My most liked picture on Instagram is from the day I got into college. The photo features me walking down Hill Street past The Ross School of Business on game day, decked out in Michigan apparel. My head is turned to face the camera, offering a subtle closed-mouth smile. The caption read a simple, yet clever, “going blue.” The post was fitting for the moment — I had dreamed of getting into the University of Michigan since I was a little girl. This picture perfectly, yet at the same time, nonchalantly, tried to capture the emotion of my acceptance.  

It looked natural. It looked effortless.

It was neither of those things.

I spent the beginning half of my high school years dreaming of what I would post if I got in. After spending too much time thinking about it, I meticulously crafted the cool, calm and collected caption that would go along with the meticulously chosen picture. It was strategically crafted for an audience, my Instagram followers — a random collection of friends, family and acquaintances who have access to my “life in pictures.”

But it wasn’t real.

Instead, my fake Instagram account (finstagram, or finsta for short) painted the real story. Finstas are people’s second private accounts. They often sport a limited number of followers, with the purpose of this being to cap posts’ audience to the people the user knows and trusts. Since the content of these accounts is made to display embarrassing moments, it was the perfect platform for me to rant about the antics of my experience after I got into the University.  

It was tradition to wear college apparel the day after a senior commits to a school, and I wanted to show I was proud of what I had achieved. I wore a U-M hat, a U-M shirt and U-M socks to school. What I didn’t realize — yet in retrospect, probably should’ve — was that my hometown was infested with U-M alumni, always eager and ready to shout “Go Blue!” at any passerby sporting apparel. Random people screaming at me was not an action I was mentally prepared for.

In light of this, that day I posted a picture on my finsta. My eyes were hidden by my left hand pulling my hat as far down on my face. My teeth were pressed together, with my lips pulled back to illustrate just how uncomfortable I was. The intense mood of the situation was secured with a black and white filter. The post was a cry for help out of my inherent awkwardness. The caption read:

“so i know saying go blue at random people wearing michigan stuff is most definitely a thing but it’s happened so many times today and i genuinely don’t know what to do back. i freeze up every time. i forget that i have hands and they flail and my voice sounds like a broken cat it’s really cute”

The picture took one second to take. The caption took three to write.

Instead of spending hours tirelessly trying to construct the perfect post, I showed my 50 followers who I actually was. In general, I don’t consider myself to be cool, but in those few days I was especially not calm. When I was being berated with spirit by strangers, I couldn’t even begin to consider myself collected. I was an awkward, excited mess, overwhelmed with good news and anxious for what the future would bring. My finsta post showed that version of me.

It was genuine. It was real.

Finstas are a fairly new concept that came to my area when I was a freshman in high school. Instagram itself created a platform in which people carefully create an identity to display to their followers, allowing for users to pick and choose what they want their peers to see through their posts. It was fueled by both pressure and a need to stand out. It promotes the chance to try to be as physically and aesthetically perfect as possible, as followers can’t really see how much time is spent on a post.

Instagram identities are not real identities, and many girls were done with faking it. So in direct backlash to Instagram’s pressure to fabricate, the Finsta was born.

Primary Instagram accounts allow insight into the user’s life for the purpose of intriguing people who don’t know them better, while finstas serve as a form of updating people who do. Finsta handles can range from being named after an inside joke with friends to a funny play-on-words of the user’s name. They’re quirky. They’re weird. They’re playful. Mine is named after my favorite rapper, while some of my friends’ usernames consist of weird declarations like @iwantsome_mashedpotatoes.

The content on these accounts is constant. While I have been posting less and less recently due to a lack of free time, my finsta was a platform for me to vent almost every day during my junior and senior year of high school. With stress induced by school, parents and sometimes even my friends, my account served as an outlet where I can let go.  While Instagram showed me enjoying my “perfect” junior summer at the beach, looking as carefree as possible, my finsta displayed the evident struggle behind the scenes. Instead of taking advantage of the weather, I was cooped up in my town’s dull and cold library. All that was on my mind was finishing assignment after assignment. My finsta followers understood this truth, with me writing:

“school hasn't even started and it already fully consumes me. just when i thought i could celebrate for finishing parts of summer work i remembered that lang and italian still are fully dwelling over my head. i swear lang is going to swallow me whole”

It was a popular sentiment that my surrounding rising seniors were relating to as well. That post received comments that reassured me I wasn’t alone in the process, and in a way, that was enough. That’s what the finsta community is all about.

It pains me that we live in an era where our social media presence has such a large impact on how others perceive us. We’re reminded to always look good in our posts, but not like we’re trying too hard. Make sure the picture is natural, and that there’s a good setting to fit the mood. Never forget the perfect caption to show everyone just how witty we are, but not too witty — it makes us look weird if the caption seems too thought out. Do this, do that. Be this, be that. It’s too limiting.

Instead of limiting myself, I found a platform that lacks restrictions and unsaid yet strictly followed rules. Maybe one day, I’ll let myself be completely free and delete my primary account in general, but for now, my finsta makes me feel liberated. It sets me free from the useless pressure I feel to fit the wanted stereotype archetype.

My finsta inspires my real identity.

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