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"The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over" ...But is it tho?

Posted by Andrew Brozyna on

Last week I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw someone share this article on The Atlantic: "The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over: The look made famous by the platform just doesn’t resonate anymore." The accompanying comment in the tweet was a gleeful, "Preeeeach!" 

Go read that article and come back here. (I'll wait) OK. So, as someone who spends a lot of time on Instagram I just had to read why "influencers are abandoning the Instagram look" (the article includes that exact phrase in its URL). I have been noticing a growth of ridicule directed at Instagram influencers (I'd say much of this derision is unfair, but that's a topic beyond the scope of this blog post*). 

Anyway, it seems to me that this article is trying to capitalize on a perceived public annoyance with "pink walls and pastel macaroons". The author doesn't give any examples of accounts that represent the carefully-curated "Instagram Look", but I'm feeling a little defensive, because I think she's talking about the accounts like the ones that I like to follow : annaroslilycircusofcakesafashionnerd, lynsayloves, littlefantasmic, littlesweetkaren, pipjolley, awhimsywonderland, teamsparkle, and unicorncrafts. I truly appreciate the art of a well-composed photo that considers color and pattern, the relationship between subject and background, and a fresh presentation of clothing and pose. They're fun! 

The article explains that the new photographic look pioneered by younger influencers is "unfiltered" and "unflattering" and that "teens are going out of their way to make their photos look worse." She does give a few examples of these type of accounts: double3xposure (242K followers) and _emmachamberlain (7.3 million followers)

Although not mentioned in the article, missssayy is another younger influencer who features a similar casual aesthetic (suggested by my friend). 

Ok, sure. These have a different look, but they don't appear "worse" to me. To my eye they look like professional fashion editorials fin 1990s fashion magazines—the kind where the artsy photographer was like "I'm taking these Prada models to an abandoned hotel parking lot." My high school art class teacher always had a stack of old issues of Paper, W, and Vogue in the room, and they were filled with photos like these.

The Instagram accounts jazzy4nne and ewww_its_joana were also cited as examples of the new casual style. They both have huge followings (487K and 444K respectively) and truly snapshot-quality photos, BUT what the article doesn't mention is that these two are huge YouTubers (with over million subscribers each). I suspect that their big following on Instagram is there because they are fans from YouTube, and not following for the style of the photos themselves.

22-year-old influencer Reese Blutstein was quoted saying, "We are trying to show a real person doing cool things as a real person, not trying to create a persona that isn’t actually you." An anonymous teen in the article was quoted as saying “It’s not cool anymore to be manufactured.” Y'all. These new style candid-looking photos are just as manufactured and staged as the photos of the older millennials posing at a pretty matcha cafe.

The casual photos are deceptive. The same amount of thought and effort (and brand sponsorship) is going into them—it's only the style that's different. One friend of mine messaged me: "I'm a youth group leader for ages 12-18 year old girls and they sit around at the park and take HUNDREDS of photos and there is hard critique on what picture they eventually post. And it’s an 'ugly' photo but it’s soooo staged to be that way."

For young people wanting to follow in the new style it's definitely a good thing that they won't feel the need for expensive clothes, visit to Disneyland, or a buy ticket to a Instagrammable pop-up experience. The rules for what makes a good photo might have changed, but the stress to achieve the perfect post can still be there. Teens are rejecting the colorful photo filters... and buying the filters that add grit and grain. Becoming a successful Instagrammer isn't any more of an attainable goal than it was before. I see a change in aesthetics, not a change in effort or authenticity.

The Atlantic's "The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over" article is written absolutes:  Millennial pink style is out! Unflattering snapshot style is in! But I think an Instagrammer can wear bright and fun clothing with an enormous cotton candy in hand while posing in front of a colorful mural, all while being true to themselves. Whether an Instagrammer is unrealistic or authentic is due to their individual personality, not the style that they present.

So... what do you thiiiink?


*On the subject of people dismissing the war that goes into being an influencer, I agree with what illustrator Angelina (albinwonderland on Instagram) had to say about it on her twitter:

...every person I know who has these types of careers spends like 16 hours a day working and has to have about 10 different Career Level skills to be able to make it work these women are professional photographers, editors, photoshoot stylists, makeup artists, social media content curators, work out 1-2 hours PER day... and you call them "influencers" with a sneer in your voice and get mad they're paid to advertise to you. can't relate anyways big ups to anyone who does this type of work, I see you and I know you're working your ass off behind the scenes to make it all look easy/carefree



  • Word! I love that it truly is a 90s look coming back again that’s being mistaken for unposed and ‘authentic’.

    KC on

  • It also feels like people are always quick to jump in and trash feminine aesthetics. Rather than being able to like what we like, it has to be that feminine is bad/weak and anti-feminine is cool. All the media I consumed growing up was steeped in contempt for anything girly and I internalized that so much that I didn’t discover how much I like wearing dresses and such until I was in my 30’s.

    Kate on

  • Love your post! Congrats on #1! Totally agree with you – it is all for the ‘gram, whether it is a pink wall or a grainy photo. Being smug about it is not cool. I’m just so glad my Bookstagram has a point. I’ll just keep taking pics of books, tyvm.

    Linda White on

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