’d attended over the weekend. I have this need to be understood. I lay everything I am on the table because I want somebody, everybody, to truly know me.
But what about privacy and mystery? If I’m completely transparent, then why on earth would anyone be intrigued by who I am? Have I sacrificed the possibility of ever embodying that Stevie Nicks-esque feminine allure? In the video I posted of Margaret Zhang speaking, she notes, “We’re all kind of mini celebrities now…You have your public persona who you present yourself to the world as, and then your private life which should remain very much private, and it’s dangerous to blur the two because then you go down this slippery slope of oversharing.”
Maybe we’re doing social media differently now, though. During a typical drunken endeavor in line for the bathroom at a club, a girl and I exchanged Instagram usernames. The next morning my newsfeed was flooded with her unedited mirror selfies, photos of her plants, and art she loved. She’d given me her finsta, and it was probably the coolest account I’d ever seen.
I’ve been noticing this new wave of minimally curated Instagram accounts. We have girls filming their latest acid trips, Justin Bieber posting unflattering selfies and making it seem like a vibe, and Instagram models like Pasabist posting selfies while eating macaroni and cheese. With casual Instagram on the rise, the line between my public Instagram and my finsta has been blurred. I’m on the verge of making my finsta…public. Maybe the entire concept of a finsta has become obsolete.
But as Instagram becomes less curated, is it possible that it’s becoming less authentic? Curated Influencer feeds are obviously fake, but “non-curated” feeds are much more deceiving. These profiles are trying to come off as unfiltered, as if they don’t care about Instagram or what other people think—but at the end of the day, it’s still performative. Whether I have a thousand followers on my public account or fifty on my finsta, whether I’m posting filtered selfies or excerpts from my diary, I’m still posting to an audience for external validation.
During quarantine, in the absence of my usual dose of external validation, I’ve been learning how to be alone. As the people of the outside world have faded into the background, as I’ve stopped announcing my every thought to the world, I feel more genuinely myself than ever before. While I still post on my finsta, I’m no longer bearing my soul. My finsta isn’t synonymous with my identity. My finsta isn’t my emotional outlet. It’s just a fantastic platform to share my interests, and that is all. I have nothing to prove anymore.
By Meghan Chiew
Image credit: Lauren Park