I have a love/hate relationship with social media apps. When I first signed on to Instagram and Facebook about a decade ago, I felt excited and inspired. Then I felt less than, and I got off of them for a spell. The whole “social media apps aren’t real life” movement has been strong over the years and it hasn’t been lost on me.
So when I heard about BeReal, a French social media app that was released in 2020 and has been getting some time in the spotlight, I wanted to see what it was all about. The app encourages you to be, well, very real since you are prompted to take a picture at different times of the day and there aren’t any filters you can use. It captures you as you are, wherever you are, basically forcing you to — as the app says — be real.
Isn’t this what we want to see more of? People’s real lives, not some posed, perfectly lit, filtered picture that has taken who knows how long to capture. It’s a known fact our teens are going to consume social media regardless of if we want them to or not. As parents, we want something better for them which doesn’t make them focus on likes, follows, or fake filtered pictures. We know the risks of social media and I am sure you can agree we don’t want them staring at apps that make them question their self-worth constantly. According to NPR, teens prefer the BeReal app over Instagram so it looks like we are headed in the right direction.
Honestly, though, as much as I hate to admit this, I have mixed feelings after actually using BeReal for a week. Let me tell you why.
First, I fumbled my way through using this app. I did like how there weren’t tons of pictures for me to scroll through, since you have to be “friends” with someone in order to see any pictures. Since I didn’t have any friends — until I begged my teenagers to add me, that is — it took me some time to figure out how to use it.
Within minutes I was prompted — unlike other apps, you get prompted by BeReal to share at a certain time — to share a photo, and my heart started to pound. Not only was I not prepared at all, but there was also a timer ticking away telling me I had less than two minutes to add my post. Since I wasn’t doing anything at the time (besides trying to figure out how to use the damn thing while yelling to my kids to “pretty please” add me), I felt like I had to be doing something grand like baking a pie, lifting weights, or holding a coffee. I guess other social media apps have made me feel that if I am being real, I am super boring. Go figure.
BeReal uses both cameras so it captures your face as well as what’s in front of you. I didn’t love that part, mainly because I posted my pictures without really being to dissect and criticize myself before taking another 100 photos before being comfortable enough to post it. I realize this is the point of the app, and I’ll be the first to tell everyone Instagram isn’t real life, but I don’t know who screams with joy when a horrible picture of them is posted on the Internet. I’m not interested in being that real.
The good part is, no one can see your picture until they post too. So, everyone has to be somewhat vulnerable before they get to see what everyone else is up to. I quickly learned you can choose whether you want your profile to be viewable only by your friends or on the far-too-public for me Discover Feed.
I got a prompt while I was driving to pick up my kids from school so I posted when I was waiting for them in the pick-up line. The first thing my son asked when he got in the car after I posted was: “Why did you post that, Mom?”
I told him I thought that’s what you were supposed to do: post a picture of what you are doing without posing, adding a filter, or acting like you have a more exciting life than you really do. To which he responded, “You are a noob,” then had to catch up with his SnapChatting.
For the next few days, I got prompts while I was knitting and watching television. I didn’t want to post because, frankly, I felt like a boring old person and figured everyone who followed me (by that I mean all three people) would think I didn’t have a life, which I guess is real because I really don’t.
I posted anyway as a service to the teenagers who follow me so they can get a glimpse into their future life.
I’m now a week in and here’s my middle-aged opinion: I like the concept behind it and wish all social media apps had started this way. I think it’s a healthier approach to sharing your life, the things you are doing, and a better look at what people actually look like. But I am already tainted by other social media apps; I hesitated to post because I felt like I was boring, not really doing it right, and I had nothing important to say or share. Which is the whole premise, I know.
It’s going to take some time for me to rewire my brain to use this app without beating myself up and just let go of what I look like and what I’m doing. I suspect then it might take others time to get used to this real realness too.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.