Where are you the funniest, smartest, most Facetuned version of yourself? This week, the Cut explores the complexities, vanities, and pitfalls of self-presentation online.
If you were to see the world only through the lens of your Instagram feed, everyone would be permanently reposing by a palm in some far-off place, sipping artisanal lattes balanced on salvaged wood tables, and nibbling on macarons arranged into the shape of a wilted heart. We know everything’s arranged for the camera, but still, Instagram envy is a very real thing — just ask anyone who clocked time this winter cursing every poolside shot in their feed. (Guilty.)
In industries like fashion and design, Instagram has become a de facto résumé — an advertisement for your taste, lifestyle, and “curation” abilities. Thus, it’s a source of anxiety that goes beyond mere envy. Which is why the gradual emergence of Snapchat as an alternative place to share images among the fashion crowd is such a relief. On Snapchat, there’s less pressure to perform. The app’s overall aesthetic is kind of … janky. It offers a few filters, but getting the perfect shot doesn’t seem to be the point. Its beauty lies in its very ephemerality — since your photos disappear in 24 hours, the visual bar isn’t high, and more is prioritized over better. The medium makes it almost uncool to try too hard.
During the four-week festival of visual one-upmanship that is fashion month, Snapchat’s applications proved especially revelatory. One of my Snapchat buddies used the “Story” feature to document her healthy lifestyle so thoroughly — all-greens dinners, laborious scooping of protein powder into canisters — that any envy I had about her fit appearance evaporated. Another, glamorous and lipsticked by day, showed herself snuggled in her covers using weird face masks once each day’s show schedule had ended. People took videos from their fourth-row seats and snapped themselves riding the C train to shows. I reached the apotheosis of my Snapchat journalism when I filmed a street-style star strutting back and forth in pre-rehearsed fashion while a photographer directed her every move, pause, and glance at her iPhone. I captioned it “How your sausage is made.”
Snapchat is less about the frozen-in-aspic moments we post on Instagram and the bons mots with which we flood Twitter, and more about the unscripted, unglamorous interims between them. I quickly realized that it was virtually impossible to hobble together a Snapchat Story in such a way that your life would look unimpeachably perfect. Perhaps it would if you regularly confabbed with Kimye at the Spotted Pig, but for most of us, life is more of a granola-bar-eating, sitting-at-your-laptop slog, and Snapchat is a voyeuristic way to confirm that. Even people with great street style and perfect hair work in drab cubicles, eat leftovers, and change into goofy onesies when they get home. Think of it as the bull in the china shop of the social-media world, upsetting the applecart (or the carefully “curated” marble bowl of apples) and reveling in banality and ugliness. And it’s remarkably effective at delivering a quick vaccination against boredom without making you want to curl up in a ball and weep over your apartment/wedding/pets’ glaring lack of photogenic charm.
As I get more accustomed to the Snap Life, I have come to look forward to the little dancing ghost who notifies me of updates. And while I was initially stymied by the fact that Snapchat doesn’t have “likes” — pity my humble Snaps projected out into the void, with no one to register approval or disapproval! — the app generates plenty of IRL conversations. “You’re great on Snapchat!” several people told me during Fashion Week, to my astonishment. You probably wouldn’t tell someone, “I loved the Instagram you took of your pedicure.” It would be more efficient to just double-tap your approval.
As the medium gets more sophisticated, with CNN joining its Discover arm, I suspect Snapchat will shed its lo-fi ethos, but I hope not. How else am I supposed to seek comfort in the confirmation that everyone’s life is just as unglamorous as mine?