Instagram has changed. We have officially entered wanna-be-reality-TV social media and people are dumping their seemingly-unembellished, autobiographical half-truths all over their aesthetically curated Instagram profiles.
Gone are the days of perfectly positioned, glossed up, glazed faced Instagram models. It’s 2022—those models have died, and the everyday influencer is the new star of the show, with their key arsenal being the photo dump.
What’s a photo dump, you ask? Think of it like a Facebook photo album. You know that haphazard gallery from your family vacation to Cozumel that you’ve had listed as private on your profile since 2010? That would be considered a masterpiece in today’s Instagram Rolodex. Back then, no one was thinking and we were all just doing.
The photo dump, or “dump” as many like to caption it, has become the current societal recognition for relatability—an attempt to normalize realness that has spiralled into a mainstream performative hyper-reality. These “dumps” are a carousel of raw-like images that appear to be filterless, unposed, and, most importantly, unplanned. However, to truly capture an unplanned, “dump-worthy” moment on camera is comparable to buying a Banksy from a Manhattan street hawker—people say it’s happened, but it’s damn hard to believe.
So, how is it done? Well, as you sift through photos to post for your “summer dump *insert emoji here*”, make sure the first photo is something casual—it acts as the cover to the perfectly-imperfect story tale that you’re about to tell. Oh, and make sure it’s beige, since it will live on your feed forever and needs to fit the aesthetic (or green—I’ve heard that green is the new beige). It’s probably a picture of the side of a building, or a coffee cup, or maybe even a half-drunk Perrier bottle—keep it random because random means you’re fun and flirty!
Next, introduce yourself (as if we haven’t seen your face before); a makeup-less masterpiece with fluffed-up brows and a divine constellation of freckles on your nose. Natural always (but if you don’t look hot, apply makeup until you do).
For photos five through seven, be sure to include: a beachy sunset, something artsy, a blurry pic of a table filled with highball glasses, the back of your head in the grocery store (the city’s hottest club is the produce aisle), and your dog (if you don’t have a dog, find one).
Not only does the content of photos matter, but the order of the photos holds equal weight (god forbid you post two pics of your face in a row). The last shot is the most important. To close it out, post either a meme or an embarrassing picture of yourself. Either will be sure to scream, “Look! Not only am I effortlessly gorgeous, I’m also funny!” A cheeky last photo ensures that everyone knows you’re extra silly and goofy.
That’s it! You’ve nailed it! You’ve captured that effortless je ne sais quoi. You are the epitome of chill, spiritual, funny, gorgeous, and most importantly, not trying.
Yet you were.
This performance is not to be mistaken for realness. No matter how you post it, we’re all swimming in a punch bowl of other-oriented perfectionism. Everyone is still trying to control everyone else’s perception of themselves.
And the most crazy part about it? We’re all along for the ride. It’s as if there is a mutual understanding that if you don’t call out my bullshit, I won’t call out yours. We’ve all bought a ticket to the acoustic performance when we all know the show is lip-synced.
I’ll admit: I do it too. Why? Because of the looming feeling that if you don’t keep up, you’re not relevant, and if you’re not relevant, you may as well not exist (of course, this isn’t true). But no one is really listening. We are all looking at our post 50 times more than our follower who doesn’t even make it to the third slide without scrolling on. We are all talking to no one.
Photo dump Instagram is even more toxic than seeing the over-injected, over-edited model posts. When this casual version of perfectionism became mainstream, it made it nearly impossible to distinguish if anything on social media is actually genuine.
So, in the age of cancel culture, TikTok dances, the Instagram face (see Jia Tolentino’s article), and now, the photo dump, I just have to ask: Are we all okay?
I hope you’re hanging in there. I hope you can see beyond the screen and admire true realness in the flesh.