Image from Emma Chamberlain’s instagram account
Image description: A screenshot from creator Emma Chamberlain’s Instagram page shows her 12 most recent posts.
Today, the way one presents themselves on Instagram is considered a window into their psyche. Only posts photos of themselves? Toeing the line between charismatically confident and straight up cocky. Uploads photos from vacation every break? Definitely carefree and worthy of being envied. No posts at all? Mysterious, enigmatic, and evasive.
When we meet people nowadays, it’s common to exchange Instagram handles as both a method of staying in touch and re-adjusting our first impressions based on their virtual persona. This technique of assessing total strangers through their Instagrams has escalated in recent years. For example, when I was searching for roommates after being admitted to UCLA last spring, I went on the @ucla2025 Instagram account to judge whether I could live with someone or befriend them solely based on their photo, description in the caption, and Instagram account.
In stark contrast, I recall the Instagram feed from my middle school days was full of cringy over-filtered selfies, bad memes, and “Ask for a rate & TBH” posts. As I transitioned to high school, it became unspoken knowledge that posting frequently was an annoyance; therefore, people would only upload content on special occasions every couple of months, carefully picking the most flattering photos from our camera rolls. All the posts of our middle school years have since been erased and are buried remnants of untrendy, unaesthetic pasts that we’re too embarrassed to share.
Yet recently, the Instagram community has collectively decided to reject this posed, performative style and instead attempt to return to its roots through a phenomenon known as “casual posting.” As I scroll through my homepage today, all I see are seemingly spontaneous photo dumps that greatly oppose previous media canons. Photo dumps are a key component of casual posting and consist of unrelated pictures thrown together to show what someone’s been up to lately. Even U.S. President Joe Biden participated in this trend.
Through casual posting, celebrities, college students, and even democratic leaders are liberated from Instagram restrictions of the past and can now post whatever and whenever they want. These nonchalant compilations typically depict a flippant attitude towards social media and are aimed at unfettering individuality.
However, this great societal mission to revive the lighthearted Instagram approach of the early 2010s disguises an intense curation of content – perhaps even more intense than it has ever been in the past. There’s somewhat of a beautiful irony here: The entire basis of casual posting relies on consistently leading (and photographing) an aesthetically pleasing lifestyle. In addition to the pre-existing pressure of choosing the perfect photos, we now also have to ensure that the photos don’t emanate an overachieving tryhard vibe and that they cohesively flow with the uploader’s overall Instagram aesthetic. So casual.
Compared to the posed Instagram style, casual posting is even more toxic to impressionable youths because it becomes even harder to distinguish between reality and a media-constructed fantasy. There is no way to exist on social media without performing, and casual Instagram is essentially a giant hyper-romanticized performance. Casual Instagrammers are obligated to look for a picture in every moment and oftentimes only do things just to include it in a photo dump. This contradicts the entire notion of authenticity and blurs the line between social media and the truth. Casual posting delivers the message: “Your life needs to be beautifully nuanced yet indefectible enough to be shared consistently on social media.”
This follows the trend of popular culture wanting to normalize “realness” in recent years: models who are quite literally the beauty standard share their body dysmorphia, celebrities are open about struggles with mental health, et cetera. But once this “realness” is normalized, it becomes performative. People are vulnerable and honest solely to seem relatable and gain fans rather than to spread awareness, and a destructive cycle is born. Such is the case with casual posting.
Furthermore, like most media trends nowadays, casual posting has its roots in capitalism and consumerism. When you take a step back and look at the “creators” of casual posting, you notice that they’re all relatively affluent with access to an abundance of money to uphold the aesthetics we strive for. Whether they’re posting shots of their sushi dinner, pet cat, or cotton candy sunsets, casual posters can only maintain their title by constantly spending money to go out and get content.
It’s a jarring thing to consider: Rich people can only achieve this envied, nonchalant media persona that’s advertised to be for everyone. But when you think about it, it’s also really not that surprising: Since when did any trend in the media not sway in favor of or even originate from the wealthy?
Take Emma Chamberlain, for example. With her mixed feed of designer photo shoots and casual blurry flicks, the trendy 20 year-old has amassed 15 million followers and is considered a teenage inspiration. However, none of her content would be possible if her net worth wasn’t over $12 million. The rest of us can’t snap pictures of Paris Fashion Week, vacations in the Bahamas, or a beautifully designed West Hollywood mansion because we can’t afford that lifestyle.
And if the startling antithesis of posed versus casual posting wasn’t enough, there are influencers whose job is to help people create a seamless yet casual Instagram aesthetic. For example, @curatedbychelsea on TikTok shares tips on how to plan your Instagram using graphic design app Canva and has even created tutorials on using “colour map templates” for your feed – all while appearing to adhere to the casual posting trend. The irony of painstakingly formulating a laidback, cohesive feed epitomizes the intense performance that casual Instagram entails.
The phenomenon of casual posting actually isn’t as casual as you think. Rather, it is a collective disillusionment that attempts to translate authenticity onto social media, which is an oxymoron in and of itself. What was once (a very long time ago) an online space for friends to connect and creatives to express has morphed into a platform that prioritizes the privileged and enforces an expectation to constantly appear carefree and cool. This isn’t to say that wanting to casually post is bad: Just be aware of the performative aspects that propel it and remember that Instagram is not reality.