By Nishtha Bhalla
Are you obsessed with the way your Instagram feed looks? Have you done 'soft-launches' to introduce your partner to your audience of 1,116 Internet strangers? Is your feed full of aesthetically curated pictures from your life, filtered through a carefully designed pack of 7 VSCO lenses? Does your brain convince you that you're constantly in an edit, with Bollywood music playing at every hair flip? Are you constantly obsessed with creating content in a way that your life looks enviable and sought-after, to say the least? Well, hello, main character!
Summer of 2021 was a movie — and Instagram is living proof of it. While we were all holed up at home, anxiously awaiting the second wave to pass, we experienced a collective phenomenon that washed over us and essentially transformed the way we perceive our lives. The phenomenon? The main character syndrome. Coined by the colloquial-decoding experts at UrbanDictionary.com and popularised by the endless TikToks and Reels that force you to 'romanticise your life' and 'live your life like the main character,' protagonist syndrome is when you think that your life is a movie (or a book), and you're the star lead.
And hey, you are the protagonist of your life – no doubt about it. Just like in a movie, it's not unrealistic to believe you're the protagonist of your life — you are, and you always will be. But what is unrealistic is expecting to be the main character of everyone else's life too. The obsession with being the main character is a real one. Call it the anxiety of being locked in during the second wave with the situation escalating and worsening every day, or call it the #FOMO we experienced watching people live their best lives all through the summer while we were stressed, but it seems like we collectively decided our aim in life was to be the main character in everyone else’s.
I'm not going to lie — I've experienced this too. Apart from working out of a coffee shop and writing pieces (including this one!) like I'm the most artsy-slash-hipster-slash-Carrie Bradshaw-esque person there is, I think I've embraced the main character syndrome a little too much. I constantly obsess over what to post and, embarrassingly enough, used to have a private Instagram where I used to see how my feed would look. Reel audios live in my head rent-free, and I'm constantly looking for the best possible lighting for my pictures — otherwise, what will people think?
What will people think. That's the one looming question over everyone's head, isn't it? It impacts your 'reel' life, and so it impacts your 'real' life. Or maybe it's the other way around — what comes first? Anyway, regardless of the chronology of what happens when, the point remains that so much of our life has become so performative; mine included. And the 'humanising' reels that show 'flaws' like crying are staged too! (The 'If I showed you my flaws...' trope, anyone?) Everything we (you? me? all of us?) post on the 'Gram is about being the main character, and everything we do is so that our followers perceive us as the main character.
And for some people, their followers do perceive them as the main character! Sure, we've all been guilty of bingeing the 'we broke up' videos on Youtube, and we may often check up on our fave influencers, friends from another lifetime, and whatnot. But cursory scrolls aren't indicative of being the main character in someone else's life! Also, trying to be the main character in everyone's life will probably leave you with a feeling of being unfulfilled — if you're trying to live life so other people can be envious of you, your oh-so-perfect aesthetic, and your oh-so-perfect life, what will happen when reality just doesn't... match up to what you're trying to achieve here?
What happens when the presets fade away, and you have an un-Instagrammable day? Or when nothing main character-y happens to you that you can post a story about? When the camera flashes fade and all that's left is you, and your life? I think living a life trying to prove to the world you're a main character is just setting yourself up for more disappointment, if not more. This is something that I've had to figure out for myself too — after years of trying to do relationship 'soft-launches' to introduce my partner to my audience of 1,116 internet strangers (spoiler: It didn't work out regardless), creating a feed full of aesthetically curated pictures from my life, filtered through a carefully designed preset of 7 VSCO lenses (spoiler: That didn't work out either), and convincing myself that I'm constantly in an edit, with Bollywood music playing at every hair flip (spoiler: It's not!) I'm learning to treat my social media life, like my social media life.
Maybe I'll be a skincare influencer. Maybe I'll make cringe-tastic reels that get millions of views. Maybe I'll just be myself, instead of portraying myself as this 'cool-girl-that-girl,' when I'm really not.
But I'm not going to stop romanticising my life — I will go to coffee shops and pretend to be a Carrie Bradshaw-esque artsy writer. Only this time, it'll be for myself, and myself only. No #NoFilter pics and all.
Reply to me, and let me know what you think!