Instagram, in one of its inherent purposes of posting one’s most beautified pictures, draws a risky line in projecting societal expectations of what is beautiful, in a way that is unachievably so. Over recent years, along with the spreading dominion of Instagram’s ‘young and hip’ diaspora – which could arguably have begun in the commercial fabric of America’s multitude of sports and lifestyle brands: Nike, Adidas, Under Armour … – a unanimously agreed upon look of what is deemed ‘Instagrammable’ can be identified. But as you scroll down your feed and are increasingly, consciously or subconsciously, influenced by images of so-called ‘beauty’, it begs the question of whether we, in an age of perennial social media consumption, have narrowed our expectations of what constitutes someone, or indeed something, is good-looking.
An emerging sector, perhaps embodied by reality television stars such as Kim Kardashian West, is the Instagram Beauty Influencer. Quasi-business in nature, mostly self-aggrandising, this opportunity is afforded by the millions of Instagram users who – calibrated by the ideology of beauty purported by #instafit, #ootd, #lazyfridays looks – seek to model their own consequent appearances on well-established individuals. These individuals may or may not be famous, indeed some may have become #instafamous along the way, but the reality is these influencers make huge amounts of endorsement money from flaunting their lifestyles to followers. Any nonchalant flick down the newsfeed would find a picture like this: an attractive female, candid, mid-stretch, mid-jog and gazing purposefully toward an iridescent blue sky with the latest detoxifying tea placed somewhere in the foreground or midground. Thomas Rankin, cofounder and CEO of a visual intelligence company Dash Hudson, explains that “Brands look for people, regardless of follower size, that have a highly engaged audience … most commonly measured by … number of likes and comments to number of followers”.
Increasingly the realities of younger generations are modelled after what Instagram propagates as ideal – based often on a carefully curated look composed of a sculpted face, cartoonish smooth skin and eerily straight looking eyebrows. But are these looks being developed for true beauty or just to achieve the shimmering horizon of what is ultimately an unachievable and artificial sort? In 2015, an Australian teenager sensationally quit her account which had amassed 612 000 followers. Essena O’Neill, in doing so was widely praised for exposing the artificiality of a contrived form of perfection. She edited her captions, describing the reality of “this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational” and in many ways captured the essence of the inherent problem of the Instagram beauty palate. From younger women feeling pressured to add breast implants as an asset to their personal-brand power, to the popularised look of the dramatic, faded-out “Instagram eyebrow”, there is no life-like quality to a look which is attractive, but in a way akin to fast-food consumption – double-tap to like and then scroll on. Pati Dubroff, celebrity makeup artist whose client base boasts Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, laments that “social media is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the beauty industry” in the rising number of non-beauty enthusiasts claiming to be professionals. With the rising incidence of beauty influencers displaying the same contouring, highlighting, eye makeup and classic orange bronzer, it is hard to argue otherwise that beauty has taken on an increasingly homogenous clone-like aesthetic to which a worrying number of younger generations are exposed to.
Not just restricted to women, but men too are increasingly encouraged to pull their weight on a #ripped or #shredded post. But is it health they aspire to or a look that garners an acceptable number of ‘likes to follower’ ratio? Music festivals in particular, have inspired a comically seasonal produce of #shreddedfor(followed by festival-name), and an obligatory photo of vascular emphasis coloured by lighting generous to muscle prominence. In parallel to the female aesthetic, younger male generations are increasingly exposed to a bodyhair-less aesthetic accentuated by tight t-shirts, tighter shorts and gaudy sunglasses. But in going to the gym to train only muscles that serve a picture-perfect purpose, followed by consuming diets of ‘clean bulk’ and ‘dirty bulk’, it’s important for younger men to realise the end goal. Training a body to mirror what is admired on Instagram does not necessarily constitute an all-rounded maintenance of cardiovascular and muscle wellbeing. Any health professional would emphasise that daily routines of traditional sit-ups, push-ups and 5km runs would be of far greater importance than 20 sets of 10 reps of bicep curling.
But with the current climate of companies adjusting to profit-making opportunities with sponsored influencer posts and scripted captions, it will be increasingly difficult to separate societal ideology between what is picture-perfect beauty and what is natural beauty. The Instagram accounts of America’s Top Earning Reality stars promote a consistent array of detox teas, waist trainers and hair-improving vitamin formulas. Stars of the Kardashian or Jenner calibre can make more than $200 000 USD for each post in promotion of a brand they supposedly support. Kim Kardashian West was the highest paid reality star, earning $51 million across her 165.6 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Depicting the amount of surplus generated from her venerated position of Instagrammable perfection, and the growing tide of picture-perfect obsession, we should take heed and perhaps ask whether we are truly, beautiful in our own ways.