Some light spoilers ahead for Ingrid Goes West
I recently completed my semi-annual viewing of one of my favorite movies, Ingrid Goes West, starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it — it’s about an unstable woman who moves to LA to watch, stalk, and eventually befriend a popular Instagram influencer. It’s the Millennial version of Single White Female. And it’s brilliant.
Aubrey Plaza masterfully plays Ingrid, a young woman who struggles with co-dependency and possibly sociopathic tendencies, a character you can’t root for, yet somehow completely relate to. Elizabeth Olsen’s Taylor is, if possible, even scarier. The movie makes it clear that Ingrid isn’t a good person and is likely deranged, but Taylor is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the casual narcissist that walks among us unchallenged and undisturbed. You might not know an Ingrid in real life, but I can say with certainty that we ALL know a Taylor, whether or not you realize it.
Social media can be terrifying. It allows us to completely construct a persona, an image, an aesthetic, and capitalize off that, even if everything about it is a downright lie. Some people even use authenticity as a selling point, making sure to add certain buzzwords and unfiltered photos all to carefully capture the fact that their lives aren’t perfect. But even so, we are not seeing the full story, we are not seeing the uncropped picture.
It might be unpopular, but the truth is that who we are online is likely not who we are in reality. That doesn’t mean people are necessarily trying to trick others, it’s just really hard to encapsulate your entire personality complete with goals, mannerisms, triggers, thoughts, quirks, flaws, and goals in just a few photos and a couple of well-thought out captions. Social media is a performance. Sometimes it’s a performance you don’t even realize is spilling into your real life, which is illustrated nicely in the movie when Ingrid realizes that Taylor’s husband kind of hates her and their picture-perfect life isn’t so grand after all, a fact that Taylor herself seems intentionally ignorant about.
The second we start sharing our lives online, we begin curating ourselves. And that’s because we are suddenly trying to view our page, our face, our life through the eyes of strangers. Whether or not we realize it, we’re creating a version of ourselves that can literally never be authentic because we’re pushing out instead of looking in. In this way, it’s easy to get swallowed by the very real danger of social media addiction, especially if you’re already prone to addictive behavior. It becomes a trap we’ve set for ourselves — constantly comparing and criticizing ourselves to people who are not portraying themselves in any kind of accurate light.
What can we do? We can remember that the world, the real world, isn’t on tiny screens and colorful apps. We can take frequent and thorough social media breaks, meaning you turn off those notifications, log out of the app, and set a limit on how much screen time you spend per day. We can choose to validate ourselves based on true accomplishments and the love we give and get instead of online insights and the number of strangers who “like” a photo.
The end of Ingrid Goes West is bittersweet — Ingrid survives a terrible ordeal, but as a result she goes viral. The movie ends with her gleefully scrolling through her Instagram, eyes wet and obsessive as she realizes her dream is coming true. The implication is that anything she might have learned from her experiences goes out the window, her addiction to social media and social status winning in the end.
We don’t have to be Ingrid. We don’t have to let social media control our narrative to the point of self-destruction. And we definitely don’t have to be Taylor, faking our way through life, disposing of people who can’t help us improve our digital analytics, choosing to treat those around us as props in a vibey, blush pink, reclaimed wood Instagram account.
Ultimately, we give social media the power. Which means it’s up to us to take it back.