Final Project: What’s your Filter?- The Self Through Instagram

// Posted by on 11/28/2014 (10:13 AM)


11:12 am

As Instagram continues to rise in popularity, it is becoming another platform for people to perform and present themselves. As Instagram is inherently focused on filters, followers and likes, I believe that it will be worthwhile to consider how people construct themselves within these constraints, and whether or not these constraints are actually seen as liberating (e.g. a filter may “free” someone from being pale) or constricting (e.g. a picture may require a filter to be “insta-worthy”).

11:15 am

A conversation with a friend about her bio on Instagram-

The quote on her bio was: I wish there was a way to know that you’re in “The Good Old days” before you’ve actually left them…

Although I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think about my own Instagram bio, I found this conversation to be quite interesting. My friend was very concerned with her bio (the small space underneath your account photo and your pictures), and also with what she should include in it. It’s a teensy little space but it can say so much… Or can it? Who is really looking at/ judging your Instagram bio? Isn’t Instagram all about the pictures? It also made me think about who she thought would see her bio.. Who was she trying to impress? And why would this quote do the job?

11:46 am

I got my first camera in 7th grade, and insisted on bringing it everywhere with me. I would bring it to school, vacation, soccer practice, birthday parties… pretty much anywhere that I could. I was obsessed with taking pictures. I took a lot of pictures of landscapes/ nature, but when Facebook became popular for my age group, I found that nobody really cared for my landscape pictures. However, my Instagram profile is full of nature/ landscape shots, and they actually get more “likes” than any of my other photos. I post other photos too, but for me, Instagram is a venue for me to share the different landscapes of my life.

11:55 am

Some articles

6:07 pm

The whole idea of Facebook being selfish related back to Instagram for me… The idea that we are putting our best selves forward without regard for what others’ best selves may be.

6:25 pm

One of the Instagram accounts I am looking into in depth. He is a soccer player from Bermuda who is studying business at University of Toronto.

6:31 pm

Another Instagram account that I am looking into. She is an aspiring actress from Bermuda who is studying at University of Toronto.

6:41 pm

This is another account I am using. She lives between Bermuda, London and New York. She has just transferred universities for sophomore year.

6:48 pm

This user has also sophomore year transferred. She went to a New England prep school and is originally from Los Angeles, California.

7:01 pm

This is my personal Instagram account.

7:15 pm

One thing I am curious to look into is the way that theories regarding the self, such as self-affirmation theory, relate to users’ posts and usage of Instagram. Is there a certain person that they are portraying through the square shaped images? Are their photos edited in certain, stylistic ways? And what type of photos/ posts are they? e.g. user photos, landscapes, selfies, photos of themselves, pets, memes, GIFs…. Is there a certain topic that different users’ profiles tend to gravitate towards? Are the captions serious or funny or somewhere in between?

One thing I have been thinking about alongside these questions is the fact that I myself am a user of Instagram and also personally know the majority of the users that I am focusing on. As I am a user and know the people behind the accounts quite well, it makes it quite difficult to take an objective viewpoint. Knowing the people personally gives me insights into their lives and what was going on at the time of each post. In a way it is an advantage, as I know what might have driven them to post certain things, but it is also difficult, as it can make me quite biased. However, it also gives me particular insights into the “selves” that the users seem to be projecting/ presenting on Instagram versus the selves that they are/ present in other forms of interaction.


12:22 pm

Some theories on the self:

About the book from my communications class that helped to form my topic/ ideas:

“Dramaturgical Model of Social Life”

9:37 pm

History of Instagram…

  • launched Oct 6, 2010
  • 1 million users in first 2 months
  • iPhone app of the year in 2011
  • FB buys April 2012


An article Dr. Rosatelli sent me … Tween girls and their posts on Instagram.


When I first began thinking about and working on my topic, I strongly believed that my project would lead me to a connection between Instagram and narcissism. To be honest, this had a lot to do with one of the accounts that I chose to look into, as I felt that this page was extremely self-centred and self-promoting. This Instagram did play a part in my decision to pursue this topic, so it is fair to say that I was initially biased concerning the expected outcome. When I submitted my proposal, I included several articles and studies linking Instagram and narcissism. Dr. Rosatelli cautioned me against this assumption, and encouraged me to let the research guide me to my findings. I followed her suggestion, and forced myself to look at my research project with a fresh eye.

Something that helped me to do this was an article I read while doing research in a communication class. I read an article about Facebook as a venue for the presentation of our true selves, and was very interested in this idea. Facebook isn’t narcissistic? I was intrigued. I thought that their argument made sense, a strong point being that we cannot be an idealized version of ourselves on Facebook because our friends (both online and offline) regulate our posts. Our friends would be confused if we claimed to be happily dating a supermodel on our Facebook page if in fact we were struggling through a divorce. I wanted to take this idea and see if I could apply it to Instagram, and in specific my final project.

As I was leafing through some of my communication notes, I had an idea. I looked back on some readings we had done earlier in the semester concerning Erving Goffman’s theory on the presentation of the self in everyday life. This theory stuck out to me, as it focused on the theatrical or dramaturgical aspects of the way that we present ourselves. The way that we perform ourselves. In the sense that we are able to control and perfect what we post, Instagram becomes a performance. So, I decided to apply Goffman’s theory to the presentation of the self on Instagram, in an effort to understand how Instagram could function in a similar way to the theory of Facebook. How Instagram could actually be a presentation of our actual selves.

I used Goffman’s theory to liken different aspects of Instagram to the theatrical elements of Instagram. Similarly to how Dr. Rosatelli cautioned me not to assume links with narcissism, I didn’t want to force this theory onto Instagram if it didn’t work out. However, I found that the theory made a lot of sense with Instagram, and I was able to make some interesting connections between the two.

To help gain some insight on basic Instagram use, I created a quick survey on My survey can be found here I asked my peers several questions, such as whether or not they use filters, and what the most important aspects of Instagram were for them. The majority of people who took the survey had between 100 and 200 posts on their account. 81% of people had other apps that they used to edit posts prior to Instagram,  and 75% of responders mostly or always used filters. Over 50% of the people who took the survey said that the amount of likes received per photo was the most important to them, while the quality of photos posted was second most important. Thus, most people use filters and mostly care about the amount of likes that they receive per photo. Although this data may seem to be incongruent with my statement that Instagram is a presentation of the self, as it highlights the “edit to perfection” mindset, I believe that it actually helps to strengthen my point. People put so much time and effort into their Instagram posts not because they are working to create their idealized selves, but because it is a representation of themselves. People edit, fuss, and care so much about their posts because they are looking to perform themselves in the most accurate way. Just as people may perfect your style of clothing in order to express yourselves, people perfect their style of editing and posting.

Overall, I am glad that I was cautioned away from my initial assumptions, as letting the research shape my thoughts and conclusions made for a very interesting project and experience.



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