What’s in an Instagram bio? It’s one of the great existential questions of our time. I’ve never had a good one myself—a horse fly in the ointment of my online identity—and I feel the weight of that every day, in fleeting bursts, like the suspicious mole I keep seeing in the shower and then forgetting to have checked out.
For years I kept my bio blank (excepting job title) to remove myself from the bio narrative, an expression of insecurity parading as defiance. Six months ago, I quietly added “rats!”, which I didn’t consider a real bio so much as a stated interest in the expletive. I received no feedback. Over the past month, however, I’ve gone where no bio-fearing woman has gone before—a new bio every week.
I’ve learned a lot.
Having a good Instagram bio is the new being hot: Your first impression is in the bag, your worthiness notwithstanding. But it’s also less transient than that. Sure, Instagram will be irrelevant one day, a ghost town of forgotten thirst traps and meaningless follower counts, but our bios will remain like headstones, telegraphing not just who we are, but who we were, and who we thought we were. It’s up to us, then, to imbue them with timeless meaning in 150 characters or less. Of course, this is no easy task, which is why I track good ones like a hawk.
Consider my editor Mallory Rice’s bio: “executive editor @manrepeller / dog person who reads as a cat person.” Even if I didn’t already know I like her and find her funny and interesting, I would think those things from her bio alone — in perpetuity! It’s quirky without trying to be, subtly self-deprecating, culturally relevant, and memorably clever. And in only eight words! That’s efficiency.
Or how about Lily Rose-Depp’s bio? “This is my only form of social media.” Is it earnest? Ironic? Both? I love it genuinely, it’s very Gen Z in that it’s an utterly casual power move, and I’ve considered stealing it (with attribution) despite it not being true in my case. Then again, originality is an important element of a good bio, as are many other attributes, which I will explore in a moment. First, some favorites, which I’ve collected via my memory and a recent Instagram call-out for good bios:
“God can’t help you on any platform.” —@matchachunk
“if ur on my profile ur now cursed 4 life/never get married (or get divorced).Only way 2 undo is 2 follow me/comment on 5 Pix “ur HOT🔥”. Ur choice luv” —@therealgenevievetho
“Oh I’m in between bios really!” —@jacnov
“Plz don’t tell my mom I’m here” —@defaultshank
“Trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful” —@maralaz
“Ungodly pile of coupons @manrepeller // indoor enthusiast” —@blackbeaarthur
What ties these and all good bios together? An important question. A good bio must be unique and at least a little bit ironic, but not so much that no one gets it. Absolutely no shade to earnest bios (inspirational quotes, realistic descriptions of self, etc.), but they have no place here. A good bio must also betray a sense of self-awareness, often in the form of self-deprecation—or else overt confidence (“open casket material” —@cnnrstll).
It should feature few-to-zero emojis, which we all know are a cop-out slash stand-in for good ideas (exception: Aidy Bryant). It should signal more than just a single character trait—usually that you’re smart, current, and funny—while also being reflective of your IRL personality. Perhaps most importantly, a good bio should be blatantly nonchalant. It should appear to have just occurred to the user in the very moment they typed it. And if it seems more effortful, it must be worth it, like this bio from a New Orleans sandwich shop, Turkey and the Wolf:
“2 stars ‘never tried just passed on t bus.’ -Alton Barber, Google reviews.”
Or this one from artist @kyndacee: “If you would like to receive e-mails about my upcoming shows, please send me money so I can buy a computer.”
I also enjoy a simple bio that is doing just enough (“I was born in minnesota at the tender age of 0” —@yung.monet; “Willennial. Cereal influencer” —@rhymespriebus; “Memes about your favorite snacc” —the actual account for Gushers), or a bio that’s not really a bio at all (Amelia Diamond’s account is tagged as a “science website.”) In other words, as much as I’d like to prescribe how to achieve a good bio, there is no math to this poetry. All a good bio does is leave a perfectly intentional impression.
Given this topic has been on my mind’s backburner for a while (next to “I should learn Bengali” and “what if I raised a chicken”), I decided it was about time to bring it to the forefront. So, over the last four weeks, I cycled through no less than four new bios, and there were as follows:
Bio #1: “Mostly outfits, cat pics, and the occasional earnest emotion”
Grade: F—too self-conscious of how many outfits I post and too literal.
Bio #2: “Maybe you’re just underthinking it”
Grade: D—a reference to my defense of overthinking, i.e. too earnest and also kind of confusing.
Bio #3: “Easy to quease”
Grade: C—to the point, true to me (I get queasy often), and spontaneously dumb (I said it the other day as if I’d been using the expression for years), but kind of confusing and not memorable.
Bio #4: “Currently researching the genetic differences between uptown rats and downtown rats”
Grade: B—reflective of a genuine interest and simultaneously completely untrue, plus a grade bump for a reference to rats, which are inherently funny.
What can I conclude from this experiment? First, that while I do have a taste for bios, I do not have a talent for writing them, which I must live with. Second, trying too hard to have a good bio is antithetical to the cause. And finally, nihilism is only depressing if we believe we’re powerless to assign meaning to meaningless things. Isn’t that what Instagram’s all about, anyway?
What’s your favorite Instagram bio? What’s your own? Would you use it on your headstone?
Graphic by Madeline Montoya.