Reliving High School Through Instagram

What do your posts say about you? It's geeks and jocks all over again.

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Love it or hate it, you never quite leave it. Pimple-laced, cringe-inducing and unexpectedly transcendent, high school memories are the most vivid. But why do they linger? Neuroscientists say memories you create during your adolescence — when your identity is most in flux — are some of the strongest stored. And it’s during that time your prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that’s responsible for reason and reflection — continues to develop. The myelin that’s injected into the brain speeds up and improves the connections of the nervous system, reinforcing memories, before solidifying in your mid-twenties.

That’s why personalities, unlike appearances, don’t seem to change after high school. And chances are, those early angels and demons are just as fresh today as they were back in your impressionable teenage years. They’re the experiences that shaped your identity and how you view the world around you — for better or worse.

How you see the world is at the heart of Instagram, turning it into the digital version of high school, complete with its own cliques and cast of characters. If you think about it, it’s not a surprise. After all, the idea at the heart of the social network is to use photos as a unique expression of your personality. So when you choose what to capture and how to filter to get the right effect, you’re not just composing a shot, you’re revealing who you are. And like high school, those masterpieces peg you into broad archetypes, creating a Breakfast Club 2.0, if you will, for the 21st century.

Instead of jocks and cheerleaders roaming the halls or the cool clique smoking in the bathroom, you have visionaries, fashionistas, artistes and proud parents, each with their unique slant on the world, as well as hidden neuroses that make them human.

No matter what effect you lean towards or how much you crop, ultimately, you filter your sense of identity through the same lens that started to develop in high school — and it’s what you carry through life, whether you realize it or not.

So where do you fit in? What do your posts say about you? Let’s begin!


The Star
High School Clique: Head Cheerleader, Captain of the Football Team

How to Recognize Them: Their Instagram world is notable for how incredulous it all appears. Can one person really have the best of everything — the perfect chilled bottle of champagne, the trendiest car and the most beautiful wardrobe? Why, of course, darling!

Modus Operandi: Stars want one thing: attention. They love the spotlight, and being around them is like suddenly finding yourself as an extra in a movie — which they direct, produce and star in. They luxuriate in the finer things and know all the best people. But it isn’t because they’re innately social or materialistic. Rather, those are great props in the epic “Real Housewives” episode that is their life. And Instagram? It’s the behind-the-scenes documentary — just another stage for them to dominate.

But secretly, they’re insecure. News flash, who isn’t? You’ll see glimpses of it if you pay attention — that occasional post of an uncharacteristically reflective selfie, for example. But generally, their life is fabulous, and so is their Instagram.

Celebrity ExamplesVictoria Beckham is a prime example. The purveyor of all things posh raved about her obsession with a new pair of white Manolo Blahniks, then boast about the Prada shoes ingeniously engraved with her initials, “V.B.” — that same signature that’s attached to her posts, which beam out to more than 700,000 followers.

Along those lines, Instagram star Therese Hollgren gives her audience a daily dose of put-together awesomeness, too. Her perfect execution of the hashtag “#ootd,” short for outfit of the day, broadcasts her fabulous wardrobe and attitude to the masses.


The Selfie
High School Clique: Drama Queen, Class Clown

How to Recognize Them: Selfies loves Instagram, but they love themselves more. And their medium of choice is in their visage — from the side with an arched eyebrow, looking down with a wolfish grin or revealing only a corner of an eye, twinkling mischievously.

Modus Operandi: They may post albums full of portraits, but Selfies aren’t exactly full of themselves. They’re actually funny and clever with a flair for the dramatic and comedic. They’re also comfortable in their own skin. Bottom line: they don’t take life too seriously and aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves.

But it’s hard to get them to point their lens — both external and internal — on things that don’t immediately concern them. After all, they’re too busy enjoying the moment to look up from the touch screen. Really though, they’re still trying on different personas, lifestyles and values — it’s a work-in-progress, and those self-portraits are notes along the way.

It’s fun to see what Selfies post each day, but their personalities do run the risk of becoming monotonous. And only the truly ingenious can breathe enough variety into the art-form to make Instagram lively and entertaining for the long haul.

Celebrity Examples: Self-consumed Justin Bieber — especially sans Selina — is a great example of a successful Selfie. Most of his more than 700 photos are of himself, showing that personality does have staying power. But unless it’s accompanied by some serious star potential, it’ll get old fast.


The Foodie
High School Clique: Valedictorian, Secret Stoner

How to Recognize Them: Foodies is easy to spot: they post photos of their meals, complete with artful composition, thoughtful filters and an “om nom nom nom” comment.

Modus Operandi: They show a combination of perfection and passion in their search for that ideal meal. They also have admirable restraint when that plate of empanadas hits the table — pausing to pull out the phone instead of diving into them. In high school, that’s the person that highlights their syllabus within seconds of receiving it.

Always in hot pursuit of the ultimate dish, Foodies can’t enjoy the simple pleasures of a ballpark hotdog or a humble dish of mac and cheese. Why? It doesn’t live up to their high standards. You can tell in the constant arranging: they use the perspiring mug of amber ale to frame the puffy pastry goodies, but push away the balled-up napkin. It’s on the verge of OCD, but they’re good at what they do: inspire artistry, awe and hunger.

But watch out: Foodies that take pictures of nearly every meal may have eating disorders, according to a study by the Canadian Obesity Network. “You don’t take pictures of who you’re with, you take pictures of what you’re eating,” said Dr. Valerie Taylor, the mental health chair for the group. “For some people who have the predisposition for weight behaviors, it just goes that one step further, and they start to develop unhealthy weight disorders and they start to have weight problems.”

Of course, that’s an extreme case. Most do it for the enjoyment. Bon vivants, Foodies live with gusto and always has room for dessert.

Celebrity Examples: Over a million people regularly salivate over Jamie Oliver’spictures, which are both playful and delicious. The chef also adds his children to his Instagram mix, for a down-home touch that relates to the average Joe. Fans not only love the scrumptious trifle pictures, but also glom on the hip restaurants he travels to.


The Doting Parent
High School Clique: The Teacher’s Pet, The Overachiever

How to Recognize Them: Doting Parents post all things kids:: dimples, doughy skin, toys and diapers. Instagram is a monument to their mission — their children, as they eat ice cream, swing a baseball bat, take a nap and learn the ins and outs of potty training.

Modus Operandi: They’re so intensely focused on every little milestone they don’t realize nobody cares about their kids. They’re afraid childhood, like glory, is fleeting, so they feel the need to capture the nuances. Of course, you can’t fault them for loving their kids, but really, in a larger sense, they’re fascinated with their children’s potential — a reflection of what they once had themselves.

Behind the scenes, they shape their child’s personality and values with rigor, which they once applied to their own achievements. They see their kids as an extension of themselves, and want them to grow up successful and fabulous. And if they don’t have kids, they move that same intensely devoted lens to other passions.

Celebrity Examples: Tokyo-based mother Aya Sakai is one of the most interesting Doting Parents. Her daily pictures of son Tasuku and his best friend and French bulldog “Muu” are absolutely adorable.

How compelling? She’s gathered over 200,000 fans, which check in regularly to see the unlikely pair watch TV, nap on a cushion or just hang around on the sofa. They’re best buds, and her artful eye and focus on the relationship between Tasuku and Muu create genuinely touching photos.


The Pro
High School Clique: The Artsy Kids

How to Recognize Them: Pros take Instagram to new heights with their deft use of light, masterful filter manipulation and interesting subjects. But they don’t just record everyday moments — they use Instagram as a digital Moleskine to showcase their art. Whether they channel Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Ansel Adams, their photos arrest your attention with their artistry and creativity.

Modus Operandi: In the circus that’s high school, Pros hung out on the margins, often misunderstood and ignored. But on Instagram, they soar. It’s the ideal platform to showcase their creativity, with endless possibilities to express their skill. They’re always chasing the next moment of inspiration, but their posts inspire others to dream as well.

Pros often have their heads in the clouds, so it’s hard to keep them tethered to reality. They can dissect attributes of the perfect snapshot with ease, but if you talk about their inner self, well, those enigmatic artists have a hard time expressing it in words.

Celebrity Examples: New York is the canvas for Brooklyn-based photographerSam Horine. He roams the concrete jungle for photographic prey, deftly capturing works of art with just an iPhone. If you want to be inspired, his use of Instagram’s editing tools and filters is simply amazing.


The Visionary
High School Clique: The Nerds and Skaters

How to Recognize Them: Visionaries are one step ahead of the pack. On Instagram, they capture ideas and experiences in progress, whether it’s in art, fashion, politics or technology. They also seek out the cutting-edge: the latest events, the best inventions and the hottest trends. You can recognize them by their creative use of emerging hashtags — they seem to know which ones will catch fire with the masses.

Modus Operandi: Even though social sharing charges Visionaries, they’re often lone-rangers, going solo to get the early scoop. Creatures of the future tense, they’re in love with what’s on the horizon and not what’s in front of them. Online, they’re jovial and accessible, but in person, they’re often distant and distracted by what’s coming up next. But it’s not you — they’re just unaccustomed to real-life interaction.

Visionaries are more motivated by trailblazing than being the subject of adoration. On Instagram, they post photos that are inspiring and expansive, broadening your sense of the world and its possibilities. In a way, social mediais their ideal platform, offering a way to broadcast their message far and wide with just a press of the shutter.

Celebrity Examples: In 2012, Barack Obama’s re-election campaign joined rappers, models and shoppers on Instagram. His pictures and snippets of the campaign trail enticed more than two million people to follow him. They got a glimpse of not just his campaigning, but also his family and a trip to the store to buy cheese.


The Nature Lover
High School Clique: The Hippie

How to Recognize Them: Nature Lovers, of course, explode with natural vistas — both from afar, like vast open skies, and up close, zooming into a bee on a rose petal. The world is their focus, and they use Instagram to document and keep records of their ideas. And their favorite hashtag? By far “#nature,” joining the other 20 million posts with the label. They’re devoted solely to the flora and fauna, and the natural phenomenon that surround us all.

Modus Operandi: Nature Lovers are motivated by documenting and preserving the world. Whether it’s a bird on a branch out their kitchen window, reposting memes about endangered species or capturing a shot of an approaching storm, they’re captivated by nature and all its glories. Their posts have a serene, yet philosophical, feel that reflects their outlook on life. And they’re great at framing the big picture, connecting actions to consequences, so you see the ripple effects we create that extend well beyond what’s clear on the screen.

But everyone has a dark side, and Nature Lovers often think the best parts of the world are where we haven’t been to yet. Why are we so greedy, destructive and harmful? They’re sensitive, sometimes overly so, and it makes their existence in the here and now rather painful. If left unchecked, it can bring out a latent strain of preachiness that gets on your nerves. They don’t like the messiness of reality and long for an escape, making the forests and fields their true refuge.

Celebrity Examples: On Instagram, @Nature has over 25,000 followers who, as the page describes, “come forth into the light of things and let nature be their teacher.” It posts creatures and landscapes to show off nature’s fragility and fury. Another account, @charitywater, is less subtle in its campaign to promote safe drinking water in developing countries. If you’re compelled by the touching images of children with clean drinking water, head over the group’s website to learn more.


The Model/Rock Star
High School Clique: The Party People

How to Recognize Them: Models/Rock Stars are the ones for whom the word “blase” was created — they’re too cool for school and most interested in having a good time. Their posts are full of crazy feats, like zip-lining, hard-core partying and posing perilously close to rooftop edges and subway platforms. They can overlap with Selfies, as well. Just like high school, when they slept through class and showed up hungover to the SATs, they have little time for activities that don’t involve fun and excitement.

Modus Operandi: Edgy, subversive and often a bit dangerous, Models/Rock Stars take the “live fast, die young” philosophy into the realm of performance art. Creatures of the night and of the moment, they live mythically, following in the footsteps of real-life rockers and celebrities. And like those hedonists, they pursue pleasures at all costs, without regard to the future.

Their posts are thrilling, but their emphasis on the outrageous can border on dangerous carelessness, even self-destructive. Do they care? Of course not. And judging by the illicit, and sometimes illegal, activities, they live on the edge, giving you a glimpse of the wild and vicarious ride of an outlaw life. But in the end, they wake up from the party with a hangover and a vague sense of existential dread. Not that they’ll show that side: they put a lot of effort into splashing the appearance of a charmed life.

The too-deliberate picture, though, can undermine their supposed spontaneity. But in the end, you can sense the chaotic, restless, dissatisfied spirit underlying the supposed joie de vivre.

Celebrity Examples: On Instagram, Rihanna stars in several parties — invariably smoking or flipping the bird to the camera. She also uses hashtags, like “#thuglife,” for pictures, memorializing the marijuana leaf tattoo that adorns her backside. But her Instagram also expertly mixes business with pleasure, promoting her “Diamond” world tour to seven million followers — with about 500,000 that comment on a wild backstage life, streaked with adolescent stunts and posing.


Where the Past and Present Meet

In a way, Instagram is a perfect medium to paint the lingering memories our past for the present. The filters we use are all nostalgic in nature, evoking the sun-soaked ’70s, the bright, flat surfaces of the ’80s or the grungy, angst-filled ’90s. You take an image from the present and recast it in the golden light of the past, idealized and made beautiful in a way that only memories can do.

We think we change after leaving our high school years behind. But really, do we? Sure, we enter the “real world,” but the truth is, we never left the past behind. And like Instagram, we’re just constantly filtering the present with the aesthetic of the past, revealing persistent longings to find ourselves — that feeling to belong that we began in our teenage years. Some things just don’t change, no matter where we go in life.

This article was written by Margaret Rock and originally appeared on Mobiledia.
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