how instagram is redefining our understanding of beauty
From model Jazzelle Zanaughtti to trans activist Munroe Bergdorf, photographer Peter de Vito to designer Matty Bovan, we asked our i-D family how the social media platform is shaping the cultural conversation today.
Photography Ashley Armitage
It’s no secret that Instagram has been instrumental in shaping the current conversation about beauty. But what exactly are its effects? On the one hand, the platform has tipped the balance of power much more towards the consumer, giving us all a voice. Not only does Instagram allow us access to a more diverse vision of beauty, it gives us the creative freedom to express ourselves in whatever way we see fit. On the flip side, with so many filters and self-editing apps, there's never been more pressure to be Insta perfect. Here, some of Instagram's boldest voices talk about how the app has shaped their relationship to beauty.
Louisa Northcote, Activist and #freethepimple Founder
“I believe Instagram still gives the wrong perception of what beauty should be: big boobs, long hair, make-up, fake eyelashes. I don't fit into that category -- I have small boobs and bad skin. So I’ve decided to use my Instagram to show people the truth, and give them something to relate to. Only in the past few years have a few brave people spoken up about their insecurities, their body, their weight, their stretch marks -- but still not enough. People are still too scared to show their true selves, because of the pressure they seem to place on themselves based on edited images of 'perfect lives' and 'perfect bodies'. Slowly Instagram is breaking through the taboo but it isn't there yet.
Halima Aden, Model
“Instagram is shaping the beauty conversation by exposing users to a wider range of beautiful people. Women and men of all backgrounds, body shapes and ethnicities are able to redefine the standards of beauty by simply being themselves. The photo posted by Rachel Hollis that went viral inspired many women to embrace their stretch-marks and find confidence. We’ve seen the impact that models such as Winnie Harlow and Ashley Graham have had in reshaping how we view beauty. It all comes down to confidence in oneself, and that’s one of the most beautiful things Instagram brought to us. As a hijab wearing model, I have been able to provide those women on social media who dress and look like me, as well as those who haven’t felt represented in one way or another, someone to relate to.”
Munroe Bergdorf, Trans Rights Activist
“I think that Instagram is giving us a window into different kinds of beauty and expanding our consciousness to people that have always existed but haven't always been given the spotlight. We're living in a time where people are rightly demanding to see themselves in aspirational imagery. Diversity isn't a trend, it's the way forward.”
Ali Tate, Model
“Coming from a place of privilege, I didn't even realise that before Instagram I saw image upon image of white women dominating the public sphere. That type of repeated exposure hardwired my brain to believe that this was the pinnacle of beauty. Instagram helped me to see that as a lie. But on the flip side, I see so many faces that are starting to resemble each other. A dominant trend on Instagram shows a perverse type of beauty. I notice the all-pervading FaceTune app effects that take away skin imperfections and make the eyes just a bit glossier.I feel sometimes as if robots are piercing me with their mechanical gaze as I scroll down the explorer page.”
“Instagram has radicalised the beauty industry. Before, we had an extremely homogeneous ideation of beauty. Instagram has created a platform for the viewer to consume an array of beauty. No longer does the media hold all the keys. It affirms that there is no one type or way to be beautiful. Personally, it has given me a platform to be in control of not how people perceive me (I have no control over that), but how I want to be presented to the world. I can give a more intimate look into what makes me beautiful, independent of my looks. It could me my mind, or how I dress, or the lens through which I view the world. It is incredibly empowering to create my own narrative, and very inspiring to be expanding what beauty means.”
Wilson Oryema, Artist
“I think Instagram is decentralising the power structures that determine what we consider beauty to be today. Whereas previously we only went to a handful of people/organisations to get what “the look” or face was, we now all have the power to say what we think is beautiful and share that! Personally, it’s been very empowering for me, in that it surprisingly helped me wean myself off the expectations or standards of others.”
Jazzelle Zanaughtti, Model
“Instagram has made it so the conversation on beauty is inclusive. Now instead of just having editors at beauty magazines sitting at a table discussing what they think beauty is, everyone can get their word in. My personal experience of this is having my parents finally “get” what I’m doing and why I look how I️ do. After a couple years of them being on the internet and seeing how colourful the world is beyond their eyesight, their questions about people turned into appreciation for something different, something new to them.”
Chloe Sheppard, Photographer
“Instagram gives everyone a voice and chance to put out what they want into the world, so more unorthodox types of beauty are being represented more often, and that can normalise and group them with the more typical notions of beauty. I'm privileged to be represented in many ways, as I'm a cis white woman. However I am also fat, something that is hugely unrepresented in a positive way. So I took to Instagram to put out pictures of myself, to normalise the idea of fat being shown in a more romantic light and in ways that would be traditionally associated with beauty. I was always worried, and still am, each time I post self-portraits. Yet on Instagram people seem to relate to what I say and have shown me that I don't need to conform to immemorial ideas of beauty to feel worthy of being seen/heard.”
Ashley Armitage, Photographer
“Instagram is empowering because it allows for the visibility of voices, bodies, and people that otherwise would not be seen or heard. We now have the power to represent ourselves. On my Instagram I follow a lot of body positive accounts. Seeing this diversity of bodies and people daily has helped me so much with my own body image. I don't feel as much pressure as I used to to fit into a tiny box and take up as little space as possible. Although I'm still insecure with how I look, body acceptance is a journey, and Instagram has helped me move forward into self-acceptance.”
Bea Sweet, make-up artist
"Lots of people comment on my social media following but I’m very quick to point out that I’m not a social media beauty influencer. I’m a working make-up artist, travelling internationally, working closely with brands, beauty brands, consulting, working with many celebrities and if I have a day off it’s a blessing because I’m shooting pretty much every day of my life. I just happen to do something in a style that that people like and is easily regrammable and as a result it’s got me followers, which is amazing and I love having so much feedback from so many people. Instagram has redefined the role of beauty by creating a new platform on which to curate, edit and display media content in the form of make-up which is then open to subjective glorification by the masses with no prior history given to the artist and without a key explanation of the role within the industry other than the keyword of “makeup”. It’s a free for all."
Sophia Hadjipanteli, Model
"Instagram has expanded what we consider beautiful. It gives you a chance to see things that you may have never seen in your real life. I started the #UnibrowMovement as a way for people to actively share the way they look instead of having to be discovered. When I started out on Instagram I received a lot of criticism for my unique look and that was hard for me. Over time though I've connected with a group of people who look up to me and that has created a bond. I think it's that bond that will change the beauty industry."
“We love that Instagram is blurring the line between real and fake. A few years ago the beauty conversation was still very polarised between “natural beauty” and surgical or Photoshopped beauty. Today, discussing what’s real and what’s fake in beauty is irrelevant and that’s all because of Instagram. Make-up tricks, lighting cases, filters, retouching apps… everything on Instagram presents some kind of alteration. And so, because you can never assume what’s real or fake, you start looking at beauty as a set of digital self-creation skills. A lot of people think that Instagram has made the beauty conversation more superficial. We disagree. We think that Instagram has shifted the conversation from genetic luck and good taste to the power of the imagination. It’s much deeper and much more democratic that way.”
Fecal Matter, Artists
“Even before we started using Instagram this is what we looked like. We would dress up in our own creations and look the way to do now without sharing it to the world. It was just for us. Now we definitely feel a pressure to share -- this pressure fuelled by Instagram can lead to so much anxiety. We have experienced quite a journey on Instagram and for the most part it has been a very difficult one to get our point of view to be considered beautiful. We have been bald and eyebrowless for the longest time now, and in the beginning it seemed like a small portion of people were attracted by it, but everyone else was completely disgusted by it. It was only when people who had larger followings than us started coping our looks and getting influenced by us, that people began to look at us differently. The ones who innovate and push the beauty conversation are usually the ones who don't have as many followers and get ripped off by those who have a more mainstream appeal. But how can you claim your visual identity when, by the time you can get to that point, all of Instagram has begun to look like you. Our advice is to just do what you love to do and let that speak for itself.”
Molly Constable, Model
“Beauty to me isn’t just about looks. Instagram has given us a platform to see a plethora of different types of beauty. (Except women are still not allowed to have their chest showing but men can?). It’s helped show us more than one type of human is beautiful.”