I check my Instagram everyday, getting updated on what’s happening with my own friends, and in the world. Every so often, a picture of a seemingly perfect girl that I don't know will pop up in my feed. Her face looks completely blemish-free, her body looks perfectly in proportion, and the smile on her face looks almost too real. I know that she's being paid a ton of money to sponsor some company’s products to her hundreds of thousands of followers. She seems to use that money to go on vacations to islands I've never even heard of, buy designer clothes, and have the perfect life (filled with celebrity boyfriends and everything). But what you don't see in her posts is this: it’s all a lie.
While some teenagers make summer money from working at a pizza place, Instagram models rely on the income they make from modeling on social media. At the pizza place, you submit an application once, and you are either accepted or rejected. As an Instagram model, you’re submitting an application every day. You’re valued on your day–to-day marketability: your public appearance, how your audience perceives you, the money you make, and the products you sell. On average, an Instagram model with 200,000 followers can make up to $5,000-$8,500 a month. "When you have a person with 2 million Instagram followers, that's direct consumer advertising. It's a no-brainer,” says Jennifer Powell, a talent agent based in LA. As an Instagram model, you’re in a business where the money you make depends on how aesthetically pleasing you are to the people you're marketing to (which as a woman, is specifically young girls and men.) If you aren't someone who can be consistent in their online identity, or if you go against how the companies that are paying you want you to be, your contract could be taken away, or you could be faced with a choice: stick to what you believe in, or become just another “perfect” face on someone’s feed.
When someone has a steady flow of money based on their attraction to others, this creates a loss of self-identity and esteem. This loss of self-identity is what truly makes the lives of these models deceiving. When you view, like, comment on, or follow one of those models, you are paying their rent. These models also receive sponsorships from large companies to advertise their products to celebrity followers. On average, according to Ms. Powell, models will receive $200-$1000 per advertisement. These Instagram models become a vessel of money, rather then just human beings. When one begins getting sponsored and supported by large business and enterprises for the way they look, they are forced to keep their image intact, regardless of what hardships they may be struggling with themselves. They give themselves up to become an entity that any number of corporations can profit off of, rather than a regular teenager. They become a stock to bet on; a false promise to the society they are advertising themselves to.
Someone who realized this during her career was Australian model Essena O’Neill. Essena had been posting endless selfies, full body-pics, and vacation pictures all over her Instagram. She had thousands of followers who constantly claimed that her body and lifestyle were their “goals.” One day, Miss O’Neill had enough, and she came out to the media about the cost of her lifestyle: the endless photoshoots, the editing apps, the pounds of makeup and airbrushing, and how she actually had very low self-esteem regardless of her many thousands of followers, and the compliments she received on the daily. She said that she lost her previous motivations in life, and rather became obsessed with her appearance. She became infatuated with the angles in which she could take selfies instead of what she was previously passionate about. When she came out to the world about how much she hated her life as an Instagram model (and even went as far to say that she had developed depression because of her career) she lost her modeling contract, several thousand followers, and she became a prime example of the flaws in an industry as rigorous, secretive, and deceiving as social media modeling.
In the first picture above, her new, edited caption says, “A 15 year old girl that calorie restricts and excessively exercises is not goals. Anyone addicted to social media fame like I once was, is not in a conscious state.” In the second picture, her new, edited caption says, “NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly even that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals” These two pictures above are examples of what Essena O’Neill had brought awareness to: the fake and secretive nature of what it’s like to be a model on social media, and how taxing it truly is. They say a picture says 1000 words, but without her caption, you wouldn't have been able to tell from the picture what kind of pain she was going through. She changed almost all of her Instagram captions from witty or funny sayings to stories about the pain she went through to take the picture, which all in all, were very depressing to read.
But on the other hand, model Iskra Lawrence has become famous on Instagram for actually embracing herself and her differences. Iskra is a plus-size model, revered throughout both the industry and her fanbase for her enthusiasm for “real” pictures. When she first circulated in the modeling world, she was often called “too fat” or “too tall” and was discouraged from pursuing a career. She was utterly destroyed. But then she remembered why she became a model in the first place: to let her confidence shine through. And that’s exactly what she’s doing to this day.
She never posts airbrushed or photoshopped pictures regardless of what she may be told by her agent or the media. She has become the face of the “aerie real, no airbrush” campaign, in which models go all natural for the brand Aerie. With a whopping 1.2 million followers on Instagram, she has truly become the face of a much-needed movement for body acceptance. Iskra also makes a determined effort to interact with her followers! She answers their messages as soon as she possibly can, and always expresses deep appreciation for their support. Unlike Essena, who completely boycotted the industry in protest, Iskra stood her ground and continued modeling regardless of the backlash. It is up to you to decide which method actually creates positive change, but one thing is certain: though the industry of Instagram modeling is brutal, models are standing their ground in one way or another. And it’s making a difference.
As regular teenagers, we all have control over what we post on Instagram, whether it comes to pictures of ourselves, where we are, our friends, or anything else. We aren't being paid by an agency or sponsored by a company to post perfect pictures that represent an “ideal life.” The livelihood of these models is based off of their ability to be advertised. So next time you're scrolling through the gram, and you see a picture of famous Instagram model, rethink your envy of them. They probably aren't as happy as their perfectly edited white smile makes them look.