Instagram Perfection Gives Way to Realness

Posted February 9, 2018 5:55 p.m. EST

For all the talk about the internet’s power to democratize the media, Instagram can present an awfully traditional picture of what a woman is supposed to be. The images that rise on the platform are a hellscape of white feminine conformity, with top influencers sporting the same matte lips and contoured cheeks, their bodies whittled and waxed and contorted into the same poses. (Hey, @kyliejenner.)

But perfectly polished Instagram feeds have now given way to real ones, in which women in particular are showing what they actually look like. And because they have demanded to be seen, brands have taken notice, too.

Recently we have seen canny artists play with the medium’s conventions, from the computer-generated Instagram model Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela) to the Instagram feed of Cindy Sherman (@_cindysherman_), who twists the tools of beautifying apps to achieve monstrous results.

In other corners of Instagram, a new crop of artists and models are pushing the platform in a different direction, carving out a radically realistic aesthetic that reflects the lived lives of women, queer people and people of color.

Follow the account of for an intimate portrait of a 19-year-old artist’s changing body on testosterone, or check out @habitual_body_monitoring2 for images of menstruation and masturbation that present sexuality as something actually experienced by women, not just mapped onto their bodies.

Over the last year, internet-forward brands have borrowed aspects of the realist Instagram aesthetic, too.

On its website, the cool-girl, eco-friendly clothing brand Reformation features models with shiny and smoothed Barbie-esque bodies, but on its Instagram account (@reformation) it has begun showcasing images of its customers who present a different view. One post, a series of photographs of women wearing Reformation swimwear, leads with a picture of Ali Tate, a model represented by @musecurve.

Also jumping aboard is Glossier (@glossier), the beauty brand Instagram built. It’s promoting its new line of body products with a campaign that doesn’t shy away from (or airbrush) models’ real bodies, fat folds and all.

Three rising photographers shared their thoughts about shattering Instagram’s perfect image:

— Ashley Armitage (@ladyist), 24, started taking photos of her sister and friends at age 15, and her work still focuses on that intimate crew of nonprofessional models.

“I’m not interested in photographing people and bodies in their ideal forms. That, to me, is boring,” she said. “I want to see the scars, the cellulite, the pimples, the stretch marks and the body hair. I want to see the little imperfections, because those are the things that make us human.”

— Zoé Lawrence (@zoedlawrence), 22, first turned to photography as a crutch for dealing with her anxiety.

“Photography was a good way to break the ice with people,” she said.

Her work naturally centers on queer people and people of color because it grows out of her own social experiences. “It’s just what I’m surrounded by,” she said. “I don’t think a lot about what the mainstream is doing. It’s not on my stream. It’s not on my feed.”

— Hobbes Ginsberg (@hhobbess), 23, fills her feed with poppy, technicolor selfies — yellow-framed glasses, red-polished nails, blue Los Angeles sky — that sprinkle the Instagram landscape with bright artifacts of her life.

“Seeing other queer people just doing their own thing can feel really empowering as a queer person, and that’s something that’s really important to me,” she said. “But I’m often a bit hesitant to politicize my entire being like that, especially when it comes to the kind of thing I put out on Instagram — which is mostly just meant to be fun and pretty.”