Instagram, Influencers, and Inequality: Why I Feel Conflicted About my Love of Instagram
I have so many feelings about Instagram.
Most of us have an image of ourselves that we want to present to the world: This is who I am. This is what I care about. This is why I should be taken seriously. And social media – in particular Instagram – allows a huge percentage of the population with access to the internet the opportunity to control our own narratives. We can be more active participants in shaping the stories which determine how we see the world and how the world sees us. We can post images that make us feel beautiful, share moments that make us feel important or loved. This is the part of Instagram that keeps me coming back: sharing love, sharing excitement, sharing beauty, sharing knowledge. But it’s a double edged sword: these select narratives also craft picture that isn’t based in reality. It’s a performance of our life’s fantasy, pretending that the highlight reel is our everyday reality. For myself, it flings open the door for comparison, so much of which is focused on two things: how I look (not skinny enough) and the degree to which I am successful (also not enough).
It seems those with the most followers (based on my own perception and virtual world) are skinny, able bodied, financially secure, white women. This is not to say they don’t work hard, or don’t deserve their successes, but it also demonstrates how we as a society still collectively value a certain image of beauty which gives preferential treatment to white Westerners. Since realizing this, I’ve made an active effort to follow a more diverse set of people, and actively unfollow those who make me feel like I’m Not Enough. And I have to grapple with this on a personal level: I may not be financially secure or entirely skinny, but I’m certainly another able bodied white woman. I so desperately want my voice to be heard and for people to take me seriously, but at what level am I participating such unequal structures when I share only a slice of my reality?
And I certainly dip my toe in the Instagram Game every now and then – actively trying to grow my following, thinking about intriguing content. Because there’s a small part of me that craves that influencer lifestyle. Fuck yes I want brands to send me free things, and how incredible would it be to get paid to post on my Instagram? Somehow it seems easier: working a 9-5 desk job lacks glamour and makes me feel trapped sometimes. (That’s a whole different conversation about the labour force needed to maintain a capitalist system.) But it also means selling myself. Accessing the power that a large following affords often means participating in some form of self-objectification. And what drew me to Instagram in the first place was the freedom to express myself beyond the constraints that others and society have placed on me.
Ultimately, thinking about how to tell my story on Instagram is a form of escapism. I can dream up what I want my life to be, both materially and professionally, and manifest it visually for all to see. So perhaps Instagram can be multiple things at once: both a tool to share our own stories on our own terms, and an overall indicator of inequality and how far we still have to go.