We asked young women how and why they formed an insta-identity
‘If I received a deficient amount of likes, then I immediately felt starved of affection and attention’
When my photographer sister (@steefffffffff) roped me into joining Instagram in 2011, she boasted this was the ideal platform for me to share my amateur photography with other people around the world. As a junior in high school, I suffered from low self- esteem and a distorted body image.
Before Instagram, I was comparing myself to girls in magazines, television shows, classes, and friend groups. I was submerged with doubt and inadequacy and rarely posted pictures on social media. This changed when I discovered Instagram, as it presented me with a new wardrobe full of identities I could choose for myself.
Through the use of sepia tones and the right amount of saturation and hashtags I was suddenly receiving likes on otherwise mundane photos.
As @Krispycreme000, I was able to create a set of pictures I believed presented me the way I wanted the world to see me – as quirky, cute, charming, and flawless. I was able to conceive my personal version of perfection and received recognition for this virtual creature I concocted. Each new follower fed an unhealthy obsession for external validation. Although I was beginning to feel gratified from the double taps I accumulated and the affirmations I received for my Instagram layout, I still felt like my demons were screaming louder than ever at me while I used it. My pool of comparison expanded from those in my community to hundreds and thousands of girls across the globe. Each one having something I believed I lacked: better hair, bodies, clothes, accolades, and achievements.
Eventually I developed a hypersensitivity to comparison. If I received a deficient amount of likes, then I immediately felt starved of affection and attention. I placed my self worth in the hands of strangers and a system would never be rigged in my favor. Months went by as I questioned why my profile simply could not measure up to girls who received a plethora of likes, reposts, woman crush Wednesdays, and follows.
I quickly realized how fleeting and toxic social media could be on a young woman’s outlook on the real world. I was curious to ask other young millennial women if they had the same history and experiences I have had while using this application to understand the impact social media has on today’s user.
Abi Balingit, @hotlinebalingit, 793 followers
My lovely friend Abi Balingit, known by followers as @hotlinebalingit, developed an insta-identity that inspires a carefree, fun aesthetic.
Her Drizzy inspired Instagram includes weekly posts about traveling with her friends and family, foodie adventures and her occasional #OOTD or ‘selfie.’ Utilizing Instagram, Abi is able to express aspects of her life she believes reflects her authentic self.
She said: “There’s some sort of inherent faux pas in not maintaining a proper following to follower ratio, but these days I don’t really care and follow all sorts of things like food Instagrams, funny joke Instagrams, fashion profiles, and friends.
“In a way, Instagram is my life. I don’t think it represents a moment completely, but it is a nice way to remember what happened on a particular day and although it is not one hundred percent authentic, it does represent a real piece of your day and the way you chose to remember and reflect on it in the future.”
Abi does not shy away from admitting she loves the recognition she receives when she gets ‘likes’ on her Instagram photos. When asked about her opinion on social media comparisons, Abi said: “I feel like there’s a specific FOMO (fear of missing out) people experience when they see other people’s pictures” but believes she has grown more into the opinion ” Over time, I think if you realize what matters more, you realize ‘I use [Instagram]’ for this way with this method and another user may use Instagram in another way. Even if it may not be my general aesthetic, that’s fine.”
Abi said: “Instagram serves as a platform for young women to build their cultural capital because is sometimes all they have to rely upon” and believes it can add value to girls’ lives as it highlights their strengths rather than reminds them of their weaknesses. As a strong proponent of social media, Abi believes Instagram has allowed her to connect to other amazing women from all over who she would otherwise not have been able to contact or know in real life. In regards to the online haters sometimes troll women’s profiles, Abi offered the sage advice to young women:
“People may unfollow you, and ‘s life, so you just need to embrace what you are about.”
Emily Rice, @bionicbrunette, 97 followers
Stef Corgel, @StefCorgel, 4657 followers
Following Abi, I interviewed two ‘FitSpo’ IGers, Emily Rice and Stef Corgel who both revealed social media served as a catalyst for the millenial health and fitness craze. These feminine and tenacious women both use their Instagrams to share healthy food recipes, workout ideas, and inspiration for those pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
Stef believes social media positively shifted, “what the general population defines as attractive and sexy as we become more health conscious of how we train and fuel ourselves…” and women are moving away from wanting to be ‘skinny’ toward being lively and strong. Emily believes her FitSpo Instagram profile has taught her and her followers how to enjoy the ‘simple’ things in life like eating a great meal, being outdoors, or sharing stories about healthy habits.
Stef, however, offered another insidious truth health and fitness Instagram profiles while empowering, can also be used to manipulate and exploit young women. Speaking from her personal experience, Stef notes how celebrities online can distort and falsely market gyms or products like detox teas or body shapers to create a facade of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. When women consume these health gimmicks at face value, Stef believes they are not questioning the reliability of these celebrities’ or IG famous ‘experts’ sources and putting their bodies at risk in the process.
As long as women choose to love their bodies, work hard, and educate themselves, she is confident they can navigate through misinformation and social media vultures.
Lastly, I chose to interview my best friend to discuss how her Insta- identity has evolved and corresponded with her personal growth as a young woman.
She critiques while Instagram in theory is intended for individual expression, she believes emphasis on this expression through a particular theme/ layout silos people into an identity they feel obligated to maintain.
In sustaining her Insta-identity she said, “I have struggled over the years with constantly looking at my Instagram and wanting to delete pictures or posts I thought looked a certain type of way because I was not satisfied with the type of look I was giving off and now there are memories I don’t have access to anymore because of my constant battle with myself to show a certain side of me versus showing everything about myself.”
By not choosing to display a more holistic image of herself on social media she believes it does not tell the whole story of who she is or how she wants to be represented on her profile.
“I want my followers to know there are times when I want to give off a bad, cool vibe but sometimes I want to post a picture of me jamming out to Bob Marley or chilling with my dog. I believe social media is forcing people into thinking they can only look ‘cool’ but ‘s not who I am. I am about health, I am about having a good time, spirituality, World of Warcraft, hanging out with my family and friends and my dog. By not just trying to fit into a single category as a human being i’ve become more accepting of myself.”
She believes being real with her followers is important by admitting she does not have all the answers and “more Instagrammers should learn to be less serious about what’s on their feed and should instead encourage people to be open to their flaws and self-acceptance.”
She said: “Social media can inflict a lot of pain on youth as they are continuously fed messages they are not good enough to accept or love themselves…/ I admire people who are able to have the bravery to admit ‘hey, I have anxiety or a mental health issue’ or ‘hey, i’m not perfect’ and I begin to not feel so lonely.”
She said: “What is the importance of life? The importance of life can not be found through your material possessions or superficial things yet ‘s what social media is feeding us as young women.” She now follows accounts focused around racial justice, nature, and powerful women of color who inspire her to heal and has now deleted, blocked and unfollowed content and users she believes are toxic to her mental health and well-being. After founding her website, Thoughts of a Lotus, she now prioritizes her social media and virtual brand is centered around pictures and messages have brought her peace she believes could help other young women find themselves.
Overall, from all of these amazing women I came to the conclusion the need to rethink how young millennial women use Instagram and other social media platforms speaks to a greater call for teaching and practicing genuine self love on and off line. As more young women are exposed to these networks, we must begin to critically analyze ourselves as a society and how we teach young women to value themselves and their social experiences and relationships with others in our globalized and ever changing world.