A cheap thrill—instant validation from forty-thousand strangers, only hitting the notorious “follow” button because they do the same thing as me; live vicarious lives behind a screen. It developed into an addiction—I craved their affection. It was necessary to luxuriate my ego, it was the rush of dopamine that temporarily quenched my thirst for glory. Imagine accomplishing everything you’ve ever wanted on the world’s stage—and only the refined image of you is what they see—the flawless twenty-first century American Dream, achieved. Insta-famous: A person who is famous on the popular app, Instagram, because they have thousands of followers. It feels like you’ve beaten the elementary school bully at the Science Fair—it lasts for the duration period of praise, then soon after you are not as exotic, returning to your quintessential state as the nerd kid wearing too big of glasses. I am the nerd kid with frames too big to fit her face.

I found out fast that participating in this line of work could only keep me high for the span of an elementary praise period—what goes up, must come back down—it’s science.

My good genetics fed my audience to desire to watch the lifestyle I had curated through images on Instagram. It was all fiction, made up, a fantasy—the followers were real, but me, I was a phony. I used about three different applications to disguise blemishes, added filters to make my eyes blue-er, but never stooped to the lowest pedestal of eliminating inches from my body—I went to the gym for that. The unflawed candid photos you see on the internet are one of the six-hundred images shot in the duration of two hours, and the result of thirty variations of a single pose; candid. 

Originally, I had utilized social media platforms to promote my music and reach my country-music-loving fans, but it didn’t stop at that. When traffic began to increase on my page, I was booking modeling gigs, and fortune-500 companies would contact me to ask me to advertise their products and services on my page—my face included. I was a good model—five-foot-nine, and skinny. A teenager receiving compensation for what she was already doing—it certainly is a dream of sorts.

It wasn’t until I started increasing in popularity, that I lost track of who I was and the compass I had been adjusting, lost track of the field. I wasn’t content, I was content—media had consumed my life. I spent two years entertaining (mostly middle-aged men who would declare their love for me in the comments section) on the internet, and lost sight of who I was—indemnified by false triggers of feel-good hormones. Believe me; it is not worth it.

My sense of worth dependent on the approval rating of strangers—people who didn’t care that I was over exercising, intentionally starving, or having a breakdown because they knew the girl who frolicked around in the sand, the girl with a lot of followers, the Instamodel who attended your high school, you did not know me.

I took a step back—I came out from the comforting shadows of the girl in the photos, stepping into the light of the young woman’s future, my future. I discovered an eighteen-year-old having a mid-life crisis as a consequence of the internet, an entirely avoidable millennial life crisis, and I did not want to continue down the path of mindless photo shoots and appraisal ratings. I started saying no and took control of my own life.

You can describe it as a gutsy move—I stopped posting photos secretly sponsored and strategically posed, lit, and edited, and began—I turned down a different path, and I started at the beginning.

I commenced with a real sprinter—posted a photo of me right after my high school graduation; heels in my hand, gown off, my cords still draped around my neck, garnished with a sigh of relief. The time in my life where my Instagram followers thought I lavished in daily beach trips and tailored tops, was indeed consumed by IB exams, college admissions purgatory, and acne flare-ups.

I didn’t like what I was doing—so I stopped. I quit the unwinnable race to the ever-unattainable American Dream of becoming famous for posting photogenic images, and I started living. There was no turning back—that post-graduation photo displayed my slightly larger than my left, right quadricep—the truthful portrayal—complete.

If you ask me why I did what I did—better yet, tell me that I made a mistake, go ahead and follow your heart down the aisle of plastic proving—it’s as simple as the American Dream. My rationale for living in the first-person is as underestimated as Blanche DuBois’s past—I was candidly crestfallen. I am eternally grateful for each individual who takes time from their day to view my images, but it’s time they met me. Seriously, get off of social media, live, and read some classics—they will show you the cinch of the American Dream.