It feels like years ago (even though it was mere months) that a lone sorority sister darted up and down each floor of our sorority house recruiting our sisters to create BeReal accounts. Her pleas were met with collective groans of, “Another social media outlet?”
“But this one’s different,” she insisted.
“Ok, what’s the point?”, we asked.
To answer that question right off the bat, the “point” of BeReal is to showcase your “real self” by solely allowing “spur of the moment” posts. The app aims to catch its users unawares at random points throughout the day. The only way to post on the app is by receiving a notification from the app inviting you to post a selfie with your smart phone’s front facing camera, and another photo using the opposite lens revealing your “POV.” The app allows its users to retake photos before posting them, however the app reveals how many times the user retook their photos in order to dissuade users from attempting another pose, look, or angle.
The app gives its users two minutes to open the app and post their photos. If a user does not complete the task in time, the post is labeled “late,” allowing followers to come to their own conclusions as to why. Perhaps the user’s phone was on “Do not disturb”, or they don't check their phone as often as timely posters. On the other hand, this label welcomes suspicion on whether the user moved to a more exciting location, sought better lighting, or met up with friends so as not to appear lonely, etc.
BeReal gives users the option to react to their friends’ posts with their own selfies. They must be taken the moment the user sees the post they’re reacting to, because each post disappears from public view within 24 hours, remaining visible to its creator alone. This welcomes a discourse of expression among friends. This kind of casual engagement takes the pressure off of commenting the perfect thing or using the cutest emojis. The disappearing aspect makes users feel more comfortable sharing their unplanned, untouched selves.
Similarly to how TikTok users go viral by posting as frequently as possible, “success” on BeReal is measured by religious use. The threat of seeming “fake” on BeReal incentivizes users to stay alert and regular with their posts. Joining the app is a commitment of sorts. This marketing hack benefits the platform because of users’ consistent visits to the app. While the app is new, its user-base grows every day.
BeReal & Instagram
As the BeReal fad caught on, I began to see BeReal screen-grabs nestled within the Gen-Z-specialty: curated Instagram “photo dumps”. The blatant juxtaposition among posed pictures in the streets of Italy, scenic views, carefully curated outfit displays, and then the oh-so-casual BeReal screenshot is jarring. Why would people combine BeReal and Instagram, interrupting these meticulously chosen photos with a playful screenshot of another app?
I’ll tell you. For as long as I can remember, Instagram has been a space for users to portray a highlight reel of their lives, including but not limited to: vacations, clothing, meals, designer goods, and most importantly, their likenesses. More often than not these images are edited, whether that be a filter playing with the lighting or colors on the app, or full blown proportion-editing a human subject in an outside app.
The prevalence of Instagram photoshopping takes tangible form in visibly altered lines, such as curved walls or doorways, in the background of bikini photos, or eerily smoothed skin via Facetune. Figures as famous as the Kardashians join the general public in the club of culprits guilty of photoshopping Instagram posts. High-profile individuals are often admonished for such actions on the grounds of setting an example, whereas the average Joe is able to lay low.
Nonetheless, posting a BeReal on Instagram seems equivalent to plainly stating, “I don’t photoshop my Instagram. I look like this; I am in a cool place; I am with friends, and here is inarguable proof.” Combined with the perfectly arranged images intended for Instagram, the BeReal is like a final seal, legitimizing the rest of the post. That is the reputation the application has built for itself.
The reason this works is because BeReal directly combats Instagram’s regular posting format. If Instagram is an amusement park, influencers and celebrities are the roller coaster. These are the pages that people frequent and gaze upon in an aspirational fashion. These creators plan their posts ahead of time with content calendars - plotting their outfits, locations, backdrops, etc. This, like Photoshopping one’s body, creates unrealistic expectations of what people look like in their everyday lives. 90 percent of women reportedly use photoshop or filters to contour their body for social media. This contributes to the lack of realistic portrayal and representation of women in the media, and the pressure to conform as not to stand out due to “imperfections.” The implications of this are endless. BeReal aims to break the stigma around looking flawless on social media; a remarkably admirable mission.
This has made a clear impact on young women, as we see daily. The insecurities that stem from perfectly lit, posed, and edited Instagram posts include feelings of inferiority in regards to one's life and/or looks. BeReal doesn’t allow for strategic posing or creative direction. The app instructs its users on the two photos they are able to take and the rest is up to chance. BeReal is leveling the playing field for its whole audience, regardless of stature or whereabouts.
BeReal catches the audience when they least expect it, disallowing any preening or prep beforehand. It’s exciting, nerve-wracking, stressful, and ground-breaking - as all successful social media forms are at their time of arrival. Together, we will watch on and determine if “being real” online is more than a trend, but rather a sustainable way to portray oneself in the present.