It's More Than Just "Instagram Face"
Surrendering our personalities to the sinkhole of social media
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the rise of that same, social media-inspired look among young women known as “Instagram Face”. It’s that face made up of sculpted cheekbones, big lips, fox eyes and a deep tan; a chimera of sexy, supermodel features. It’s not a natural face. It’s cartoonish, assembled artificially through cosmetics, filters, editing apps and even surgeries, as if girls are endlessly chasing the beauty ideal of their childhoods: an IMVU avatar, or a Bratz doll. Something perfect, inanimate, soulless.
But it’s more than just Instagram Face. I’ve also noticed the rise of a distinct Instagram Personality: girls with the same mannerisms, opinions, sense of humour. They wear the same clothes, use the same hair accessories, have the same home decor. They love the same films, the same music, the same celebrities. Even the language they use is alike: they all use the same therapy talk, like they had the same trauma, saw the same psychiatrist, are on the same healing journey. They even have the same tone, those same affectations, a cadence in their voice so characteristic of influencers that whenever I hear it I’m conditioned to think I’m about to be asked to subscribe and hit the notification bell!
Online, I see the same mannerisms and movements mimicked, over and over. There’s this British beauty YouTuber I watch who has been making videos since I was a teenager. Over time, I’ve seen her evolve like a Pokémon: she started out as shy and relatable, and pretty in a human way, with pale, freckled skin, natural teeth and interesting features. Since, she has metamorphosed into the human embodiment of Instagram. She has the dark tan, the lip fillers, the white veneers, the fake eyelashes, the “Insta Baddie” style—but also a new Americanised accent, new mannerisms, this entirely new persona. In a recent video, she opens up about suffering with imposter syndrome. “I disassociate from who I am,” she says, “I watch videos of myself…and I’m like who the fuck is she, even though I’m being completely myself and I know it’s me.” It’s as if social media has taken control of who she is, like some spiritual possession.
This isn’t to say all girls have Instagram Personality, just like not every girl aspires to have Instagram Face. But it feels like whatever personality we have, social media pushes us further into it, until we’re all the same version of that thing, like we’re on a conveyor belt headed toward some final product.
All kinds of youth subcultures exist, like they always have, but now they seem more homogenised, more manufactured. “E-girls”, for example—a cyber-culture mixing emo, scene and Japanese fashion—don’t have Instagram Face, but why do they all look like the same Anime character: the same neon blush over their nose, faux-freckles, thick eyeliner, even the same voices and frenzied, cartoon mannerisms? Again and again. It’s as if any trace of individuality is now categorised, mainstreamed and assimilated into online identities like “cottagecore”, “Insta Baddie” or “Trad Wives”, each of which come with a list of products, outfits and personality traits. Our subcultures aren’t organic and subversive; they’re commodified and marketable.
Where does individuality come from? A mix of things. Mostly, I think, through experiences. Unique childhoods. Meeting unique people. We are a composite of our experiences; they mesh together, sometimes messily, and craft our quirks and traumas and values, like papier-mache.
But now, online, similar people pretty much have the same experiences. The “woke” get their opinions from the same tweets and TikToks. The edgy get their sense of humour from the same memes and viral videos. Girls find inspiration for their faces and fashion from the same Instagram influencers. We’re categorised by our personalities and interests, and then served the same stuff, over and over, until all shades and intricacies of our personalities are filtered out.
We are a generation all about empowerment, apparently, and freedom from oppression. We demand to live “our truth” and freely experiment and express ourselves. Yet here we are, allowing these apps and algorithms to dictate the way we look, the way we think, to the point where our personalities are becoming inseparable from the content we consume, the products we buy, the identities that flash up on our For You page. The market is so embedded in our lives that it doesn’t just decide what we like and what we should buy anymore, but who we are.
It’s depressing to see so many girls sacrificing their unique beauty to look like the same soulless cyborg. But even more tragic, I think, is the rise of girls surrendering their personalities—their quirks, eccentricities, the parts of them that make them interesting and unique—to the sinkhole of social media, feedback loops, and the pressure to package themselves into personal brands and consumable content.
Last night, I started thinking about the parts of me shaped by social media. I thought about the claw-clip in my hair that’s trending on TikTok. The way I do my make-up. The way I speak. I decided that I really should take some time to think about what’s actually me. What are my interests? What style do I actually like? Without thinking, I picked up my phone to search for inspiration.
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