Why Does It Feel Beggy To Enter Instagram Competitions? It Shouldn’t!

Photographed by Serena Brown
Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it. I did it. I entered the competition I knew would make me feel awkward as soon as I shared it on my Instagram Stories. The competition in question? An opportunity to win one of Charlotte Simone's beautiful Penny Lane-style coats from the latest drop. They sell out instantly, they’re all over my Instagram feed and I have to get my hands on one. Maybe this time I’ll get lucky (I won’t). Maybe this time I’ll win (I didn’t). Maybe after this I can stop entering these competitions (I entered one the very next day). 
I remember the first and only time I won a competition. It was for Elle Girl magazine, I was 13 years old and I won a bottle of perfume. Cool Water by Davidoff was my scent of choice every day for all of six months before it ran out because I spritz far too much on and probably smelled like sea water and sandalwood to all who walked within three feet of me. Fast-forward to 2021 and the equivalent? An Instagram competition. All it takes is a sighting of one that requires little effort and I enter willingly (with a side of shame). 
Why shame, you ask? Well, competitions these days are higher stakes. Back when I sent a letter to Elle Girl outlining why I should win, no one knew except me and my mum as she had lent me a stamp. Nowadays, brands are really wising up to the benefits of a social media competition for visibility and engagement. The concept is simple: pick a prize, post it on your page and select your winner. To enter often involves a comment tagging a friend – and as one 'tag' equals one entry, many people (myself included) often tag more than one friend, which in turn bumps up that brand's comments. There is, however, often another way of entering that makes me pause and cringe every single time: sharing the competition on Instagram Stories. Sure, tagging a friend may be a bit public but it’s just a comment and my entire Instagram following can’t see it. A share on Stories, however, feels extreme. It’s public and so obvious that everyone who follows me and watches my Stories can now see exactly what competition (read: exactly what 'thing' I want to win) I just entered. 
Writer Megan Murray, 30, hesitates every time she goes to enter a competition. "I wonder if people will judge my taste in the free things I want – maybe they’ll think it’s not worth publicly outing myself for or smirk at my desperation for something seemingly random." She tots up when she last entered a competition and if it required her to share it on her Instagram Stories, and if so, whether it’s too soon to do it again. 
Megan also tells me that deep down, the reason she is so keen to win these things is because she’s consumed by wanting what Instagram tells her is cool. I hard relate. No matter how little time I spend on my phone, even if it’s just a quick, pre-wee scroll at 6.47am, I will find at least one new brand or item on my explore page or that influencer I regularly stalk’s latest post which is inherently cool. So what happens when that brand does a competition? Well, it’s like they read my mind: it’s obviously for me and once I win I'll be able to show off how part of this world I am. 
According to the Royal Society For Public Health's "#StatusOfMind: Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing" report, rates of anxiety in young people have risen by 70% in the past 25 years. Combined with the fact that 56% of social media users admit to being afraid of missing something important online, according to this survey from 2012, this perfectly illustrates why we might feel like we’re about to combust with worry when we hit 'share to Instagram Stories' on that cult brand's competition yet can’t stop entering because we just have to drink the Instagram Kool-Aid and win. A seemingly fun, innocent thing to do suddenly becomes a breeding ground for FOMO and anxiety – but that doesn’t have to be the case. 
The founder of Confident and Killing It and positive psychology specialist Tiwalola Ogunlesi tells me: "Society places a lot of pressure on people to look like their life is perfect, seamless and effortless. People, especially women, who seem to have it all together and do life without 'trying too hard' are celebrated and seen as successful. Whereas women who actively ask for what they want are seen in a negative light. Entering a competition to win something for free often feels like you’re not cool or popular enough to get it as a gift or rich enough to buy it yourself so instead you have to go out of your way to try and win it."
Not everyone feels shame when entering an Instagram competition. Stylist (and the winner of the aforementioned Charlotte Simone giveaway) Billie Jo tells me the reason she enters these competitions is because there’s nothing to lose and it’s totally free. "Some of the prizes that brands (and influencers) give away are phenomenal and it’s a nice way to give back to the followers who support you. I never feel awkward about it because I tend to only apply to competitions of brands I love, whether that be a clothing brand, a restaurant or a small business." 
Approaching these competitions with a positive attitude, like Billie, and as a way to support a small business you love can lessen those anxious feelings. Because – let’s be honest here – who doesn’t love winning? But if you are consumed by anxiety or fear every time you go to enter a competition, Tiwalola has some suggestions for overcoming it. 
"The best way to get rid of the shame is to learn to feel confident and secure in your worth. As a confidence coach my golden rule is: Your opinion of yourself matters more than what other people think of you and your worth is intrinsic. Remember, these competitions are just a bit of fun and they don’t have to be cringeworthy. People won’t be thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves." 
Ultimately the important thing to remember here is that competitions are fun and an opportunity to win something you really want. A trip to a restaurant you’ve had on your list, the dress you’ve had your eye on from that brand you love but can’t afford, that experience you think would be perfect for a post-Christmas date with your partner. The less we situate our worth in our Instagram followers' perception of us and focus instead on the outcome of doing something that requires minimal effort and (let’s not forget) is completely free, the more we can start enjoying the process and potentially get something out of it. It’s a win-win situation.

More from Living