Scroll. Scroll. Double-tap. Scroll. Scroll. Double-tap. The ritual occurs almost automatically. When I’m on the bus, when I’m walking to class, when I catch a glimpse of that guy my roommate made out with before the game on Saturday, head goes down, thumb swipes furiously, and I am engrossed in Instagram. Whether a coping mechanism, a creative outlet, a social obligation, or just a way to pass time, Instagram is the number one photo social platform today. According to the statistics advertised by Instagram itself, over 300 million people are active on Instagram daily. In addition to having millions of “daily actives,” Instagram reports that its users create over 95 million posts, and constitute 4.2 billion likes, every day. The influence of Instagram matches its popularity in terms of magnitude. Though Instagram has identified its number of daily posts as being in the millions, these numerous posts can be boiled down to only a handful of genres. Each unique genre proves something unique about the current cultural beliefs of society by speaking to what images and videos the contemporary pubic finds important, or ideal, enough to broadcast.
From its start, Instagram established itself as a powerhouse in the realm of social media. Based entirely on the concept of allowing users to post, like, and comment on photos within a social network of “followers,” Instagram boasted one million users only two months after its initial launch. By the time Facebook bought Instagram from owners Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger just two years following the creation of Instagram, the app had been hailed “iPhone App of the Year,” its user base had expanded beyond ten million people, and its influence had spread to include a launch on Android devices (Desreumaux). In the years to follow, Instagram would constantly update its features, while constantly adding to its amount of users. With its more social features like direct messaging and photo tagging, Instagram effectively carved out a niche that rivaled even Facebook in terms of its ability to dominate social interactions.
Perhaps one of the first genres of Instagram posts to gain notoriety, the “selfie” is a type of post that has redefined society’s approach to beauty standards. The “selfie,” or a photo of oneself, has inspired many recognizable insta-tropes, almost all of which are posted mainly by females. Even as a novice Instagram user, I am keenly aware of the overused poses and angles that countless Instagrammers use when representing themselves. When asked about what they chose to share on social media, 94% of teenage girls said that they posted photos of themselves. In contrast, 89% of males reported posting “selfies” (“What Teens Share on Social Media”). The ever-present “duck face selfie” consists of a pouty-lipped facial expression. Similarly, a common theme amongst female “selfies” is an aerial perspective that angles downwards at the subject of the photo. With pouting lips and tongues out and camera pointed down towards the chest, women who employ the use of “selfies” are portrayed in highly suggestive manners. While the “selfie” is by no means only displayed by female Instagrammers, the tendency to post photos of oneself is exhibited most commonly in women and, whether intentionally or subconsciously, most female “selfies” seem to be driving at the same goal of sexualizing the female form by employing a phenomenon known as “male gaze.” The phenomenon, seen most notably in film, is the tendency of women in media to be portrayed from the perspective of a heterosexual male, thus resulting in the representation of women as objects to be desired by men (“Film Theory 101”). This trend seems to have permeated into the world of Instagram, where the popular trends in portraying women, even if dictated by the woman herself, follows a similar path of objectification. In the following Instagram photos from both personal and celebrity accounts, Instagrammers employ both open mouths and a downward angle that draws attention to the body.
The result of the objectification of women within the selfie genre is an unrealistic standard in beauty. Women and girls need only to scroll through Instagram to come face to face with images of women who are photographed in an effort to capture perfection. Self-comparison to these unrealistically beautiful
Instagram models leads not only to self-loathing, but also to a total change in female identity. In response to the rise of this photo social platform, girls are becoming interested in appearance far earlier in life. Whereas my main concern in the sixth grade was beating my best friend in four-square, my younger sister Julia was already applying makeup and picking out her own clothes. Now a sophomore in high school, Julia has become a mini-model, whose Instagram page is exclusively dedicated to advertising her face and body. The fact that Julia has taken such care in her representation of her physicality on social media at the young age of fifteen proves that the Instagram selfie has caused a massive shift in the way women and girls value their own appearance. In response to the rise of Instagram, females have taken more care to enhance and advertise their sexual appeal for the general public than they have in the past.
Whereas the rise of “selfies” on Instagram has caused a spike in the objectification of women, food posts are reshaping the way society values food and, as a result, favoring a more gender-neutral attitude towards domestic labor as a whole. A massive trend among not only Instagrammers, but also users of sites like Facebook and Twitter, is the concept of “food porn.” On Instagram, accounts dedicated to visually appealing food items have amassed millions of followers. Personal Instagram accounts also regularly feature flawless looking meals and culinary feats. Whereas in the past, food was something that was largely taken for granted as a mere necessity, the rise of Instagram has brought a new celebration of food as an art form. Wives are no longer expected to have something on the table each time their husbands walk through the door. Rather, individual females and males, as well as couples, are reveling in the foods that they purchase and create as a form of self-expression or leisure, rather than a uniquely female responsibility.
Likewise, food is beginning to take on a more aesthetic value. Take the “raindrop cake,” for example. Initially a Japanese dessert, the “raindrop cake” is a transparent, gelatinous cake that is taking the United States, and Instagram, by storm. Though the “raindrop cake” is in fact cake, and therefore edible, it seems that the cake’s edibility is its least notable attribute. An article hashtagged “I’d Eat That” quotes the cake’s U.S. creator, Darren Wong, as saying “Firstly, it looks really cool” (Walansky). Wong goes on to laud the texture, and then finally the flavor, of the cakes. The taste of the cake itself is not even secondary to the cake’s aesthetic. Rather, it seems to be an added bonus. The order in which Wong describes the attributes of his creation is indicative of the shift that the food genre on Instagram has brought about. With the rise of food images on Instagram comes a new appreciation for the things that society eats. By treating food as more of an art to be savored, than a responsibility to be dutifully performed by women, Instagrammers have effectively destroyed antiquated traditions of both domestic labor and culinary operation.
Similarly to the way in which posts about idealized food items on Instagram have sparked a new appreciation for the things that society eats, a trend in posting impeccable pictures of nature has created a new viewpoint regarding what the world views as “natural.” In terms of food, the constant posting of visually outstanding culinary feats established a new open-mindedness when it comes to cooking and eating. Instagram’s nature genre has done the opposite in terms of defining nature. Like “food porn,” “nature porn” is an insta-trope with millions of followers and posts. As Instagrammers post pristine images of natural beauty, a cultural shift towards close-mindedness begins. Whereas past generations may have conjured images of the woods behind their homes or the colony of ants in their basement at the mention of the word “nature,” the popularity of “nature porn” today has changed the world’s image of nature to include only those far-off, untouched regions of nature. Similarly, because individuals can get their fill of nature from one perfect image on a screen, the concept of going out into a more local nature is an obsolescent one.
While, the millions of likes and comments on “nature porn” posts do not indicate any decline in the public’s love of nature, the effect of this new concept of natural beauty is a step away from a genuine appreciation of the natural world. This is because, as the public ogles at idealized versions of nature, they become less in touch with the nature of their reality. In his book “My Green Manifesto,” nature writer David Gessner states, “ True it isn’t the nature you find in Sierra magazine...But I think we are making a deadly mistake if we ignore the smaller, more compromised patches, since that is what so many of us are left with” (101). Gessner’s mention of a “deadly mistake” refers to the notion of conservationism. In becoming familiar with only the most pristine images of nature, society desensitizes itself to the nature that is closer to home. Based on the apparent adoration for nature that is exemplified by the likes and comments on Instagram’s “nature porn” posts, I imagine that very few individuals would feel justified in leaving an empty water bottle to float in the Moke Lake. And yet, the lawn of Old Main or the side of East College Avenue is, as evidenced by the ample supply of litter, a more acceptable place to dispose of trash. By popularizing an idealized view of nature, Instagram’s genre of nature photos has created a shift away from society’s familiarization with nature, and therefore discouraged people from appreciating and conserving the nature in their own backyards.
The rise of Instagram has brought about a massive change in the way society operates. Within each of its specific genres, Instagram speaks to the different notions that society has come to value. In terms of the “selfie” genre, a cultural shift away from realistic representation, and towards a more idealized image, has been facilitated by the overt sexualizing of women in photos. Similarly, the instagram genre of “food porn” has created a new view of food as an art form, instead of a responsibility to be taken care of by women alone. Likewise, Instagram’s “nature porn” genre has constituted a favoring of only pristine, ideal views of nature, as opposed to a localized view of nature, which in turn creates a rift between society and the natural world. Instagram is indicative of what society values, because Instagram is the platform on which individuals’ decide what is valuable enough to share with the public or attach to their own name. Instagrammers are going to post aesthetically pleasing images. They’re going to post what gets likes. They’re going to post what makes them more “ideal.” While this attraction to aesthetic ideals can be positive, in the way that a celebration of something mundane like cooking has inspired motions towards gender equality, an obsession with idealized imagery can also be detrimental. When a “selfie” doesn’t turn out like Kylie Jenner’s, or when a burger doesn’t quite layer the way a burger on a “food porn” account might, or when a picture of a backyard doesn’t capture the same majesty as some exotic, mountainous landscape, Instagrammers will be faced with a crushing sense of inferiority. No longer able to appreciate a more realistic sense of beauty in the world, society will tend towards perfection and, in trying to achieve this singular model of idealism, society could rid itself of the diversity and imperfection that makes it genuinely beautiful.
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Gessner, David. My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New