My popular page on Instagram is filled with models. We’ve all been guilty of getting, as my friend Mark puts it, “too deep into Insta:” clicking on tagged user after user until there’s decidedly no relationship whatsoever between the original photo and the post that we’re on. I’ve discovered that it’s almost too easy to move from a cute, nicely-filtered picture on the popular page to a string of bios featuring various modeling agencies. Is that what Instagram is now? A online modeling portfolio, open to the public? Is it a good portfolio?
On the one hand, there are definitely success stories. Models have become supermodels by amassing huge followings outside of the fashion industry; think Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Cara Delevingne, just to name a few. Companies targeting younger demographics are likely to consider hiring spokesmodels for instant access to their audiences, which gives an advantage to the bold-personality beauties in the Instagram and Twitter-sphere.
At the same time, these millennial models can credit their rise to stardom to other respects: Kendall, most followed model in history, is one of many in “America’s family,” the Kardashian/Jenner clan (a name newly dubbed by Cosmopolitan Magazine). Hailey Baldwin has been famously linked to singer Justin Bieber for months. These girls didn’t start at the bottom; they started as socialites. Maybe Instagram isn’t the claim to fame: without these rare ties to such huge names, it might not be possible for other rising models to even effectively utilize social media to gain the same level of success. The fashion industry also creates a sort of hypocrisy here by putting Kim Kardashian on blast and calling her “lowbrow” celebrity after her 2014 Vogue cover. Do they want models for their looks, or for their fanbases? Does high fashion still only go for a certain type of pretty: the stick-thin kind, rather than the curvy kind that Kim is known for?
Meanwhile, smaller-scale models continue to document their work on Instagram. Whether they are doing it for fun or for career purposes (or both), there is also the chance that these models will become dependent on social media stardom. More and more bloggers are creating careers out of Instagram posts, choosing to advertise products in exchange for exotic getaways (think dynamic duo @jayalvarrez and @alexisren). By no means am I trying to discredit the work of related photographers or videographers. However, the entire process seems a little reminiscent of the Viners who formed the MagCon tour entirely based on appearances at various venues—in my opinion, they are exploiting their fans, rather than offering an actual performance or product to them. In the case of models, specifically, most of the products that I’ve seen being advertised are very small-scale: think the kinds that are only sold on Amazon. The ability to land these gigs is undoubtedly impressive, but if these models aim to reach Hadid-level success, settling for small advertisements might not be the correct method. (But who knows? I know I would gladly take a free trip to Greece.) Granted, it seems to me that the thousands of models on Instagram would be more likely to look to editorial, rather than runway, work, and they could be simply documenting the hard climb to the top for the world to finally see. Yet social media platforms make modeling so accessible that models seem to be putting themselves on a platform built for the mainstream. In the end, this won’t equate to the “big personality” that supposedly granted the socialite supermodels their fame. There is a line between Instagram celebrity and real celebrity, and the industry’s demand for followings seems to blur the distinction.
The problem extends past the models’ careers as well. The prevalence of these models on our popular pages sends a message of accessibility yet unattainability. These Insta-famous figures are just “normal” enough to look like the girl or guy next door, yet their looks leave something to be envied. The comments sections are littered with such comments as “what gym do you go to, I need a waist as tiny as yours” and “would do anything for that bod.” More than magazine covers and TV shows, social media is defining the beauty standard, and up-and-coming models are the perpetuators of the trend. Why? We have been taught to accept that magazine photos have been airbrushed to perfection. On Instagram, we are primed to believe that everyone is equal—or at least, equally accessible through their accounts. We forget that there is an app to edit everything: eye size, acne, you name it. These images are then exposed to us just subtly enough, perpetuating a new ideal for beautiful.
Issues of self-esteem extend far beyond specific Instagram accounts. No one’s existence is ever to blame for the reactions of others. However, it is simply becoming too easy to base reality on the lens of social media. It is time for this perspective to be flipped the other way around, before reality becomes too dependent upon it.