Instagram Envy

Research shows that using social media can lead to feelings of depression, which are most likely spurred by envy. When those we follow post fabulous pictures of their lives, their bodies, or their work, it’s easy to feel like we don’t measure up by comparison.

I don’t get that sense for myself on Facebook. After all, I purposely keep my “friends” list short, and almost exclusively people I know in real life. And they are really ordinary, ordinarily wonderful people, just like me!

But I’ll admit to some Instagram envy. I don’t know most of the people I follow there, and some of them are stars! They are creative and productive and seem soooo nice!

In Facebook, I scoff at those with large friends lists. After all, who could really have 400+ friends they feel connected to? On Instagram, I yearn for a large following!

In the New York Times, Alex Williams wrote about Instagram envy: Instagram

is about unadulterated voyeurism. It is almost entirely a photo site, with a built-in ability (through the site’s retro-style filters) to idealize every moment, encouraging users to create art-directed magazine layouts of their lives, as if everyone is suddenly Diana Vreeland.  …

Viewers, meanwhile, are expected to let the sumptuous photos wash over them and chip in with comments (“Gorgeous sunset!”) and heart-shape “likes,” which function as a form of social currency, reinforcing the idea that every shot is a performance worthy of applause. The result is an online culture where the ethic is impress, rather than confess  …

Envy, of course, doesn’t operate in a social vacuum. It needs an object of desire. And everyone, it seems, has that friend on Instagram: the one with the perfect clothes and the perfect hair and seemingly perfect life — which seem all the more perfect when rendered in the rich teals and vivid ambers of Instagram’s filters.

Some of the quilters I follow post tens of photos a week, of works in progress, finished quilts, or even just cute sayings with the background of a cutting mat. They’re all perfectly framed and lit. How do they have time to do that, AND to get so much work done?

And in terms of envy, the important question is, how am I failing in comparison? After all, this is my last post in Instagram:

My big left toe, protruding through my holy sock.

And goodness, that was two weeks ago!

So what’s a person to do? Should we opt out of Facebook and Instagram and the other media that feed us idealized images? For some people, that might be the right answer.

For me, it helps to remember that I follow some people because they are so creative and productive! They see the world, or at least their realm in it, in new ways, and that is why they are interesting. I don’t need to envy them, any more than I envy Michelangelo or Picasso or Joan Didion or Shonda Rhimes. I can take inspiration, instead.

And here is the important part: rather than sink into envy, we can just keep making. We can compare our skills and what we make to ourselves at earlier dates. And in that comparison, we can take pride in how much we’ve progressed.

The other day in comments, a quilter asked me, “I’m almost afraid to start! What advice have you for a novice quilter like me? The second thing is how do you manage the time to make a dozen or more quilts per year ?”

I told her:

I can make so many quilts partly because I’ve made so many quilts. 🙂 When I started, I had to think thru every step of the process, which makes it quite slow. The other part is that I’m retired and don’t have a lot of other obligations. My closest family members live more than an hour away, so we don’t spend time with them every few days. How I use my time is for me to choose, and I regularly choose quilting.

Please don’t every doubt your ability to create a good enough quilt! Quilts are beautiful, regardless of how technically perfect they are or even how aesthetically well-designed they are. They are beautiful because they are unique creations. And if you wish to compare, only compare to your own work from previous times. Are you getting better at it? AWESOME! That’s the measure you should use.

If you find the process intimidating at first, go ahead and imitate other people’s work. Use patterns. Learn the process. Spend time looking carefully at color combinations, to see what you like and don’t like. Take a few classes. But most of all, make. Just keep making. Make small pieces, if that helps you get from start to finish. Placemats and table runners are a good way to learn some techniques. Wall hangings are good for learning some design. Baby quilts are always needed by someone, and are a manageable size for most. Be gentle on yourself. Just keep making!

My life and experience are not the same as her life, and also not the same as some of those stars I follow on Instagram. Some of them are making their living at quilting, teaching, and designing. They have to treat it as a full-time job to succeed in that world. I don’t want to work that hard! So I shouldn’t expect my output (or apparent evidence of it) will match theirs.

Envy like this isn’t very useful. Next time I feel envious of my Instagram stars, I need to remind myself how much their lives must suck. 😉 Their travel time is reserved for work, while mine is for fun; their making time is to develop and test patterns, while mine is for fun; their promotional activities are driven by their income needs, while I can just have fun. THEY should envy ME!! 😀


42 thoughts on “Instagram Envy

  1. kiracanadiangirl

    I love Instagram. There will always be someone richer, smarter and more beautiful than you. As long as you are confident in yourself and where you are in life it will be okay. I often wonder what it would be like as a teenager in these times though…

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Agreed. Instagram is fun, and my post is partly serious and partly poking fun at myself for even noticing. And yes, I think there are more ways to compare oneself to others now than there were when we simply worried that the magazine models were too skinny (and most of them still are.) Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. audrey

    Such an interesting post! I have many thoughts about social media, both pros and cons. Mostly I have concentrated on Blogging and tried to keep Instagram just for family. I definitely know when too much social media comparison is getting me down and yes, making, making, making is athe real win!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Your recent post that included quilt-alongs seemed to touch on this, too. Being over-involved online can both suck a lot of our time and lead us down the tricky comparisons path. Making!! Yep, that’s it!

  3. thimblesandteapots

    I love that you posted that picture on Instagram! Like you, I do sometimes struggle with those feelings when I look at other people’s social media posts…. I was thinking of reducing my social media time this January so that I can spend a bit more time with my husband/friends and making things and perhaps finishing all those projects that I started last year!! I got three crafting calendars for Christmas this year. I think that my friends are trying to tell me something!!!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Good plan! When I find myself sitting at the computer for too long, I try to just get up and go DO something!! It almost doesn’t matter what, does it? Use those calendars (or at least one of them!) 🙂

  4. julesmarlow

    I struggle with this and I am ashamed of it.
    I decided to delete Instagram from my phone to stop me from looking at others’ perfection while I was out trying to live my own life. I still look at the desktop version from time to time, which doesn’t help.
    As yet, I haven’t succeeded in transforming my envy into healthy admiration. I’ll write a blog post on this topic soon, I think.
    Thanks for writing about this very real disease.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Jules, I know what you mean and I’m sorry you’re feeling so disoriented by this. Years ago I was a member of an online group. Things turned ugly and I left. It took a very long time to get past that. Part was hurt feelings of course, but part was the wish to be involved and active in the group, not quite addiction-style, but real longing for it. It wasn’t an envy issue but it certainly was a side effect from my online use. Please be reassured that though it can take a while, you can get by this. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. snarkyquilter

    I use Instagram the way a toddler uses a fork, very crudely. I don’t deal with photo filters or prettying up, and don’t post often. I started on Instagram when I found a few feeds about historic garments (to swoon for) and art collections. The upshot is I follow very few people, and those are mostly quilters and artists. They post to help market their work, and certainly a photo of a quilt for a workshop is more enticing than paragraphs of text. OTHH, I don’t do Facebook as I see it as a giant time sink, to say nothing of what may be happening to my personal data. Yes, I know Facebook owns Instagram, but it seems I get far fewer ads on Instagram than I would on Facebook. I do wonder if there’s a secret class on Instagram photography. There are many, like Must be good as there’s more than 10.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      😀 Funny. Yes, I’ll have to take a look at the 11 secrets. My IG use, for what I post, is pretty crude, too. I’m not very interested in taking photos, period, much less taking time to pretty them up. But as mentioned in other comments, I do like the platform for some reasons and at this point not inclined to give it up. I think I ended the year feeling a bit glum, so this post is probably the final residue from that. Thanks for your indulgence.

  6. Cindy Anderson

    Melanie, Social media isn’t perfect. It seems to be the method of communication though. Gone are the days of visiting and writing letters. I use FB to keep up with the lives of my family and friends. The political stuff is way to annoying and unreliable so I stay clear of that. As far as IG I use it as entertainment. I don’t compare myself with the people that post. I just enjoy seeing what they are up to. The vendors that seem to be invading the app can be very annoying. I scroll past them quickly. Thanks for sharing a very well thought out and crafty written post! 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Jim and I try to balance our online lives with RPT — real people time. Being aware of the need to visit with people in person, or even on the phone, helps us to schedule it in deliberately. And RPT gives us a lot better perspective on a lot of things, which helps us manage how we interpret what we see on our computers. Thanks much.

  7. KerryCan

    I’ve stayed away from Instagram, mostly because I predict it would become one more big time suck that would keep me from making actual things. I think of your distinction about Real People Time–Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook get me caught up in something other than Real Creating Time. I rationalize and say, “oh, I’m looking for ideas,” but, really? I’m just wasting time . . . And, yes, They should envy You! (I envy you that your socks have been blessed . . . )

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I actually don’t spend a lot of time with Instagram, sliding through new pictures about once a day. It doesn’t generate a lot of interaction for me personally, so it’s easy to disengage. Mostly I am just AMAZED at some people and how much they seem to get done. And thank you for your envy of my holy socks. 🙂

  8. Teri Lucas Terificreations

    Melanie, I think we approach social media in much the same way. Like all things in life there is the potential for good use, misuse, abuse, and so on. Envy can lead to the mis/abuse, and that is concerning. At some point seeing so much envy allowed me to see it in my own heart, and mind to start dealing with it.
    Because I’m a teacher, it is an intentional choice, I often share the things in progress, and that haven’t worked, bad tension, using my seam ripper. Why? This is real. Things in quilt making go kaflooie sometimes, often at inconvenient times.
    I love your response to the overwhelmed quilter, in oh so many ways. We need more of this in the world of quilting. We all put our undies on one leg at a time.


    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      And that’s the basic level, right? We’re all human. Those who are stars now started out just as ignorant and incompetent as anyone can be. And we don’t need to be “great” to get great satisfaction from what and how we make. Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments.

  9. zippyquilts

    Glad to hear you sounding so upbeat! I have known several “stars” in my day-job profession, and there is always a price. You know Yeats? “The intellect of man (sic) is forced to choose…”
    I think of that poem often.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Life is all about trade-offs! I don’t know the poem …
      The intellect of man is forced to choose
      perfection of the life, or of the work,
      And if it take the second must refuse
      A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
      When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
      In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
      That old perplexity an empty purse,
      Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.
      William Butler Yeats

      Thanks for that.

  10. tierneycreates

    Well Melanie, I have blogging post envy! Another well written and engaging post from you Ms. McNeil! I love your sock photo with the toe hole in it and thought it was charming on Instagram. Not everyone wants to see super perfect overly posted/staged photos of people’s imaginary wonderful lives – it is refreshing to see a sock hole here and there – like real life! I like Instagram because I figured out last year how it will show recent photos on my blog and that is the only reason I use it. I like the WordPress Instagram feed. I appreciate those who follow me but I do a terrible job at keeping up with the comments (thought I do appreciate them) and I am terrible at keeping up with others posts on Instagram. I am tired of Facebook in general and only use it to keep up with a few old dear friends and a couple new friends I find intriguing. The moment I see something political I just skip my eyes over it ASAP. I would rather see a cute outfit on a baby or dog or what you had for dinner lol. Am I rambling? Anyway, thanks again for another interesting post – I adore your blog 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Tierney. It goes both ways! I haven’t used the WP to IG linking but will look into that. I used to have a WP to facebook link, and I broke the link accidentally and couldn’t figure out how to re-establish it to do the same thing. I wasn’t sorry when it was gone… 🙂

      One of the things that attracts me to BLOGS is when the maker/blogger describes process. Not necessarily how they technically make stuff, though that’s cool. But I want to know how they’re thinking about things, and what takes them from one step to another. Motivation? Design? etc. I’ll never get that at Instagram, so it really doesn’t serve the same purpose for me.

  11. katechiconi

    Years ago, I took a conscious decision to avoid FaceBook and Instagram. I disliked the lack of good manners I saw on FB at the time, the lack of privacy, the way people used it to journal every trivial second of their lives. For many, FB has been an invaluable forum for staying in touch with friends, but I find it slightly invasive, a forum for social pressure and a way to enable the ugliest of behaviours such as stalking, overwhelming peer pressure and ostracising. Instagram and WhatsApp are both owned by Facebook, and I dislike the idea that using IG would allow FB to get its claws into data about me, so I refuse to use either of these apps. It is my pleasure and my need to write about what I make and do, and blogging is my format of choice, so I’ll stick with that. I don’t need the feelings of despondency and dissatisfaction that viewing others’ apparently perfect lives/bodies/creative output on IG would bring. A photo and a few brief words doesn’t do it for me. I don’t need it, and I don’t want it. My word, that was a bit of a rant. Sorry!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I don’t see Facebook as an evil empire, but I do think a lot of people could use it and other social media more wisely and kindly. And to my surprise, I’ve found I actually do like seeing a photo and a few brief words, from a lot of people. However, it doesn’t suit how I want to post most of the time! Thanks!

  12. Kerry

    I can only dream at the moment of being like Nann! I’m still at the pondering and working out stage!
    I did open up an Instagram account because of sharing photos with a forum (chicken related) but opted for Flickr instead (Photobucket was being mean so had to stop that one). So far I’ve only been looking at people’s Instagram links for sharing photos of their quilts or block progress and because I’ve had the account I can see – couldn’t before so that is really nice, but haven’t used it for myself. I’m not so sure I want to now because a man has decided to “follow” my photos – I have no idea who he is and I don’t know why he’s following me because I have nothing for anyone to see! A bit unnerving!

    Not so sure I’ve had envy as much – more of “I’d like to try that” or “not my cup of tea but it’s lovely” and mostly “oooh sooo pretty”! I agree and understand it’s just practice and I’m noticing that my cutting is more accurate – and then piecing is a lot better as a result. I sewed flying geese with the point underneath by mistake but ooh it worked. Happy happy happy accident! Trimming up gives me a better idea of sizes, thank goodness I grew up with Imperial and not Metric (haven’t a clue there).

    Facebook became an addiction by helping out my daughter with a silly game. She dropped out and I carried on. The game got more demanding and I think that’s why people have so many “friends” to help. I think the closest people I played along with realised at the same time – this is crazy! We need to get a life! So we stopped. I still keep in touch with a few and others are neighbours and friends. I have also been weaning myself off there – friends and relations keep in touch with Whatsapp on the phone. Much nicer and not as intrusive. I don’t allow Facebook on my phone either.

    A friend introduced me to Linkd in – but it’s really for business people. As my hubby has a company (and my email is the company address) I think a lot of people thought I had more input on that side of things. Er, nope! LOL! So I had his cousin pop up and even my husband was put forward – yuk no I see enough of him already! Other than that all sorts of people from all over wanted me! Hah – they’d have been really disappointed. Just as well I forgot my password! It’s all quiet on that front now. And as usual I’ve got carried away. Apologies!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It sounds like you’ve found a good way to use IG, as inspiration. As Jenny said above, “So like lots of things relating to social media I think being selective is key and carving out a space that suits you.” That works for me, too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  13. Jenny

    What a great post! Loved your reply to the new Quilter and couldn’t endorse it more. I’m afraid I avoid following perfect people with perfect lives on IG. I’m not keen on obviously styled photos, or at least if they all appear to be like that. If I wanted perfect styling I’d buy a magazine. What I’m after is inspiration, good ideas but above all, a touch of humanity. The mistakes, the ability to laugh at oneself, a touch of humour but also pride in what they’ve achieved whether it’s tidying their sewing space or a new quilt. So like lots of things relating to social media I think being selective is key and carving out a space that suits you.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Jenny, the touch of humanity is the main thing, isn’t it? And a sense of humor. And I do see that with most of the people I follow. hmmm… Maybe I choose my “stars” with more discrimination than I realize. 🙂

  14. Nann

    I have managed to avoid Instagram. I have a LinkedIn account but it’s not very useful because I’m retired and not in the job market. I’m on Facebook a lot–it’s been great to make connections with friends from across the decades and from various aspects of my life. Like you, Melanie, I’ve been quiltmaking long enough that many of the steps come easily. I can analyze a quilt block and know that the center unit is a 3.5″ nine-patch made from 1.5″ squares, or that the sashing on that quilt is 2″ finished. I’d counsel a new quiltmaker that it’s only fabric, it’s not your first-born child or the Shroud of Turin.. If you cut it up and stitch it and don’t like the result you can try again with new pieces. It does get easier with practice!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      YES! It’s only fabric. I do think many quilters, experienced and not, feel trepidation at cutting into something, especially if they deem it as “special.” I do, too, for a few pieces. And at the other end of the spectrum are those who cut into and start lots of things but don’t follow through to finishes. Either one is totally fine, IF the quilter is happy with that. But your point — it’s not precious! — I agree with that, and it would help a lot of people to trust and be happier with the process if they could believe it, too. Thanks much.


Thanks for your comments. I don't check them often. Please email me if you have questions.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.