TAKING A CRITICAL LOOK AT OUR FEED
Words by Tue Elkjær
Instagram beauty bloggers has become a cornerstone of the social media landscape – this is not news – but what do they contribute? Do these influencers make the world & their followers any more beautiful? …& what do they even know about beauty?
Looking through my Instagram feed I’m always struck with the overwhelming number of times I’m told what beauty is – in very finite & concise summations, in the form of visuals, captions & hashtags.
With every post defining beauty in absolute terms, I’m plagued with the ultimatum it leaves me; to either agree or disagree with the statement I’m presented.
Most often I disagree …. or at the very least I disagree with beauty being restricted & simplified to such a limited concept, since each post seems to limit beauty to be one single thing, ability or look – or most often limited to be the consummation of some particular product or service (thanks consumerist capitalism).
There doesn’t seem to be room for facets or multiplicity of beauty on Instagram, at least not in my feed.
But I keep hoping that some day, the concept of beauty will unfold before me (& hopefully in my mirror too), in all its multitude, because I do think of beauty as an ‘everything’. By an everything
I mean something absolute & complex, that cannot be summed up in a hashtag, something that in some way embodies the whole of life…
This may be more than can be expected for Instagram or really life in general, but I keep my hopes up (as a good consumer).
I have always thought beauty to resembling a state of being, rather than a look. But across digital spaces I’m sold beauty as something that is seen.
As SoMe users we’re all sold the idea that we can also be seen to be beautiful, if we just take some sort of action, consume some product or service.
Beauty is no longer a subject for poetry, but for a CTA button.
However, this sight alters with each digital post, as does the action I (as a user) need to take to achieve beauty. In a way, Instagram influencers’ definition of beauty are just variations of a L’oreal commercial, with its back-handed compliment of a tag line; ‘because you’re worth it’. But does beauty really exist in the echo of a L’oreal commercial & am I really worth it?
Who decides what’s beautiful?
When meeting beauty as a term in my Instagram feed, there seems to be a dispute of definitions, there are different camps of beauty, so to speak, in my Instagram feed. Here I see 4 distinct, prevailing types of beauties or self-proclaimed beauty ‘experts’, that in one way or another, try to define beauty in my Instagram feed.
The 4 types of beauty ‘experts’ I’ve found in my feed are:
- The Follower,
- The Nihilist,
- The Satirist,
- The Feminist.
Their definitions of beauty are very varied, as are their methods for achieving beauty.
Each of these types exert their own sort of influence in digital spaces & effects the social definitions of beauty in different directions. In the same way, their content affects me as a viewer in different ways, which I will try to describe individually for the 4 types of beauty definers.
The most common beauty ‘expert’ in my Instagram feed (& possibly yours too) is The Follower.
The Follower is often a beauty-, fashion- or lifestyle influencer or trying hard to be one. Ironically, this type of beauty expert spends more time adhering to commercial ideas of beauty, than they actually spend time influencing others. They’re trying to embody the L’oreal tagline & spend their time trying to convince themselves they’re ‘worth it’, without seeming to know what ‘it’ they’re trying be worthy of.
Characterized by carefully constructing & inflating their own ego, this type focuses exclusively on their social identity & have little to no self-concept to speak of. Instead of having an individual sense of self, they entirely define themselves by the gaze, definitions & reactions of others. This is often the motivation behind their work as influencers, in which they’re seeking validations, in the form of likes, comments, reach & the cash value of their sponsorships. This type is intrinsically imbedded within social media culture, that gives them platforms, where they can measure the validity of their image & lifestyle in quantifiable terms.
Despite their attempts to influence others (which many do very successfully), they are in fact following the lead of commercial powers. They’ll adapt to whatever ideal they think is ‘popular’ & can give them validation & thereby a momentary sense of self-worth. This creates a blindness in them, that causes them to worship symbols of popularity, without thinking about who made the actual objects popular or the objects symbolic meaning. Their focus on adapting to an externally created ideal, is ironically an attempt to build a social identity & stand out as something special, although the joke seems to be lost on them. Their sense & definition of beauty seems to be elected through social negotiation & chosen by marketing teams, rather than being their own ideas. In summation, the followers are the ultimate fashion victims, since they try to follow shifting trends & fashions to an obsessive degree – some more socially successfully than others.
In the wake of The Follower, there is The Nihilist. This type of beauty ‘expert’ is a rebel that has lost faith in the capitalist society & consumerist culture. They are the exact opposite of The Follower.
The Nihilist would never adapt to a trend or style, simply because of its popularity, they rather seek to avoid anything they see as trendy or fashionable.
In an attempt to adhere to a self-conceptualized idea of beauty, they navigate by actively rebelling against commercial or ‘classic’ definitions of beauty. In this group, beauty is very much tied to individually, where beauty is a state of complete coherence with their own self. They style themselves for their own self-concept primarily & try to disregard any social identity, without realizing the impossibility of not having a social identity in any social society.
Often The Nihilist rebels against being identified in a social context, since this is a threat to their self-concept & individualism. Ironically this group is tied together by their reluctance to being part of a group mentality, finding kinship in a common faith in their individual super ego & self-defined individuality. In this group beauty definitions must be varied, since beauty is defined by the individual & not the group. If something is a common marker or symbol, it is not beautiful in the eyes of The Nihilist. A big part of beautification for The Nihilist is DIY symbols & customization of products, since they don’t see beauty as something that can be bought ready made, but has to be self-made & self-defined – to some degree.
The Satirist is a group, that is harder to define than the previous two. This is because The Satirist is a remix of expressions, both visually, culturally & politically.
Much like The Nihilist, this group has lost faith in the capitalist society & doesn’t believe consumerism to be constructive or add to their happiness. Unlike The Nihilists, this group spends time trying to play-act the ideals of beauty they’re sold in commercial contexts, to make fun of it. In this aspect, The Satirist can look a lot like The Follower, although The Satirist would be mortally offended by that.
It’s crucial that their adaption to the commercial ideals are complete, but yet have some variations or twists, that clarifies their ironic or satirist intent – this is often done with humor & by exaggerating the ideal, making ‘voluminous hair’ into gigantic coiffures & turning a logo tee into a logo manic hazmat suit. This Satirist is a sort of chameleon, that has a fluid social identity, which is relative to their company & their momentary goals. They both are & aren’t a part of the commercial beauty definitions.
The Satirist is very much a thing of contradictions, trying to adhere to one social identity, that resembles The Follower’s, in order to create another self-concept, that resembles The Nihilist. Here, The Satirists self-concept rely on wit, social intelligence, nonchalance & ethics, as well as cultural superiority. It is important to The Satarist, that they are the only ones, that truly understands them, they enjoy putting people in their place, when they’re misunderstood. Their beauty ideals are defined by their individualistic takes on popular culture, therefore their variations & twists to popular trends & fashions are very important symbols for this type – their beauty & their individuality are one & the same. Both lie in small details & exists in a matter of degrees.
The Feminist Sex Symbol
This type of Instagram beauty is part of the much discussed 7th wave feminist movement, who tries to rebel against the patriarchy & the male gaze, by adapting to beauty ideals, that are seemingly designed for the straight male gaze, which they then reappropriate for their own straight female gaze.
The Feminist aims to dress for their own gaze & self-concept, which they publicly claim to be empowering & thereby a rebellion against the patriarchy. But this rebellion, much like The Satirists’, is based on copying & adapting to the beauty definition, they claim to rebel against.
Hereby the rebellion is relative to the viewers understanding of the rebellion – here their IG selfies & beauty shots are like Schrodinger’s cat (or should I say Schrodinger’s feminist), it is simultaneously rebelling against & catering to the straight male gaze & the patriarchy.
Here definitions of beauty & political agendas for gender equality are mixed into one concept – both for The Feminist as an influencer & for their fans, as well as their critics/haters. Because
The Feminist influencer ties beauty to politics, their definition of beauty is inherently tied to their desired social identity. It’s difficult to be for gender equality, if there’s no one against it, that’s why The Feminist publicizes on social media, to create a debate, drum up the opposition & quantify their social identity in terms of likes, comments & etc. Their behavior is only rebellious, if it’s put in a public, social space. This is also why gender equality has become a trending topic on social media, because it’s a (fast & ‘easy’) way to make your rebellion public & gain influence in a social space.
So, is there beauty on IG or not?
Having taken a critical look at the beauty ‘experts’ in my Instagram feed, I don’t think their post has a lot to do with beauty or even expertise.
In my eyes & in my gut, I think that beauty is too relative to be summed up in an Instagram caption & a couple of hashtags. My fear is, that the multiplicity, mystique & vastness of the term beauty, is compromised by todays digital media Malmstrom, that simply ignores everything, that can’t be described in a 140 characters or less.
It seems to me, that Instagram, & social media in general, is the wrong place to look for beauty. We should rather use digital spaces to explore subjective perspectives, that differs from our own & examine beauty in our everyday, emotional & physical life.