It's easy to be cynical about what we see on social media, especially because so much of it can seem manufactured. I'm guilty of scrolling through my Instagram feed and obsessing over how many likes I'm getting, envying people who always get more likes than I do. When so much of what we do online is carefully curated, it makes sense that some people are skeptical of doing things for the 'gram and places that garner social media hype. Cue everyone eye-rolling and bemoaning our appearance-obsessed culture, but taking pictures of pretty things and posting them on Instagram can actually be a way to practice self-care. Life isn't always picture-perfect, but there's nothing wrong with sharing the moments that are.
The Museum of Ice Cream's new location in Miami Beach opened to the public on Dec. 13, and is a perfect case study in this phenomenon. Upon entering, I was christened with an "ice cream name" and encouraged to take pictures everywhere I turned. Each exhibit inside the museum features activities like learning choreographed dances and building sandcastles, but the main attraction is clear: People are snapping selfies in every room.
Some might take this as a sign that we're on a hopeless decline as a society, but is it really so bad if someone goes somewhere and ups their social media game in the process? According to Madison Utendahl, the Museum of Ice Cream's head of content and social, it's perfectly natural. "This space is hyper-visual," she tells Bustle. "The energy is there, and people want to capture it."
Staff members are encouraged to snap pictures for patrons, she says. "We want to eliminate that sense of shame of wanting to have a permanent memory." Utendahl says the museum primarily attracts people between 25 and 36 years old, but they see visitors of all ages. "We actually have a very diverse audience, and we advertise ourselves as a safe space," she says. "People don’t expect to have as much fun as they have."
She's right. I found myself surprised at how much I was actually enjoying myself, tasting bites of key lime ice cream in one room and hula-hooping in the next. It's easy to expect a place like this to be a bastion of self-centeredness, but everyone was ridiculously nice. It was actually a really refreshing break from the cynicism I usually surround myself with.
How do you battle the pressure to remain "authentic" on social media with the excitement of doing something for the 'gram? There's not really a perfect answer, but I don't see the point in shaming people who snap selfies at the museum or any place like it. I once drove 45 minutes to an artsy area in a nearby city to take pictures, and I got to see a place I wouldn't have seen otherwise. You can criticize millennials for being shamelessly self-absorbed, or you can let us have fun.
Concern about social media inauthenticity isn't completely misplaced. Studies have shown that social media can lead to depressive symptoms, and there have been initiatives to encourage people to share their raw, honest stories on social media to show how not everything is expertly filtered and curated. But is it possible to have both? Can an Instagram feed be full of super-fun, expertly-posed images without being "fake"?
As we continue to embrace social media and the complications it can bring, we'll have to face the fact that some places are going to attract Insta-ready hordes searching for selfie backgrounds. But instead of being judgmental, it's a good idea to remember that people are still having valid experiences even if they're focused on snapping pictures. If it brings them enjoyment, who cares?
Utendahl says pictures can also remind us of happy times, especially because "the world seems overwhelming right now." She says, "When I look back at my photos, they’re memories that bring me back to the place that I was at. Why am I embarrassed that I’m taking a photo during a time that I’m enjoying myself?"
If you roll your eyes when you see people posing for pictures at tourist attractions or museums, I encourage you to ask yourself why it bothers you. People want to take pictures when they're having fun, and I don't think it's fair to blame them.