Don’t Kid Yourself: Your Perfect Instagram Aesthetic Is Bad For Women
Earlier this week, we ran a story here on TFD from a young woman whose aspirations of being a travel blogger cost her $10,000, and the ability to get herself a new car when hers broke down. You could sense the bewilderment in some of the comments, because who in their right mind would put extensive travel before financial security? Well, the answer to that question is many travel bloggers, and the perfect (if totally deceptive) images they put forth. It’s a community that, in many ways, encourages prioritizing the almighty ~experience~ over nearly everything else, including stability. And while not all travel bloggers are this way, many openly advocate the envy-inducing path of “quit your job, sell everything, travel the world.”
I’ve written about that particular phenomenon at length because, as someone who has both traveled quite a bit and worked full-time through it all, I don’t think those things are as mutually exclusive as many bloggers make it sound. I do think there is a more practical, sustainable, and affordable way to travel than the “fuck it, yolo” mentality so many espouse. I believe that I have lived it, and though it may not be as glamorous or gratifying, the slow, arduous process of navigating things like paperwork and emergency funds and backup jobs open up travel to nearly everyone (without bringing five figures of debt in the process).
But there is an all-or-nothing approach that seems rather inherent in blogging, whether it’s travel, style, decor, food, or general “lifestyle,” whatever that means. There is this overarching tone of perfection that must look at once effortless and incredibly successful: a recipe for blueberry muffins where each picture contains a perfectly-jaunty splash of flour on the slate work surface, along with a few scattered blueberries. It’s a feeling of aspiration that is not just in the finished product, but in the process itself — even my quirky mistakes look beautiful and thoughtful. We see this in the manicured homes, outfits, and lives of the bloggers we follow, and see that even their offhand picture of eggs at brunch manages to be as orchestrated as a shot from Bon Appetit magazine. (And this is because, of course, they make everyone at the table pause while they organize everything just-so, stand up — possibly on a chair — and art direct the experience.)
This dynamic is also compounded by the fact that most bloggers, if not all, are very discreet about how much they actually earn, and how much of their camera-ready lives were gifted to them in exchange for that very picture. Sometimes you might see a “#spon” adorning a particularly cringeworthy promotional shot of shampoo, but often you’ll see nothing at all, other than the product tagged, along with perhaps their current campaign tag. Usually there is nothing marking the advertorial nature of it, nor does it give the reader any idea of what the actual financial dynamics at play are. And as we’ve heard in recent articles, even the bloggers with the six-figure following who may be drowning in comped products may not actually be earning much at all. Maybe for them, the idea of properly marking your ads would be such a deterrent for their clients that they simply can’t afford it.
And the cycle spins on.
It’s something that’s personally inspired me to be transparent about the ads we have on the site, to the best of my ability, and to work on my (upcoming! very soon!) article detailing how we make money, where we are, and where we’re going this year. I believe in radical transparency about money, especially when it comes to our online lives, because I know how easy it is to be fooled into thinking that something is more real, or attainable, than it actually is. I know the exact cost of things we do, and how deceptive it can be from a single, highly-curated Instagram pic. In many ways, it’s refreshing to be honest about the fact that we do pretty much everything thrift, discount, or DIY when we post a decor picture, because I would hate the idea that anyone would spend more than they have to trying to recreate something they might have seen on my Instagram.
And when it comes to the undertaking of blogging itself, it’s even more important in my view to be honest about the difficulties of making a good living off it, and how much more involved it is than simply “make good content, and they will come.” There is a business side, a technical side, an administrative side, which all make it nearly impossible to undertake for the average solo creative, no matter how good you are. You need the right confluence of factors and people, as well as the right timing and platform. The fact that we are able to pay an editorial assistant in a fair way at TFD is something we are very lucky for, and I want to emphasize to the young women who write me interested in starting their own projects just how difficult it really is.
But from Essena O’Neill, to the picture-perfect decor blog, to the traveler who wrote for us this week, the internet is littered with people who were inspired by the beautiful, aspirational images they were surrounded by on social media, and who either lost their financial security or mental health in the chase of the Big Blogger Dream. And unfortunately, this dynamic is heavily gendered — we are the ones being targeted by the perfect Pinterest wedding boards, the unattainable design sites, the style bloggers whose wardrobes are all comped, the traveler who never has to worry about a job. Do a quick google search and you will see the records of hundreds and thousands of women who got into the blogging game because they wanted to try their hand at that perfect aesthetic, and found themselves miserable in the process.
And you don’t even have to attempt to start a blog yourself to be suckered in by the perfect image, or tempted to buy the designer item that the blogger is so quick to shill because she didn’t have to open her wallet for it. We have all lusted after the Dyptique candles, the fur throw pillows, the Vitamix, the Kate Spade peacoat. We have all probably, at some time or another, caved in and spent on that designer item our favorite blogger was pushing because we wanted to inch closer to their effortless perfection, not considering all of the effort and tedium that goes into each one of their photos. And we have all realized, after procuring the must-have item of the week (or day, because who can keep up), that it doesn’t actually make us happier, and we could have gotten pretty much the same thing at Marshall’s.
So it’s fine to create these aspirational scenes, to sell your handbags, to hashtag and shout-out to your heart’s content. It’s fine to create an utterly false aesthetic, never marred by the ugly realities of life or the fact that You Didn’t Pay For That. It’s fine to pursue blogging the way you’d pursue any other creative outlet. But at least be honest about the fact that it’s bad for women. It’s bad for our self-esteem, for our idea of reality, for our expectations of what life should look like, and for our wallets. It’s bad because it makes us believe that we need to have things to be things, or to look a certain way in order to make it real. It’s bad because it makes us drain our savings and lose our sanity in an attempt to be like you.
And it’s bad for women because, at the end of the day, we have enough pressure to live with. We don’t need your perfectly-curated picture of $300 sunglasses to remind us that even our Instagram accounts will never measure up.
Image via Unsplash