ABOUT TWO WEEKS AGO, “news” broke of an Instagram model that’s claiming to have lost thousands of followers in a “social experiment” that involved her posting unflattering photos on her account. She might be doing a social experiment, all right — but it might not be the one that we think at first glance.
London-based Stina Sanders claims to have been inspired by the recent story of teen model Essena O’Neill, who quit social media for its fakeness and its forced attempts at “contrived perfection made to get attention.” O’Neill deleted more than 2,000 photos from her account, and edited the captions to reveal just how much effort, planning, and manipulation went into the photos to make them seem effortless.
Sanders, similarly, started posting her own versions of photos that might be considered unappealing, most likely in a bid to reveal just how curated the reality of social media is. Such shots include her feet, her in the shower with hair removing cream on her mustache area, and the like. She claims that her followers dropped from 13,000 to 10,000 in the wake of the more honest photos. This would imply that her audience on Instagram disapproved of the shift in content. However, if you scroll back a few photos to before the story broke, she was averaging around 50 likes on each photo — at the extremes, around 100-200 likes when she was in a modeling pose, and in the 17-30 range when she was posting a view or a cocktail.
For someone claiming to have a strong social media presence, getting 30 likes on a photo when you have 13,000 followers is an implausibly low amount of likes — if we assume that the followers in question are real. Despite last year’s sweep that wiped out the majority of ghost accounts on the social media site, fake Instagram accounts — and the ability to buy them to boost your stats — still exist. If she really did have that many followers, then they didn’t seem to be like-ing her previous photos any more than her more
“real” shots, anyway, so what is this sweeping statement about Instagram even saying besides the obvious?
Additionally, the “real-life” photos that she was choosing to post are not that offensive or unappealing to the majority, so the experiment she was conducting was flawed from the beginning. Sure, she captioned a photo about going to psychotherapy to sort out her anxiety issues, and mental health issues aren’t normally discussed on IG models’ accounts… but look at the photo she captioned it on and tell us if yo u think it could honestly be considered “ugly.” Because that’s what she was calling the new photos she was posting.
“When I did take those ‘ugly’ selfies, it was actually quite empowering. Who cares about how your hair’s looking? Just be happy in yourself and be confident when you look in the mirror. It’s so important to just be real.”
The problem with this sort of test is that borders on the blatantly inauthentic, if not coming across as a total publicity stunt. Obviously, her Instagram followers increased once her story went viral — she currently has 130K followers — and obviously now she’s getting more than a couple comments on her photos.
Essena O’Neill, the Australian teen model previously mentioned, was hit with a lot of backlash over her social media resignation because she chose to do it over social media, and then kept returning to it by creating a brand-new online presence, even asking for money from her fans. (If you have some time to spare, you should look into the backlash. Some people — especially O’Neill’s purported “friends” — took what she said way too personally, and it’s funny to watch their reactions, in a cringe-inducing way. Adults got involved.) The problem there is that you can’t really condemn the vehicle and then hop in and ride it to the top without people calling bulls**t, even if your message is a valid one and your initial intentions did come from a good place.
Stina’s case paints a strange picture. Did she really lose that many followers for posting those photos? Is there anyone who hasn’t unfollowed someone for being what they consider annoying? Do you even want people following you who are offended by feet?
The only way this could accurately be tested is by having someone with a clearly legitimate fan base make a drastic turn in their posting style. Maybe if the Kardashians started posting photos at the colonic clinic and removing body hair some people might peace out… but, then again, maybe not. Haven’t they already done most of that on their TV show?
Holding on to the cover that’s it damaging to be judged on social media but then turning around and asking for it is even more damaging than the neutral ground we started with — namely, that social media sucks most of the time. We’re trying to move away from the inauthentic, people, not perpetuate it. But maybe we can’t do that without moving away from Instagram altogether.