The appeal of a finsta is clear: the ability to be “yourself” as well as to post all the ugly selfies and embarrassing group photos that you would never, ever allow on your rinsta, or “real Instagram.”
We use this “fake Instagram” to shit-talk our professors and that man sitting too close to us on the train; we whine about someone from high school or detail uncomfortable situations — it’s supposed to be fun… right?
I had a finsta from my first year of college until my last. I was eager to show a small group of people, who I considered my closest friends, my “funny” and “authentic” side via social media. It took deep trust for me to let you into my sacred sphere. I had to know you for months or years, already have entrusted you with my deepest secrets, and even then, if I had my doubts, you weren’t going to have access to my account.
I went years without ever questioning this need for alternative online space, and in the beginning, I really didn’t have to. But my finsta, which once served as a locale for fun selfies, evolved into a platform that revealed my own deep insecurities.
A conversation during a therapy session sparked my doubts about the account.
My therapist and I were discussing my hesitation to reach out to friends for help. I was unsure as to how I should go about it as I had no one to model my behavior after, no one I felt I could turn to or necessarily count on to communicate pain. Unfortunately, I was used to toxic friends who would unload everything on me and reciprocate normal, friendly gestures very rarely.
So, out of the deep fear I that I would turn into that kind of person if I brought up my issues, I taught myself that I was a burden and not worthy of support. If I was going through something and texted my friends about it, intense guilt would build up within me. I felt like I had ruined their day, that they already had school, work, and relationships to worry about and didn’t need my problematic additions to those issues. As a result, I would keep my feelings bottled up, write out a text to my best friend and delete it out of fear that she already had enough on her plate and didn’t need my “stuff” on top of that.
For me, there was no middle ground. I either shamed myself for sharing or wouldn’t say anything at all. So I turned to my finsta.
There, I could explain the whole situation and how I was feeling about it — without having to reach out, without having to burden a specific individual, without having to imagine that they resented me for it. It became an outlet that I would utilize whenever I was in need of love and support but couldn’t bring myself to “formally” ask for it. It was a roundabout way of venting and ignoring my desire for human interaction — which is understandable and normal — but not necessarily healthy.
Soon, I realized that my finsta was falling into the same category as my self-harm habits, which I have struggled with since I was eighteen.
I don’t mean this in the sense that it physically harmed me, but it definitely was an unhealthy way of displaying my pain rather than expressing it. Since we sometimes believe that we are not worthy of seeking help or attention, we rely on these alternative ways of showing it. Displaying my pain online seemed much easier and safer than verbally communicating it IRL; a finsta lets us hide behind a screen, a mode of telling our friends that we are hurting without having to fully confront the conversation. And, again, if we display and don’t express, we don’t have to worry about being a burden.
I then started to question my actions, and though they were not intentionally malicious, they may have been manipulative. By posting on this account, I was subconsciously telling people that they were not supporting me, even though they couldn’t have had any way of knowing that I needed support in the first place.
I would post a long rant on my finsta about feeling academically inadequate, or an embarrassing run-in with an ex, or someone toxic I needed to ditch. I was indirectly telling friends I needed their help without actually seeking out any real assistance. This was my own unintentional method of guilting them into paying attention to me by making them feel shame for not checking in earlier. Upon seeing my finsta posts, they would text me to see if I was okay or comment encouraging advice. I was then seemingly satisfied but uncomfortable with the way I asked for this help. Instead of letting them know I was hurting, I lured them in by using this odd tactic. I imagine this made them feel strangely about me, maybe even creating some resentment towards me. Maybe they asked themselves if I wanted them to text me about it, or if I wanted a compassionate response.
After this rise in my own self-awareness, I saw that the first step I needed to take in order to remind myself that I was worthy of expressing my feelings was deleting my finsta. And though I’m still learning effective ways of communicating my challenges, this relationship with my finsta revealed so much about myself that I had to work on.
Now, per my therapist’s advice, try to first text my friends something like: “Hey, do you mind if I vent about something to you? If you’re not feeling up to it right now, I totally understand.” It is then their responsibility to let me know if they are in a place where they feel prepared to talk me through a situation. With this preface, I allow myself to avoid feeling the guilt of adding to their problems or wanting to apologize because they had to listen to me for too long.
This is not to say that finstas don’t play a positive role in our young lives; many of my friends still feel joy from these secondary accounts. But, like any social media platform, it is not the platform itself that is inherently harmful or toxic, but the way we interact with it.
If we are able to reshape the interactions we have with social media and the interactions we have with ourselves, we can teach ourselves that we are never burdens. We can learn that we are worthy of expressing.
Photos by Kama Snow.