Instagram is fucked – pardon my language but this is what most professional users can agree on these days. Part of the travel blogging world is lamenting new and ever-changing algorithms, the increase of ‘pay to play’, bots, the follow/unfollow game, and overall a platform that is not their own and is seemingly taking them on a wild goose chase for followers and likes every day anew.
The other part is lamenting those Instagram girls. You know the ones with their skirts on mountaintops, floppy hats and tortillas for breakfast setups. Both groups seem to agree that Instagram is messed up and what was once the most beloved social media channel of many is now barely tolerated by a big part of travel influencers.
When it comes to Instagram and its algorithms and policies there is not so much we can do. Or at least I wouldn’t be able to comment on it because I am no Instagram expert and also firmly belong to the second group.
I thought the reason why the typical Instagram girl didn’t resonate with me was for a lack of diversity, for a uniform look of pink-ish presets, for women who were trying to sell a destination by looking glam in a bikini which more often than not makes no sense whatsoever. As someone who is not just using Instagram for her own business but also as a consumer, I couldn’t relate to many of these images. I said it before but I am not a very pink clouds kind of girl. I wrote the post below and started a new Instagram account called Real Women Travel to hopefully share a more diverse bunch of female travelers as well as a more ‘real’ approach to travel pictures.
Then my friend Victoria from Follow Me Away wrote this post and I didn’t just not like those Instagram girls purely for a lack of diversity – Go ahead, read it first and then come back here so this all will make a bit more sense. – but here is the ugly truth:
The green-eyed monster
Reading her post this part struck me most about the accounts we complain about: Unfollow those accounts. Unfollow me. Follow accounts that make you sing and smile and feel inspired and represented. Please don’t come back with “but you are different your account is different” no, I am really not. I am another girl in a long dress in a pretty location and I beg you to not enforce double standards because I really hate them!
I realized I had been doing that all along. I like Victoria and I like her pictures, dresses on mountaintops and all. And she isn’t the only exception – there are quite a few of those Instagram girls that I actually really like and admire. I realized that I do have a bias against some but not all and it seems to boil down to one very unnoble emotion: envy.
I look at a lot of these Instagram girls and if I am being very honest I am envious. Envious of their bikini bodies, their Instagram husbands, their youth, their follower count, their brand collaborations. Usually, I won’t say anything but I will give my envy free reign and think unkind thoughts. Maybe I will even gossip with a friend and I will most definitely indulge in a bit of schadenfreude as I recently did when things went a bit sour for Travel in Her Shoes and the tortilla girl.
Admitting this is hard as you can imagine – envy is not a pretty emotion. and it seems petty and childish. But here is the thing – I don’t think envy is a bad emotion per se. I think envy can show you something you are missing in your life and inspire you to soar, to work hard and to reach for the stars too. Sure, some things I will never have (and I really don’t want to be 20 again) but envy can still show me how to channel my emotions towards something more constructive and positive.
However, my envy has been misguided lately and Victoria’s post made this very clear to me. Why it only comes out for some people and not for others I am not too sure myself. Maybe it is the fact that I tend to not envy my friends, someone whose work I truly admire and that resonates with me. So I will find more of those and take my energy and attention there. In the meanwhile, I will spend my time to filter this envy that I now publically admitted to feeling at times into making my life, myself, and my own blog and career better.
Another thing that struck me in the whole debate is how different men and women seem to handle the issue. Or rather – it seems to be almost exclusively women who even make it one. Following Victoria’s post there was an unrelated Twitter thread questioning these Instagram girls and their validity and things strayed quite far from reasonable debate. I understand that working with brands is an issue for many but there is not much point to argue over that. We as bloggers can only try to put our best foot forward when working with brands, educating them on the longevity of a blog post versus a quick Instagram pic, of bought followers and engagement bots. Ultimately it is up to the brand and the consumer to decide what works for them and what doesn’t. Which brings me back to my first point – a lot of times I think we are simply envious of great cooperations and find ourselves between a rock and a hard place if we want to have a shot at a cool collaboration and for that join the groups of hated Instagram girls or stay true to ourselves in what content we put out there. Another reality that is hard to accept – not everyone can be an Instagram girl try as you might and looking down on the whole concept might be a lot easier than to admit that.
As much as I hate to admit it but there seems to be highschool bitchiness that has infiltrated Instagram and it is geared solely towards other women. I know that I myself have never complained about a male Instagrammer taking his shirt off and I have yet to see guys on Instagram get into catfights, questioning each other or even worse, putting each other down. Guys seem to do the opposite. Someone does something cool and gets the shot of a lifetime and there is a whole group of men behind him commenting “cool shot, bro!”.
While I would wholeheartedly call myself a feminist I never thought that just being a woman automatically makes you amazing, right for the job or an overall good person. Considering that we are talking about half of the population you are bound to run into a few women you simply won’t gel with. But seeing not only in politics and business but also in our little Instagram bubble how much more guys seem to naturally support each other, it really is high time that women start doing the same or at a very least stop putting each other down.
Most of my guy friends just do their stuff. Either their own or they collaborate with other guys to do even cooler stuff. They give each other shout-outs, virtually pet each other on the back, and overall living la vida bromance. Women…not so much. Women seem much faster to criticize than to applaud. Why is this? Is it just human nature and the different approach by the genders of live and let live? Is it perfectionism or envy and if so – do guys not get envious that much?
I am not quite sure but I want to make a conscious effort to get a little more bromance in my life with other women (sorry, guys, totally stealing your word!).
Honestly admitting these things was a little hard. I did it so you don’t have to. But maybe it will make you question your own motives next time you find yourself dissing an Instagram girl.
With that said, I don’t think we need to be unequivocal cheerleaders at all times. I think it is fine to call out irresponsible behavior and question influencers because with the power of influence does come responsibility.
Influencers need to influence
Two things are a fact: Instagram shots of a pretty girl in a dress in a beautiful destination tend to do better than simply a shot of the beautiful destination. You can love it or hate it, ultimately the choice is up to each of us what content we consume and support. Fact is also that for many successful Instagrammers this isn’t a mere hobby this is a job and they approach it as such. This includes a wardrobe, professional photography gear, and more often than not long days of shooting and editing. Nobody is trying to tell you that this is how they rolled out of bed or that this is how you will look when you take a selfie in said beautiful destination. Instagram which was once a very, dare I say, honest, real-life medium has become an advertising channel. Ads overall were never meant to be a representation of real life but rather an aspiration and the fact that Instagram has changed is just a sign of our times.
Still, I think with the growth of Instagram and digital media and individuals growing into brands and companies comes responsibility and accountability. While we are slowly moving away from the good old motto of sex sells when it comes to the traditional advertisement and media world, asking brands for more diversity and less Victoria Secret-esque perfection we haven’t done the same yet for Instagram. We rightfully hold the consumer responsible but I think this only goes so far. Whether you embrace or hate the term influencer fact is you are trying to influence people if you have an Instagram account as part of your business strategy.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that, again, Instagram has just become another advertising medium. But we as influencers (I will just go with the term now…) do have a responsibility. Most of us can agree that showing side-boob in a picture taken in Egypt is not sending a message of culturally responsible tourism. Neither does elephant riding and lately, there has been much discussion of other animal interactions as well as the question of posing with and taking pictures of locals.
It is also an open secret that many Instagrammers of all genres do use simple tools to slim themselves down in pictures, something that goes way beyond a regular photo edit or a flattering angle. And while I know that many people don’t do that and instead work hard for their figure or are naturally slim, I think the occasional bikini shot on a beach makes sense but if your account doesn’t show much else I do question the validity of those images in a travel context.
With all the glitz and glamour, the bikinis and the floppy hats are you not perpetuating the image that in order to travel you have to be of a certain size, shape, and age? And does that idea not mess with someone who is probably young and somewhat impressionable? To say that it is simply up to the consumer to see behind the scenes and have a solid enough ego to stomach it all is shying away from your responsibility in my view.
More and more people get called out for dangerous stunts, for ignoring fences in a national park, for actually touching that shark only to respond with a shoulder shrug of – well, I didn’t ask anyone else to do that. Influencers get paid to influence. You cannot claim to be good at your job but at the same time say that surely a consumer should know better than to follow in your footsteps and dangle over a clifftop in a floppy hat because you clearly just did it for a shot and never meant to endanger anyone.
I am not saying don’t post this or that picture because really – the line to draw is probably a very individual one. But do understand that you have a responsibility that goes beyond promoting sustainable tourism and making good travel choices especially when so many accounts in this day and age blur the line between travel, lifestyle, and fitness. If you agree that Kim K. promoting appetite suppressing gummi bears might be just a little off, I ask you just to take a closer look at what you are promoting and how. Nothing more and nothing less.
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