I recently watched a popular YouTuber explain why she’s had so much “work done” in her mid-twenties.
“I had no idea my nose bent this way,” she told her hundreds of thousands of followers, pointing to the right, “until I began YouTube and social media stuff.”
I looked at the woman’s nose and felt puzzled. It was perfectly straight. In fact, from her eyebrows to her teeth, everything about her looked immaculate. It quickly became apparent that “YouTube” was not the villainous culprit who destroyed her grasp of reality – this woman would still feel this way if she spent her long days staring into her reflection in a lake, not a viewfinder – she was.
If you’re going to spend your whole life staring into your own face, a crooked nose or two might materialise.
This woman was certainly not unaware of her objective attractiveness. Her Instagram page was – is – a gallery dedicated entirely to herself; an exhibition of selfies and body shots taken with her own thumb. This woman had built an entire career on the way men ogle her and young girls aspire to be her. The knowledge that she is more conventionally alluring than the average woman was her rocket fuel to millennial success. It still is her rocket fuel today.
And yet, she told her hundreds of thousands of followers, it wasn’t enough. The invisible problem with her nose plagued her daily.
I wonder if another “problem” arose when she watched the video back.
That woman is just one face in a glitzy room of Instagram influencers – the icons of our generation – whose livelihoods depend on unabashedly telling the world “you want to be me”. Who are commodities simply in their reluctance to tell any story other than, “I’m hot”.
It’s good for business. It’s damaging for all of us.
I’m not talking about creative influencers – musicians, photographers, writers, actors – who present their lives alongside their art. This is about the other influencers, the ones who profit from offering the world nothing but their bodies.
The ones who purposefully strip their feed of personality. The ones who, curiously, boast the biggest followings.
This is not an aversion to nakedness or sex – if you want to post a photo in a bikini or in bed because you feel confident and beautiful, you should do so. Our bodies play a huge part in how we exist within the world and therefore play a huge part in how we live online. But in making their bodies visible, women should also be speaking their truths loudly and unapologetically. When women are entirely passive in sharing their bodies, when their opinions and thoughts and ideas are never uttered, we enter a particularly perilous terrain where women are seen as nothing more than their bodies.
And that is precisely the problem.
Women’s passivity online has led us to a place where the most followed influencers – some of our generation’s most championed people – are portrayed as empty vessels. They are the people to which things are done. When they do talk, which they rarely do, it’s about the need to be thinner, hotter. To have whiter teeth or a perkier bum. To get veneers and buy their diet guide. The more unapologetically narcissistic they are, the more they shut their mouths on anything actually deeper than their skin, the more their followings prosper. For this, they are rewarded with, yes, money, but also adoration; last year it was revealed the most desired career path for kids and teens is that of an online influencer.
It’s a loop whereby a number of influential people online haven’t really influenced anything meaningful at all, other than a culture which demands women be judged for their appearance, not their actions.
As long as that’s heralded as the ideal, the women who are silent remain Instagram’s elite, and the young girls watching them will grow up thinking being tight-lipped and coy are prerequisites for being liked.
And we know we have a problem when the supposed “ideal woman” is the one who says nothing.