BeReal was supposed to be different. It was supposed to reject the aesthetic found on our Instagram feeds and provide an “uncontrollable” (the developer’s words, not ours) look at your friends, crushes, high school bullies, and favourite celebrities’ lives.
In case you’re not a bona fide Gen-Z-er, BeReal is an app developed in France that randomly sends out a daily notification to all users at the same time. This notification prompts the user to take a photo, which takes a snapshot from your front- and back-facing camera at the same time, and upload it within the next two minutes.
To keep you honest and humble, the app shows how many retakes you took and/or if you posted way after the two-minute mark (so everyone will know if you took 20 minutes to get ready and sprint to the fabulous art/coffee/skateboard/music shop next door). Because of this feature, there’s no time to find that perfect pose or background or change outfits or locations. There are also no likes or followers, so the dopamine hit you get from Tiktok, IG, or Twitter doesn’t exist here. Finally, you get to “be real” just for the sake of it. Or are you?
Unfortunately, it turns out that after years of crafting our perfect image online, it’s more complex than we thought to post our unfiltered life and self.
The app is great when the notification goes off at 8pm on a Friday when you are dressed to the nines and doing something fun. It’s not so great Sunday afternoon when it goes off and you’ve been watching Outlast on Netflix for five hours.
Because of this, posting late has become a common trend among users, making the app less “present moment” and more “best moment”. Habits like these have BeReal turning into another highlight reel of people’s lives.
With 56 million downloads in 2022, BeReal is still a social networking app after all. This begs the question: is it even possible to be an ‘authentic person’ online?
Being authentic online is itself a trend. We’re showing more cellulite, more mental health stories, more makeup-free faces. The photo dump—a haphazard collection of all-natural, low-quality photos—is a prime example. Yet, even that is a form of curation. We pick what seems the most carefree, funny, real life. The new online aesthetic is authenticity.
This is not to say that we’re all being fake online. It’s a far cry from the days of perfectly posed images with Valencia filters and VSCO edits. But while we might not be able to remove a blemish on BeReal, we still stage our scene, pushing away the clutter in the room or simply posting later.
So BeReal isn’t so real, and maybe that’s the most real thing about it.
We show up as different selves around different people. That Monday hangover is left out of weekend recaps with coworkers. Our parents don’t know about that failed university or college class. But that doesn’t make you any less real around them.
Plus, we’re constantly changing. Think of all the times you’ve looked back on old social media posts and cringed, thinking “wow, who was that person?”
We don’t show every part of ourselves to everyone. So why should we online?
The fantasy of an authentic social media app is an oxymoron. What we show online is only a fraction of our lives. Whatever mundanity we share is still a performance for others and ourselves online. So we might as well make sharing on social fun to do, a place to show what we want to show, even if it is curated. And if we want to be real, perhaps the best way is to just log off, turn those notifications off, and hang out in real life.