An illustration of polaroids in photo dumping fashion
Illustration by Skylar Owenby, Western Carolina University

Photo Dumping Reflects an Intentional Disconnect From Instagram Perfection

Social media users are gradually moving away from carefully curated posts in favor of showing a more raw and genuine side of their lives.

Thoughts x
An illustration of polaroids in photo dumping fashion
Illustration by Skylar Owenby, Western Carolina University

Social media users are gradually moving away from carefully curated posts in favor of showing a more raw and genuine side of their lives.

A powerful phenomenon has been infiltrating Instagram feeds for a while now. The spectacle in question? Photo dumping or photo dumps, where people post myriad photos pertaining to one specific event (or not) into a single post on Instagram. One can attempt to pinpoint the origin as starting in 2017 when Instagram added the feature that allowed you to include more than one photo in a post. However, the earliest set of these photo collections looks different compared to the “dumps” posted now.

Photo dumping remains powerful, prominent and popular, with the word “dump” appearing in captions more frequently in recent years. Nowadays, collections of posts are more common than the perfectly curated selfie, which shows the progression of social media habits today.

Photo dumps are posted for a variety of life’s special occasions: birthday posts, birth announcements, vacations, weddings, memorial posts, day trips, anniversaries, month-by-month recaps and more. One creative user started making monthly posts dedicated to screenshots of the funniest texts sent to their finsta account (standing for fake Instagram).

They have a loose purpose — people who use them can label it whatever they want, and they can share literally anything and everything as long as it can be captured in 10 photos or fewer. What makes them different from traditional social media posting is how it seems to decrease overall posting in general. Some users may post just once a month with recaps, which is a significant evolution from the constant posting seen in years prior. Others disappear from the social media world and post one dump before they leave again. Singer and actor Aidan Alexander, for instance, posted a dump in August of 2021, captioned, “the word dump physically hurts me but here” and abandoned social media until January 2022, starting the new year off with, you guessed it, a dump.

Beyond the rarity of posting, photo dumping posts also appear to be less put together and prescreened than previous Instagram posts. The photos rarely all go together, which contradicts a popular trend of making an Instagram clean and uniform, where everything matches on some level. Gone are the days when photos needed white borders or the perfect filter; now, anything can be posted together and will be called aesthetic. All they need to unite them is the word “dump” and an overarching theme for what the photos represent. For example, “February dump” encapsulates photos all taken in the month of February.

Emma Chamberlain offers one such example, with an abundance of dumps that have contributed to the over 700 posts on her page. Beginning with a rather tantalizing opening photo, with a charcuterie display to salivate over, the large post ends with a trio of bloody Band-Aids, showing the effect of a split nail featured in the previous photo. It certainly helps to be famous, so people will let something like this slide, as over 1 million people still liked it.

Outside of the downright bizarre nature of some of these “dumps,” the trend alternatively makes one think about life and the opportunity to be authentic. Photo dumping became increasingly popular in the early days of quarantine when people were more inclined to be bare about how they were dealing in such uncertain times.

Photo dumping, much like life itself, is not always pretty, and it doesn’t always match. Some posts like the infamous Chamberlain bloody Band-Aids may be disgusting, but they also simultaneously showcase the happenings of everyday life. People split nails on the daily even if Chamberlain is the only one who’s posting about it. A sense of realism presents itself here, a candid exposure of our lives — even the ugly and the bloody.

Posting less by photo dumping suggests a growing disconnect from social media. Instagram has evolved in recent years, going as far as to hide the “likes” feature so users can only see likes on their own page and no one else’s, which helps combat FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Social media has been the driving force behind FOMO for its users, spurred on by seemingly endless feeds where other users are perceived to be more successful, more beautiful, having more fun and overall having a better time in life.

The thought of scrolling through Instagram and seeing millions of people be more successful, with their lives more put together, is extremely detrimental and a big reason that some people step away from social media from time to time. Photo dumping might diminish these types of feelings — is it better for us not to be bombarded with seemingly perfect posts all the time? To only witness tiny glimpses of other lives through photo dumps?

The main issue with social media-induced FOMO is the sense of perfection. Everyone thinks that everyone else has the most idyllic life, but it’s always an illusion. People purposely post their best angles and sides; no one truly gets to know anyone except, notably, through photo dumps. Photo dumping is the most honest form of posting on social media. Just look at Emma Chamberlain’s feed if you need to be reminded.

Photo dumping, most importantly, reminds us that perfection doesn’t exist. Perfection is a fluid concept, taking on a different definition for everyone. That’s why photo dumps are so cool and so unique — they’re the little moments that make up our lives that we want to remember, that we want to share. And they look different for everyone. Moments don’t need to be perfect; they only need to mean something. A picture is worth a thousand words, so how about 10? Photos capturing the little things that bring joy to the one who captures them — is society ready for that? Ready for unpolished posts to take precedence? Ready for the social media world to be raw and bare — and even real?

It seems that we already are, and in a world where we’ve already experienced so much uncertainty and struggle, insecurity and jealousy, it’s about time.

Writer Profile

Aly Walters

Michigan State University
English With a Creative Writing Concentration

I am a senior at Michigan State University who also works at MSU’s Writing Center. In my free time, I love working on my latest writing projects!

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