Instagram’s Monster; Part 1

Online, the way one presents themselves and their identity is fluid which means that users of media, such as Instagram, can create and generate several different versions of themselves (Kendall 1998, Turkle 1999). Turkle described the computer as a means of creating a ‘second self’ (1984), Instagram can be seen as a popular way of producing a ‘second self’. Instagram is full of perfected selfies, delicious meals, bright sunsets, full shopping bags and snapshots of ideal events; such images are fractions of someone’s life as they want to display it. The life one portrays through Instagram is part of a carefully constructed online ‘second self’. Turkle (1999) argued that online users write themselves into an existing persona, this idea can be extended through Instagram and how users write themselves through the use of photographs and selfies.

Each photograph a user uploads on Instagram is carefully constructed and a part of the ‘ideal second self’. The images uploaded are the main means of constructing the online identity of an individual. If a user were to post multiple photographs of themselves going out to pubs, clubs, or having night outs, it can be interpreted that they want the viewer to assume that they enjoy going out and being social. Instagram allows users to portray the positive and exciting aspects of their lives and leave out ‘dull’ parts such as work, stress or negative elements; they have the ability to ‘snapshot’ their identity into being. One’s identity is fluid on Instagram, if a user uses their account only to post fitness related photographs, such as gym selfies, healthy meals or diet plans, this is the version of themselves they want to portray. They do not need to give details about their career, family life or anything they do not wish to portray.

As the users choose what gets uploaded; by leaving out anything ‘dull’ or negative, we end up casting a second life online which overtime drifts further and further from the real self. As certain users gain popularity on the platform, many feel pressured to improve their personal style, quality and make each post as aesthetic for their followers. As this happens, more and more “real life” is left out as it doesn’t fit within an aesthetic box. Popular users run the risk of losing followers if they post something negative, controversial, political or too personal. After a chat with an Instagram friend with a decent following, she raised her concern that she lost several follows after posting an image that did not fit with her normal posts. Another user also said they have followers tell him that his posts should not focus on politics or controversial topics as he was only about fitness. Many users feel similar pressures such as these, I know I have personally experienced them too in many different circumstances.

The physical body is portrayed mainly in fragments on Instagram owing to the limitation of the size and shape of the Instagram image. Being a perfect square, portrait shaped photographs cannot be posted without being cropped unless the user uses a photo editing app which allows the full photo to be uploaded without cropping. In Mulvey’s argument about the representation of the body in cinema, she argued that the female body was onscreen for male visual pleasure (1975). This argument can be extended into Instagram to a certain extent; many female users extenuate their bodies in a suggestive way to emphasise or alter their bodies. Many female selfies are edited to include features deemed socially beautiful such as large lips and contouring. Many feminists argue that such selfies are leaving their users in charge of their image and their depiction. With this idea, the selfie can be seen as a subversive form of self-expression that narrates one’s own view of desirability. In this sense, selfies can be positive and offer a way of actively asserting agency (Simmons 2013).

Instagram can be perceived as a voyeuristic platform; those who upload their images are unaware of who views, and in some cases share and saves them, and the pleasure they receive from the images.  It can be argued that those who post selfies baring idealistic beauty conventions, such as big lips, sultry eyes and large breasts, are playing with Mulvey’s idea of ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ (1975). Mulvey argued that in cinema, a women’s role was to be looked at and displayed with a strong appearance coded for visual and erotic impact (1975). Instagram holds similar values as those users deemed ‘attractive’ or who are highly sexualized in their posts, often gain more followers making visual pleasure a distinct feature of how one presents themselves online. Many female users will follow other attractive females on the platform as they admire or envy them. It should be noted that some users gain a large following for their fashion, travels, fitness or skills (such as makeup) which are desirable traits, activities and skills to have.

Another main feature users use as they create their Instagram selves is through the display of consumerism and the gaining of commodities. It is common on Instagram to find displays of shopping ‘hauls’, and ‘flat lays’ which are multiple themed items photographed from above. Many photos will also include either in the caption or tagged on the image itself a list of brands and companies from where certain items came from which can be a form of advertisement. Many of these photos include hashtags or ‘tags’ to the brand or shops where one can also buy the items displayed; the repetition of certain brands or items increase the likelihood of other users purchasing the same or similar object, especially if the users’ lifestyle looks desirable.

Known as ‘lifestyle envy’, social psychologists describe it as the envy one feels when they view images from peoples holidays or their extravagant shopping trips (Anderson 2014). Those viewing want a similar lifestyle or identity so they attempt to gain the same or similar features or items, mainly through consumerism. If a user wants to show off a certain body part, for example, fingers or their new manicure, it is common practice for such photographs to also include accessories such as jewellery, lipstick or promote brands such as Starbucks Coffee. The addition of more brands and commodities makes one’s life more desirable as it gives the illusion that they are wealthy and adorned with desirable things (Anderson 2014). Instagram becomes a major marketing platform where consumerism and the acquirement of commodities is revelled and deemed appealing.

There is an overwhelming pressure to come across a certain way on social media but especially on Instagram. It’s such a visual platform where many don’t often read captions but rather browse photos. Consumerism is a huge factor when it comes to Instagram; people aim to grow a following in order to connect and collaborate with companies and of course then become an “influencer”. Large companies are now reaching out to large Instagram accounts in order to have their product advertised to. I know I get several messages a week asking for a collaboration many which I turn down because they just don’t suit my own branding. In saying this, I can see why it’s also desirable for followers to see creators working with certain brands as that in itself is something to envy. I know personally, there are many brands which I would love to work with.

The Monster
“If you want to see the whole – you will have to piece me together yourself”
-Patchwork Girl

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This monster was created using Instagram images found in the public domain in order to create a body constructed through fragments and pieces. Each body part was photographed originally by a user who wanted to display that particular photograph for a particular reason. Many of the body parts are adorned with accessories making consumerism and commodities a major focus of the photograph. Individual body parts, such as the eyes and lips, are heavily made up to either display makeup skills or promote certain products. Overall, the monster is still aesthetically pleasing as it contains many aspects of beauty that society deems appealing; the torso is curvaceous and stylishly dressed, hair is styled, makeup is attractive and the body is adorned with commodities which add to an idealistic lifestyle.

Heavily influenced by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, the monster is constructed using fragmented body parts from different Instagram users, all found through hashtags, a modern type of hyperlink. Jackson’s use of hypertext allowed viewers to recognize the degree that the qualities of her collage characterized the significant by which gender and identity is conceived (Landow Stitching together Narrative, Sexuality, Self). Instagram’s Monster body also toys with how gender and sexuality are perceived through the predominantly female body. Being limited to only Instagram images, the monster highlights how many bodies are sexualized, commoditized and carefully constructed to be appealing and feminine. This grotesque example of a body illustrates how Instagram constructs a body and a particular fluid identity of the user, which is often separate from the real identity of the individual in ‘real-life’.

Ever since the rise of popularity of Instagram, many users have become slaves to the programs. The obsession with the “perfect image” has resulted in a rise in plastic surgery, over-consumerism, a rise in mental health issues and many other unseen factors. The platform is also particularly dangerous for youth who are impressionable and naive to the way the system works. The obsession with becoming insta-famous has resulted in some users fabricating their entire lives, losing grip on reality and even spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on buying likes, followers and comments (which are all bots). There has also been a rise in people searching search engines for statements such as “how to grow Instagram followers”, “how to beat the algorithm” and other ways to grow a following.

As a society, we are starting to value a number (how many followers, likes and comments one gets) instead of who they are as a person. After chatting with many users on the platform, most of them have admitted they contemplated buying followers at one point and some very reluctantly admitted that they had, in fact, purchased a few thousand followers. I’m sad that society and social media has forced these users to feel the need to lie about their numbers in order to appear more desirable on the platform. Is insta-fame really that necessary to ‘make it’ in life? Instagram has turned us into consumerism obsessed, perfectly filtered clones of one another. There is nothing overly original on the platform anymore and there has been a rise in comedy and jokes about those obsessed with the platform itself. Many users are becoming numb to the way the platform works and are becoming increasingly obsessed with gaining followers and becoming bigger and better.

I am personally worried about the mental health implications of Instagram. Personally, I’ve taken a bit of a step back from the platform as looking at numbers and growth statistics was doing more harm than good to my mental health. I’ve talked with friends who also have started to obsessively check their following and advised them not to put so much weight and value in these numbers. They are still good people whether they have 100 followers of 100 000. Instagram has changed us; we do more than we realise “for the gram”. It’s turning us into fragments and illusions of who we really are. We are scared to show the low points in our lives and are becoming obsessed with everything appearing perfect or “on trend”. Much like Frankenstein’s monster, we are chopped and pieced together until we look just right but we can’t function that way in the real world.

To discuss Instagram in just one post is very limiting so this post will be continued with a discussion on filters and hashtags very soon. Please check back later!

Read More:
The Self and the Selfie
Instagram’s Monster; Part Two – COMING SOON

References:

ANDERSON, L. (2014). The Instagram effect: How the psychology of envy drives consumerism, Deseret News National, 15th April 2014. Accessed 18th April 2015

KENDALL, L. (1998). Meaning and Identity in “Cyberspace”: The Performance of Gender, Class, and Race Online. JAI Press, Inc.

MULVEY, L. (1975). ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ Screen 16(3), p.6-18

SHELLEY, M. W. (1996). Frankenstein. Charlottesville, Va, University of Virginia Library.

SIMMONS, M. (2013) Selfies on Instagram and Facebook are tiny bursts of girl pride. Slate.com.

TURKLE, S, (1999). ‘Looking Toward Cyberspace: Beyond Grounded Sociology’ Contemporary Sociology. 28 (6), 643-648.

WENDT, B. (2014). The Allure of the Selfie: Instagram and the new self-portrait. Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam.

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Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way. 

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