Late last summer, I cut my 3,000 Instagram posts down to 30. It took innumerable hours spread out over weeks to delete them all, using a hyper-specific (and fairly buggy) app fittingly called Delete for Instagram. It let me select batches of 50 posts, saving the images and videos to my iPhone’s camera roll before purging them from the app for good. Gone from my grid were photos of mason jar cocktails from Brooklyn bars in 2012 and awful #ootd mirror shots from 2013. Bad hair decisions, ex-lovers, blurry concert shots — all evacuated.
What remained were pictures that represented me at the time; things I still felt communicated what I would want someone to know about me should they land on my profile. I love to imagine, for instance, the new girlfriend of one of those aforementioned exes looking at my profile and thinking, “Damn, what a cool chick. I hope I measure up but there is certainly no way. Just look at her fine taste, exciting lifestyle, and that unmatchable wit!” Or something.
I was initially inspired to pare down my account when I noticed the minimalist profiles of influential teens (forever a source of personal aspiration). After New York magazine published a profile of then-16-year-old Lilli Hymowitz, a New York City kid with money and mystique, dubbing her “the prom queen of Instagram” in September 2015, she swiftly deleted nearly every image on her account, leaving just three posts remaining that pre-dated the article. Ditto Mike the Ruler, a menswear fashion aficionado who broke out at 11 or 12 (and had his own NY mag profile by 13). Soon I noticed plenty of teens who were not profiled by magazines for their impressive lifestyles or vast followings doing the same thing, bringing their accounts down to post counts around 20, or even less. Partly to wipe away images of tastes that they have since outgrown, sure — and that happens so fast when you’re that age — but partly, I thought, as a statement of ownership over their online identity.