Growing up as the oldest child in a family of six was a wild, but mostly fun experience. We lived in our cherished, renovated home in Clintonville (neighborhood close to downtown Columbus, Ohio) where we shared one small bathroom. All six of us. That might have been fine except four of us were women! I remember the long wait times to pee or shower, just waiting for that door to open. The three of us sisters shared a bedroom for years, until my sixteenth birthday. My parents slaved over creating this special space for me…my own room. The bedroom came with a land line I could call my own. Now I could talk to all the boys about all the things. The joy and rush I experienced racing to pick up my pink phone cannot be overstated. My world was complete.
Fast forward to 2019, and I get a new type of dopamine rush. It’s called Instagram. The reason I know I’m not the only one is because Instagram has over 500 million daily active users (54% women and 42% men). Over time we’ve perfected the art of scrolling through hundreds of accounts, brands and images each day. Instagram is an incredible social platform that celebrates artistry through imagery.
Over the past two years, the evolution of photos posted on Instagram has gone from “classy” to “trashy”. I began noticing more and more “spammers” following me with completely indecent and sexually suggestive accounts plus an increase of nearly nude photos being posted among people I follow. Instagram influencers effect these trends by pushing the “norm” and posting whatever the hell they want to increase their following. Clothes, no clothes. In the end what’s the difference as long as it sells…right?
Let’s Talk About Sex Baby.
Recently Facebook shared new integrity announcements immediately affecting Instagram users and consumers. “We have begun reducing the spread of posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines.” That means if a post is sexually suggestive, but doesn’t depict a sex act or nudity, it could still get demoted. Similarly, if a meme doesn’t constitute hate speech or harassment, but is considered in bad taste, lewd, violent or hurtful, it could get fewer views”. https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/10/instagram-borderline/
Personally, I applaud Facebook’s efforts to preserve the original intent of Instagram, which is to celebrate creativity, beauty and storytelling. The real question is, what data and observations does Facebook leave out of their report? Do they recognize a connection between sexually suggestive imagery and the type of consumer this attracts? Do they think that the endless scrolling and absorption of tasteless images has a desensitizing effect on humans? Do they believe the consumption of “vaguely inappropriate’ content takes away our ability to recognize true artistry and creativity when it’s right in front of us? Do they predict long-term negative consequences for the platform if the “norm” on Instagram becomes a place where people post their naked photos?
What if they’re right? What if what we consume each day ends up impacting our ability to dream, brainstorm and create. What if the thousands of images in our brains change the way we spot beauty in our husband-wife, significant other, or our children. What if it’s easier for each of us to ignore what’s happening on our social feed because we’re just “too busy”.
Change isn’t Easy BUT Instagram is Making it Easier.
1. Take a Hike.
Sometimes all we need is a refresh. To stop and reflect on what our personal definition of beauty truly is. Simply said, you might need to take a walk, absorb nature and clear your head. Columbus, Ohio is home to hundreds of beautiful parks, but if you’re not from here then go find one near you.
2. Take Control.
Take out the trash. Instagram allows you to BLOCK, REPORT or MUTE any personal or business account. Another helpful feature is the HIDE AD or REPORT AD for sponsored ads in your feed. Lastly, you can REPORT or SEE FEWER POSTS LIKE THIS to completely tailor what you prefer to engage with as you scroll. It may take a little time, but eventually, you can (almost) eliminate anything that you believe is pushing the lines of what “is beautiful” in your Instagram feed.
3. Follow the Beauty, not the Beast
Lastly, engage with people that support your definition of beauty. Champion the brands, influencers, artists, photographers, videographers, storytellers and the people in your life that create content supporting your personal values. (Fun Fact: National Geographic has 107 million followers on Instagram and their posts are full of inspiring and unique perspectives on both animals and humans alike.)
You are in charge of your own brand, voice, likes and dislikes. You have a digital footprint whether you’re building your personal brand or not. The minute someone says to you, “sigh…there’s nothing we can do about it”. I encourage you to run the other way. If desensitization leads to less creativity, less imagination, and less appreciation for real beauty, then what if the opposite is true? Clearly defining what we consider beautiful and intentionally absorbing that style of imagery, will lead to a boost in personal creativity and imagination. Try it out and see what happens.