“Guys, it’s time to BeReal!” I hear as I’m eating dinner with my friends at Malott. The dining hall is abuzz as everyone takes out their phones and we take turns posing for each others’ posts. For those who don’t know, BeReal is a social media app that alerts users at a random time of day to take a photo of what they are doing at that moment. Once you open the alert you are given two minutes to take your photo — supposedly leading to the capture of a “real” moment. But, however authentic BeReal might claim to be, there are more than a few things that make BeReal ultimately performative.
First is the ability to retake your photo, whether when you are initially capturing it or after the fact. Second, BeReal makes a note when a user posts late, as if people are more “real” when they are on time versus not. This acknowledgment of being late to posting your BeReal makes the app feel like a competition — not a fun, casual app that captures the moment, but rather a competition of realness, with the winners being those who are the most on time.
The concept of BeReal — however flawed — was born out of a recent movement for “authenticity.” In 2021, Gen Z called to “make Instagram casual.” People shifted from curated feeds to casual posts about almost anything, not caring so much about how their grid looked or how aesthetic their posts were. This shift was propelled by celebrities and influencers like Dua Lipa, Emma Chamberlain, Gigi Hadid and many more who stopped posting so many of their professionally taken photos and started posting photos that perceived as being more down-to-earth, taking Apple’s favorite “shot on iPhone” tagline to a new level.
Spearheaded by these Gen Z icons, young people all throughout the platform have begun to just post simple, filter-less snapshots of their lives. Or so it seems. In reality, the toxicity is still there. Instagram is still the same stage with the same purpose: performance.
On the surface, the “careless” vibe isn’t all bad. This casual posting from celebrities humanizes them, which is a win from a PR standpoint: Factors that differentiate celebrities from the average population, such as their immense wealth and do-it-all staff, are forgotten because their posts look like everybody else’s.
However, because this aesthetic is perceived as casual, easy and laid-back, the “normal” people who view these personalities’ content are more susceptible than ever to think they can replicate this aesthetic for themselves — but, without the money and the team and the filters, they can’t. Gen Z may have changed what Instagram posts look like, but they didn’t change the culture. Instagram posts are still used for the same reasons: to curate a specific image and identity in the way that someone wants to be perceived.
At the end of the day, even in the era of BeReal and “casual” Instagram, people are still aesthetic-driven. The irony is that even though these trends were born out of a desire to be more real, they may have actually made social media more toxic.
The research interests of Dr. Victor P. Corona, a visiting professor of sociology at Pitzer College, include topics of nightlife and popular culture. Dr. Corona defines identity as any aspect of the self to which a person attaches meaning.
“Over the course of our lifetime, each of our distinct identities seeks some stable footing in the world we inhabit — things like security, safety, and approval,” Dr. Corona said.
In today’s online world, that “stable footing” is harder to find than ever. Most of us with a social media presence have gotten ourselves tangled within an identity crisis: We have an identity that is curated online, and an identity that we actually present in real life. With the rise of this casual aesthetic, the line between our curated identities and real life identities are blurred even further.
This casual aesthetic is obsessed with the idea of authenticity. The reality is, however, that social media will always be an actively curated presentation of someone’s life — a narrative crafted with the intention of being perceived a specific way.
“[Authenticity is] the idea that a person’s behavior corresponds to their true intentions,” Corona said, describing modern culture’s obsession with living authentically as puzzling. “It is oxymoronic to think that being willfully authentic is authentic.”
In other words, it’s impossible to live “authentically” because it is impossible to not think about how you present yourself.
If BeReal and #MakeInstagramCasualAgain are proof of anything, it’s that this belief that authenticity is attainable is inherently misguided. If we don’t assume that everything online is inauthentic by nature, we predispose ourselves to an unattainable and unhealthy relationship with social media and with our own identities.
As BeReal usage soars, it’s more important than ever that we recognize this shift to the casual aesthetic as still an aesthetic, something that is still curated and still performative. We need to realize that “casualness” is not careless, easy or unintentional, but simply just another social media trend. So, the next time you open up BeReal or are scrolling through Instagram, take a moment to question, to be skeptical and to acknowledge the performance on the stage.
Aaron Matsuoka PZ ’26 was born and raised in rural Connecticut. He enjoys watching documentaries, listening to music and going on long hikes.