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Now, I really like Instagram. I’m an avid photographer – shooting concerts, portraits and travel wherever I can, so an explicitly image-only social network was right up my alley. I’d also like to add that I was one of Instagram’s earliest adopters – the company launched in October 2010, and the first image I posted (a tacky photo of a ferris wheel, oops!) was 222 weeks ago, in December 2010.

I literally used Instagram before it was cool.

instawhat photo 1

(Well, I was one of the one million other people who thought it was cool by December 2010. But considering Instagram currently boasts over 300 million monthly active users, I was still ahead of the curve.)

Fast forward five years and “to ‘gram something” is a household verb, grandparents and primary-school children use the platform, and bloggers, fashionistas and other seemingly ordinary people have garnered thousands upon thousands of followers, granting them the elusive “Instagram-famous” status.

But here’s the thing. There are a lot of cynics out there: cynics who think that Instagram is a shallow, vapid attempt to show others how amazing your life is. These critics condemn Instagram for allowing people to only portray what they want others to see, creating a glossy, filtered, altogether-perfect showcase of your life.

instagram georgeatsBut here’s the other thing… that was the point. Instagram was always meant to be a place of beauty, of creativity, of stories, conveyed through these perfectly square images, not a place for your daily, blurry coffee cup photo and another selfie from that same angle or bathroom mirror. Of course we’re going to post the highlights of our lives. The ability for people to make their everyday lives simple and picturesque is what made Instagram popular in the first place. Facebook and Twitter are for updating your friends with the photo of your mud-soaked shoe or that funny billboard you saw on the motorway. Instagram is for art. For making food look delectable, for making cities look wanderlust-worthy and for making Sunday-brunch outfits look like something you should wear every day.

This obsession with perfection has led to the overwhelming popularity and the origination of the flatlay photo, too. Impeccably lit, flawlessly placed and taken from directly above, flatlays go viral because, put simply, they’re pretty to look at. You’ll find that there are thousands of fashion and food bloggers, health nuts and luxury brands who have no trouble garnering followers or likes on their photos because they commit to making each and every photo aesthetically pleasing. Symmetry, an interesting composition, a filter like VSCO or Afterlight and usually some brand name items seem to be the recipe for success here, but who am I to talk? I only have 428 followers.

Banner image taken from Instagram: jamesscarpenter and body image taken from Instagram: georgeats.