COMMUNICATIONS STUDIES: The Instagram Model: A Critical Marxist and Feminist Position into My Identity as an Instagram User
Everyone is a celebrity these days. Everyone has the power to become famous with just the creation of an Instagram account, otherwise known as “Insta-Famous.” They’re called “Instagram Models,” and while they may not be on the level of fame as Gigi Hadid or Kendall Jenner, they still have obtained a large number of followers and influence. Including myself. As of this point, my Instagram account has 673 followers and my most recent picture has almost a hundred likes. I don’t even know hundred people, let alone 600. While I do not consider myself a textbook Instagram Model, because Instagram is not a source of income for me, I do use the app daily – whether that be actually posting something or just scrolling through my feed. It’s even part of my morning routine to open the app and get caught up on the mere eight hours I missed during my slumber. I will use a Marxist and Feminist critique to examine my identity as an active Instagram user and primarily cite Rhetoric in Popular Culture by Barry Brummett. With this groundwork in place, I will not only say what I believe to be wrong with the platform and how it disempowers marginalized groups but also what change is going on to empower these same groups on and beyond the app.
On the platform, a user’s worth is categorized by how many followers they have. It’s a free market essentially, and the currency is how many followers and likes per post you have. This idea of the Instagram market can be linked to the Marxist concept of economic metaphors where “the way the economy works is taken to be formally similar to how the rest of culture works” (173). When I first met the person who is now one of my closest friends, I judged her on her Instagram account. Not only did she have more followers than me, but also she was accumulating more likes per post because of this. Before I even got to know her, I placed a value on her as a person just by the level of Instagram fame she has. I believed her to be better and “richer” than me because of the Instagram Market. Companies will also look at the follower count on certain Instagram Models to help promote their products. The number of followers can even impact how much money he or she can make on a promotion or sponsored post. Someone with more followers will get paid more because they have a larger audience. The actual market and Instagram market go hand and hand in the use of sponsored posts. While I’ve never experienced that personally, it is a well-known fact for anyone who regularly uses the platform. The culture of Instagram and Instagram Models is deeply grounded in the economic metaphor that a user’s worth is determined by how many followers they have.
While there are Instagram Models who claim to be feminist, much of what they post is modeled by the patriarchy. It is the language and images that denigrate users on that platform and influence followers in a negative way. Images flood the feed with women putting forward a fantasy. A popular photoshop app, FaceTune, is used to photoshop bodies. Whiter teeth, shorter noses, smaller waists, bigger butts, and fuller lips are just the tip of the iceberg. Physically, this makes the viewer feel inadequate because they do not look like the person in the post, even if the person in the post doesn’t look like their real self. Not only that, Instagram Models will exclusively post the positive things in their life. They won’t have honest conversations about depression, debt, anxiety, eating disorders, or personal loss. With no meaning in life other than to look pretty and be happy, this perpetuates “women [as] objects rather than subjects” (184). I’ve been negatively impacted by this, seeing women with “perfect” bodies on my feed living “perfect” lives. It alters my sense of reality and made me ungrateful for the life I’ve lived and made me feel like I wasn’t enough. This idea of the perfect body did not help when they promoted “fit teas” and “appetite suppressants” that encourage poor self-image and eating disorders. The patriarchy is deeply rooted in Instagram by a look into the ways women manipulate the physical features and mental health to seem more appealing on the platform.
There are accounts on the platform that I’ve become a part of that show an oppositional meaning of social media. They employ the Standpoint Theory that gives “alternative ways of seeing” (185) rather than the “partial perspective” we view in the empowered groups (179). I follow feminist accounts that choose to empower marginalized groups and break from concepts of “lack” and “silence” in feminist critique (183). These accounts tend to be highly interventionist in Instagram culture. They promote self-love and call out issues with the platforms. As I expressed in the paragraph above, people post only the good aspects of their life. An opposition to this is how these accounts post pictures of bodies that don’t fit traditional beauty standards. The app promotes skinny, cisgendered, white girls with perfect skin, but these feminist accounts post people who don’t fit into one or more of these categories. They also post reminders that it is the life you live outside of Instagram that determines your worth, not your follower count. This fulfills the Standpoint Theory by showing this alternative method of looking at the app. Instead of viewing the app as a way to enforce the old beauty standards, it is a way to expand our viewpoint and embrace an inclusive idea of beauty.
The expanse of technology has done a lot of good. It exposes us to new ideas and cultures. But there is never a moment where we are not attached. I find myself checking Instagram multiple times a day. In those times, I’ve seen all the ways they disempower marginalized groups. I’ve felt myself become disempowered by things I’ve witnessed on the app. My self-worth has been damaged by this app because of my follower count and the fat on my body. It’s scary to think how much an Instagram Model from a thousand miles away could hurt me and others so much. However, I’ve also found those willing to break from that mold on Instagram and better themselves and those who follow them. Recently, I’ve aligned myself with these accounts and found my sense of self dramatically improved. They’re encouraging of putting your most authentic self on the platform instead of worrying about image and how many followers you have. I applied a Marxist and Feminist critique to my experience as an Instagram user and how the app can cause harm by making one’s own self-worth be based on the number of followers they have and how good they look and act in every Instagram post. But, I’ve also used the critique to have an alternate viewing of the app so there can be a more positive usage of it as a user.
Brummett, Barry. Rhetoric in Popular Culture. Fourth ed., SAGE, 2015.
Dr. Lamiyah Bahrainwal: A.