So may the outward shows be least themselves:
The world is still deceived with ornament.
A week is the longest unit of time in Instagram. A month is an
eternity; a year is beyond time itself. The world is made of weeks, days of
filtered truth, a virtual scrapbook of an altered and alternative universe.
Twenty-six weeks ago, it’s a quiet day at the atelier,
despite the manic honking below on Andheri’s New Link Road in suburban Mumbai.
The stillness is occasionally shaken by the sound of frantic sewing, and by the
craftsmen’s muffled whispers from the far side of the room. One of the artisans
sits on the floor, laboriously crocheting pink beads onto the fabric. There are
no walls in the atelier; the utilitarian divides suffocate her. Instead, a
railing of clothes—beige skirts and neon pink pants, white shirts and blue ikat-
embroidered dresses—separate the craftsmen from their designer, Drashta Sarvaiya.
She reclines on a sofa, and flicks through images on her iPad, images that had been snapped at Lakme Fashion Week. She makes a collage: two models on the ramp, one in a Marilyn Monroe-esque dress and the other in a pencil skirt. Drashta does what millions of other Instragrammers do: applies a filter, and uploads it with the caption: “Spread some gold dust this Christmas”.
She receives a mere 12 “likes”. Despite the clever tags—#nude #dress #gold #dust #elegant #dress #fashion #Christmas #sale—no comments.
The lack of online enthusiasm has Drashta puzzled. Her styles are sought after; she had even transitioned from the domestic market to showing in Paris. In fact, even she was coveted. Verve magazine had given her cover space and placed her in their Best Dressed Hall of Fame 2013. Grazia had featured her in their Fashion Cupboard. Indeed, Drashta is attractive, her angular face accentuated by a French bob and her tall stature complemented by a toned physique, a result of daily two-hour sessions clocked in at the gym.
And yet she wants the endorsement of the Instagram community.
“Gone are the days when the designer can hide in the studio. Modern celebrity does, after all, rely on the illusion of intimacy.
Now two weeks have passed since Drashta started modelling her creations. It created some buzz. Vogue called. So today, she’s wearing a lace crop top with pink flowers and a lace skirt, giggling as her assistant takes pictures. An impromptu photo shoot follows.
Drashta flicks her hair, makes doll eyes for the camera, contorts her body. It works: 65 likes and 16 comments, including one from Shoeb Mashadi, the fashion photographer. “Your designs are great n I’d like to shoot a portrait of you!!” he wrote. Another comment read: “I wanna buy this @drashta_sarvaiya”.
A photograph of the very same outfit on a model had yielded only 23 likes.
“It’s remarkable. There’s three times more likes and demand, all because I have put myself out there,” she says. Now Drashta shares images of herself: walking her dog, her breakfast, wishing her followers a happy weekend in her own creations. It is broadcast to over 150 million “grammers”, where hers is just one of 16 billion photos that have been shared on the social media site.
“Gone are the days when the designer can hide in the studio,” she says. Modern celebrity does, after all, rely on the illusion of intimacy.
t was a chilly night on October 6, 2010. Instagram was then
a two-man operation, running from rented desks in a co-working space in the San
Francisco Bay area. It was a spartan enterprise, with no central heating, and
so Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger worked late into the night with their winter
jackets on. At half past midnight, Kevin Systrom tweeted: “Well there goes that
night of sleep,” and then launched
The first few hours were heady. They had rented servers from Amazon but the load of 25,000 users in the first 24 hours was too heavy and the servers kept crashing. By the third week, the duo knew they were onto something big—the number of “grammers” had by then jumped to 3,00,000. Perhaps it was because of the buzz they had created: they had allowed a few big names in the tech world—like Twitter’s co-founder and co-creator Jack Dorsey—to test-run the product before it was formally launched.
Today, millions use the photo-sharing app. As of December 2013, 17 per cent of all online adults use Instagram. If Twitter occupies the hyper verbal mind space, Instagram occupies the hyper visual. It works like Twitter in the sense that you can follow people to keep up with their posts. Like Facebook, you can “like” a picture and comment. Instagram opens a window that peers into the world of images—shots that capture happiness and sorrow, carnivals and droughts.
In the world of apps, and indeed social networking, timing is pivotal as start-ups spring with chaotic frequency. Instagram followed the launched of the new iPhone; it was available just three weeks after, and capitalised on the hysteria Apple addicts are known for. At first, the app was available only on the iPhone, and was later made available on Android devices.
In terms of frequency of site use, Instagram is a close second to Facebook. 57 per cent of Instagram users check their accounts daily compared to 63 per cent of Facebook users.
Systrom was keen to break into the highly competitive world of application engineering since his days at Stanford where he studied management science and engineering. He’d done his time at Google straight out of college and had interned at Twitter. It was after partnering with Brazilian Mike Krieger that his original idea for a photo-sharing device got an additional kick.
Krieger was a graduate of symbolic systems that blends philosophy, linguistics and psychology, and his inputs have been credited as providing Instagram an emotional appeal as a visual storytelling tool. The filters—ranging from nostalgic to vintage—can take a mundane picture and make it a work of art. But by no means was Instagram alone: PicPlz, Mobli, and Pixable offered similar services, but it was Instagram that struck gold.
To fully grasp its reach, look no further than the star of over-sharing: Kim Kardashian. After her lavish nuptials in Italy, the reality star uploaded a series of images on Instagram. In one, she’s kissing her husband Kanye West against a backdrop of flowers. The photo garnered 2 million likes just three days after she posted it, and broke Instagram records.
In terms of frequency of site use, Instagram is a close second to Facebook. According to Jenn’s Trends, a blog on social media management, 57 per cent of Instagram users check their accounts daily compared to 63 per cent of Facebook users. Thirty-five per cent of Instagram users check their accounts multiple times a day, compared with 40 per cent of Facebook users.
The distribution of Instagram users by gender does favour females in general, with 68 per cent female users. But the opposite is true of India and the Middle East, where the male demographic has a higher presence.
Jenn’s Trends estimates that an average of 55 million photos is posted on Instagram every day, and those photos and users generate 1.2 billion likes every day. With 8,500 likes per second and 1,000 comments per second, it is easy to understand how active Instagram users really are. Instagram engagement is 15 times greater than engagement levels on Facebook, with 43 per cent of accounts posting more than once a day.
Instagram is a fun, creative tool. It can be used in journalism but can create images that are far from reality and which have nothing to do with journalism.
As Instagram’s profile rose, so did Mark Zuckerberg’s
nervousness, say industry insiders. Unlike Flickr and Facebook, which are photo
album-heavy, Instagram allows you to upload individual pictures on the go,
where each picture is a visual story. It also takes advantage of the superior
quality of cameras that new mobile phones have.
In a much-hyped purchase, Facebook bought Instagram in April
$1 billion when the company was valued at $500 million, comprised of 12 people, and had 20 million users.
n a sense, Raul Gallego Abellan’s upload encapsulated the pro-Russian sentiment in Crimea. He was in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, and overnight, new posters of Vladimir Putin had just appeared. It was a side-profile sketch of Putin against a red backdrop with the word “Order” written above his receding hairline. As a professional photojournalist, he knew the poster would mean nothing without context and so he let a sliver of the street show. It was far from the chaos of the Crimea we see in traditional news outlets. In the image, two men walk down a calm street.
“Instagram lets you go a bit further. It doesn’t restrict you to one picture in one publication,” he says. There may have been chaos but there was also this.
Was Raul’s image any more real than an image published in The New York Times? Was his freedom as an Instagrammer—uninfluenced by Associated Press editorial guidelines, unfazed by the breaking news cycle—closer to the purity of the reality?
In another image, a factory worker sits in a bus in Yangon, Burma. It looks like an image from the 1930s, an old photograph dug out from the attic—but it was shot just 35 weeks ago. Her eyes are blank and gazing into the distance. There are no creases on her face but there is emotion: sorrow.
Instagram’s filters can present reality as the photographer wants you to see it; this is not the work of photojournalists but the brainchild of app designers in Palo Alto, San Francisco. Would she have looked as melancholy without a filter? Raul too is aware of photo manipulation, by playing with colours and light. “In photojournalism we are going too far at times, creating what I call the impossible lights. Instagram is a fun, creative tool. It can be used in journalism but can create images that are far from reality and which have nothing to do with journalism.”
But a different perspective is always exciting and that’s what the filters give him, an alternate to traditional coverage, and a quick way to manipulate reality. In another picture, this time of Thailand’s Sukhumvit Soi, Bangkok’s busiest thoroughfare, a sky train runs above a street packed with cars as buildings tunnel the vision. The lights from the cars, from the train, from the buildings dot the picture and are much more vivid in the black-and-white filter. He captions it: “despite so many lights still so much darkness.”
It’s easy to construct a narrative based on assumptions but it’s also dubious. The North Korea of my imagination is a staid place, still and drab, uninspiring and unhappy. So when @dguttenfelder, David Guttenfelder, Associated Press’s chief Asia photographer, uploads an image from North Korea, of men in identical grey suits in a bus—men of the same height, with the same haircut, with the same physique, like Agent Smith from the Matrix movies—I’m somewhat reassured. The North Korea of my imagination is somewhat close to reality.
But Guttenfelder takes us deeper inside North Korea, to Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang, where citizens gather to pay respect to statues of their late leaders on Kim II-sung’s birthday. In the image, a father in a grey suit leans over to his young daughter, who is dolled up in a bright pink hat and green skirt. The mother wears a black shift dress with a yellow jacket, adding even more colour, shattering illusions.
Through Instagram, Guttenfelder takes us to a North Korea where normal people lead strange yet ordinary lives in seemingly normal places.
f you can’t make it, fake it,” say the producers of
Instasham. Instasham is a media arts project and social experiment by Brooklyn
artists Andy Dao and Stacey Smith. “We are a society that brags through
megapixels,” they explain on their website. Simply look at the lifestyle of the
Rich Kids of Instagram, teenagers with Ferraris, baby cubs as pets, Sweet 16
birthday parties on yachts. For the less privileged—those who can’t drink
mimosas for lunch on Park Avenue, dance the night away with Paris Hilton at the
VIP Room in Saint Tropez, or holiday in St Barths—there is Instasham. The
concept is simple: swipe a picture you like and upload it to depict the life
you want others to think
Don’t many users do that, share that which fits their image?
In Syria, it looks like just another day at office. He’s sitting at the head of a conference table in a grey suit, looking down at papers. His spectacles are next to his pens to the right and to his left is a colleague, perhaps a cabinet member. Just another day in the office for President Bashar al-Assad as he reviews redevelopment plans for suburbs in Damascus. His Instagram account states that it’s part of a broader reconstruction programme. Perhaps so, because of the destruction years of conflict have brought to the city and indeed to the country.
President Bashar al-Assad’s account was started 46 weeks ago, when the threat to his presidency mounted, as extremists filtered in and wreaked havoc in the north of Syria, as civilians starved in Aleppo, and as suicide bombs threatened the calm of Damascus. Yet not one of his 313 updates shows a devastated Syria. What they show are the images of the president shaking hands with soldiers who have restored calm in Daraya, of his wife Asma al-Assad comforting a sobbing mother on Mother’s Day, of Nelson Mandela on the day he died, and a bustling Syrian market place.
While social media has taken us closer to conflict, it also normalises the conflict. Trawling through the 36,097 #jihad images distorts the brutality of the ideology, and as Meryl Alper, a Ph.D. candidate in communication at the University of Southern California, notes, “aestheticising war leads to anaesthetising war”.
une 2013, a darkroom in the San Francisco Bay Area. By this time, about 16 billion photos have been shared and about 130 million users are active on Instagram. The people in the room sit facing a stage with their laptops open; it looks like they await their lecturer. There is a projector and a screen with a mission statement: “Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
Mark Zuckerberg walks on stage in his trademark hoodie. He talks about how Instagram’s team has tripled since Facebook’s acquisition, how the number of users has jumped to 100 million, and how Kevin and Mike are influential across all of Facebook. He then introduces Kevin who walks on stage, looking like he’s walked out a J. Crew catalogue with grey jeans, navy shirt, and tan shoes.
Mike’s voice is monotonous, with no spikes, no obvious indicator of excitement. “The most amazing thing about us humans is to create tools to remember,” he says, and Instagram is about to take it one step further. He clicks on images on the projector as he speaks: there is a shot of a woman in a strappy wedding dress, of a mother and child next to a water pipe, of a bulldog in a top hat and pipe, of a newborn asleep. “Instagram is a tool to remember,” he says, and asks one question: “What next?”
Video. All because of advances in mobile technology. Systrom had said that, “Our atomic unit of communication on Instagram is an image. Advertisers all around the world speak in images.”
f you believe H. G. Wells’s statement that “advertising is legalised lying,” then the Internet, through services like Instagram, transforms lying into deceit, leading the consumer to believe that it’s not advertising that is being consumed, but works of art.
Look at Mercedes Benz. The automobile company partnered with five top Instagrammers to take the wheel of its @mbusa Instagram account. Each posted awe-inspiring photos for five days. Chris Ozer’s images—of a picture of an iPhone taking a picture of the Golden Gate bridge, with the bridge itself in the background; and of a white Mercedes climbing up a steep San Francisco hill—brought the highest number of likes and boosted the @mbusa account in the number of followers and aesthetics.
For the launch of its new perfume, Si, Giorgio Armani
partnered with Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, a fashion blog.
Armani sought to tap her 1.2 million followers. The ad was widely shared and
was one of the first instances of Instagram video being used for
But leading the pack is Burberry and in video, the “#Burberry Prorsum Menswear Spring/Summer 2014” clip changed the nature of game.
The camera zooms into an invitation. It reads: “18 June 2013 2 p.m. Perks Field, Kensington Gardens. London W2. Entrance via Bayswater Road”. It moves to a shot of Big Ben, to emphasise the brand’s distinctive Britishness. The video takes us under a tree, past leaves and into the world of Burberry, where a man entertains with a guitar and harmonica, a tribute to Burberry’s commitment to music. It shifts to green rooms where models are getting ready, and then cuts to models gathering to walk to the ramp. The final shot is of a lawn under a grey English sky as attendees wait, ready to watch the show.
It’s almost unbelievable that it’s been shot entirely on the iPhone 5s and what it does for its followers is immense: it takes 1.5 million people closer to the heart of the product, almost saying that the front row, the domain of the few, is now there for all. Burberry is going on a journey and will take everyone with it.
A behind-the-scenes Burberry perfume teaser—of model of the
moment, Cara Delevingne and supermodel Kate Moss—debuted on Instagram rather
than traditional outlets. Jeff Cohen, director of social media at MDG
Advertising, was quoted saying, “While Burberry’s Instagram account has a
fraction of the audience of its bigger Facebook and Twitter counterparts, the
Instagram post received nearly 10 times the likes that the Facebook post
received and over 100 times the likes that it received on Twitter by way of
But India’s experience has been different, explains Nameeta
@namabird, an advertising assistant director. “Digital media for advertising in India is just picking up,” she says, but for now, it remains firmly in the grips of the PR executives.
nlike The New Yorker—which has an active Instagram account that takes you behind the scenes, to the photo editor @jmwender; to her work station where images are stuck on a wall of inspiration; to her desk where the laptop sits looking over at the iconic Chrysler building—none of India’s magazines offer the same. When The Guardian takes its followers on a journey to Brazil to witness the World Cup, Indian newspapers remain inactive.
However, Vogue India entered the Instagram game 41 weeks ago with a very shrewd batch of uploads. Nine images were uploaded, in three horizontal columns and three vertical columns, which came together like a jigsaw puzzle to reveal Deepika Padukone on their cover in a fuschia pink dress and a crown. The last three pieces of the puzzle were uploaded the next day to reveal the Vogue masthead.
Despite its newness, Vogue takes its followers behind the scenes at Louis Vuitton Paris, to parties where its fashion features director Bandana Tiwari dances with Randeep Hooda, to Chanel’s supermarket runway show where models bought Chanel basmati rice.
Perhaps someone had lit a light above the fashion-set’s head as increased Instagram activity is now seen amongst Indian designers. Just 13 weeks ago, Tarun Tahiliani uploaded a picture of himself with Jacqueline Fernandez at Lakme Fashion Week. More recently he regrammed a picture of Madhuri Dixit on the cover of Hello!. He even let us peek, like the designers in the West, into his private world where he oversaw his couture shoot.
Fashion designer Samant Chauhan plays Instagram like an old hand; his account was started 80 weeks ago but recently picked up its pace of uploads. His is a more private look into the world of fashion design, with pictures of a table with scissors, needle, thread, measuring tape and rule, captioned “1st love:. There are images of things that inspired his collections, the style of the Rajputs, his meanderings in Delhi’s Shahpur Jaat, finds in Chor Bazaar, and cups of coffee.
It all started after a recent trip to Dubai. Chauhan visited the Emirate of excess for an exhibition and prospective buyers approached him, enquiring about his Instagram user name. “It was then that I realised what a big deal the application was,” he says. He says he didn’t want to lose his Middle Eastern client base but “it isn’t just about money”. Instagram allows him to chronicle things that interest him, ideas that may one day inspire something bigger.
obody in Bollywood plays the Instagram game better than Priyanka Chopra. She believes in communicating with her followers directly, with all 5,29,000-odd of them. Her engagement isn’t the once-off promo picture, evenings on the red carpet, or regrams of magazines that had covered her. She takes her followers on a journey—to beaches where she was “living the vida loca”, to cruise boats, on set with Anil Kapoor. She even bares her soul to her followers, saying “nothing to say sometimes, u just want to feel”, and lets them into her mind through Paolo Coehlo quotes.
Her followers live vicariously through her as she shares images of herself on holiday, all in under a month of Instagram activity.
Sonam Kapoor is a close second, bringing sexy back with duck-face pouts, endorsing products for labels, and hashtagging #SongoftheDay. Ranbir Kapoor’s account is predominantly promos, as is Deepika Padukone’s. Amitabh Bachchan has a cult following of over 92,000 but his account has been dormant since November 2013. None of the Khans fuss with Instagram, Salman preferring to conduct a deeply-involved relationship with his fans on his Twitter instead.
This is very unlike Hollywood, where James Franco—often referred to as the “selfie king”—had this to say in The New York Times: “… a well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention. And attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking. In this age of too much information at a click of a button, the power to attract viewers amid the sea of things to read and watch is power indeed. It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want—hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power. And if you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible.”
ash Chokshi lives for the weekends. More often than not, they are blowouts—the sort that would bring comment after another on Instagram—so it’s quite uncharacteristic that he should miss a party. But he did. The following morning, as he scanned Instagram, a picture of his friend partying with Yo Yo Honey Singh popped up. Chokshi was miserably annoyed. “It ruined my whole day, I should have taken that picture,” he told me.
A self-confessed social media addict, his habit demands meticulous nurturing. It would start the minute he would rise: he’d first reach for his mobile and shoot off a quick SnapChat “Good Morning” selfie.
On Mondays he would upload images that had been taken over the weekend and would anticipate the likes and comments.
Tuesday would be an extension of the conversation, compliments and new followers. Wednesdays were slower and so he would use the time, despite being at work, to scan through his friends’ pictures and those of absolute strangers to draw inspiration for his weekend.
Thursdays were inevitably spent looking for old images for the #TBT (throwback Thursday) and he’d dig out classics, of him as a child, with his mother and sister. But he was careful never to disappoint—no sad pictures, no painful memories, and no negativity. The real world was reserved for all that.
Research shows that if you are the sort who spends most of
your time on Facebook playing Candy Crush Saga, then you will be fine, but if
you spend hours trawling through friends’ images, know the ins and outs of
acquaintances’ lives, and obsessively follow strangers, then you are teetering
on being a stalker. Naturally, this can play havoc on
your mind and mood.
If you pine over how perfect the lives of others are and spend hours fixating over the dullness of your own life, then again you need to rectify this sadomasochistic relationship you have with social networks. Due to the relative newness of Instagram, there is a dearth of studies specific to it. There exist ample studies though on Facebook, and its impact on the psyche. These studies apply to Instagram as well, say specialists, since it takes the three most dizzying aspects of Facebook—those most strongly related to self-loathing—and magnifies them: time spent loitering over others’ photos, liking them, and broadcasting your own to a largely unknown group.
Writing in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Laura E. Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell question how narcissism might operate in a social networking website. The authors claim that online communities are especially fertile grounds for narcissists to self-regulate via social connections for two reasons.
“First, narcissists function well in the context of shallow (as opposed to emotionally deep and committed) relationships. Social networking websites are built on the base of superficial ‘friendships’ with many individuals and ‘sound-byte’ driven communication between friends (i.e., wallposts). Certainly, individuals use social networking sites to maintain deeper relationships as well, but often the real draw is the ability to maintain large numbers of relationships (e.g., many users have hundreds or even thousands of ‘friends’). Second, social networking webpages are highly controlled environments. Owners have complete power over self-presentation on webpages, unlike most other social contexts. In particular, one can use personal webpages to select attractive photographs of oneself or write self-descriptions that are self-promoting.”
He shares, therefore he is. But this life, a life where the iPhone is an extension of the palm, where the food is first captured before tasted, this life of digital busyness, of interruption—is it a disturbance?
Psychologist Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan looks
at the decline in subjective well-being in young adults whilst using Facebook.
Kross and his team sent text messages to 82 residents of Ann Arbor, Michigan,
at given times a day, seeking answers to the following questions: how the subjects
felt; were they lonely or worried; how often they used Facebook; and the level
of direction interaction since the last message they had sent.
Their findings concluded that Facebook did provide an “invaluable resource for fulfilling such needs by allowing people to connect instantly” but “rather than enhancing well-being, as frequent interactions with supportive ‘offline’ social networks powerfully do, the current findings demonstrate that interacting with Facebook may predict the opposite result for young adults—it may undermine it.”
A third study, titled “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction”, went on to say that passive following triggers “invidious emotions”, leading users to envy the happiness of others in the way they spend their holidays and socialise. This presence of envy on social networks undermines life satisfaction. They identified the wave of self-presentation and narcissistic behaviour that leads to “self promotion—envy spiral.”
e’s @aguynamedpatrick, or Patrick Janelle from New York City, and he seems to have the perfect life. It’s picnics at Central Park, Aqua di Parma perfume showers, and a #dailycortado, a kind of espresso. It’s beautifully composed shots of coffee, of blondes with sprinkled ice creams, of lazy brunches and lobster sandwiches,of front row seats at Lana Del Ray concerts. It’s also last-minute holidays to the beach, night caps of whiskey, dates at the Derby, Veuve Clicquot champagne on ice, and underground soirees. Here’s to his mornings with Bloody Marys, to his thrill-seeking in Aspen, and his hipster life in Williamsburg.
He shares, therefore he is.
“All your pictures are beautiful, aesthetically perfect. Is your life really this beautiful?” I ask.
Patrick laughs. He’s not fully living the life he uploads on Instagram. There are many lunches, many outfits, that don’t make the cut. “It’s a very aspirational lifestyle that I’m sharing. It’s a lifestyle that even I aspire to,” he says.
But this life, a life where the iPhone is an extension of the palm, where the food is first captured before tasted, this life of digital busyness, of interruption—is it a disturbance? “Do your friends get annoyed?” I ask.
“They understand, they do it too. There is no stigma attached,” he says. But sometimes even he struggles with it. He wants to be sensitive to moments but it’s almost become a “second-hand language,” he says.
As for living in the moment; he does. In fact, he engages with the moment. Eighteen weeks ago, he uploaded a picture. It’s a shot of a white brick wall with turquoise writing. It reads: “the new American dream”. It was shot at the Unique Space, a collective that organises the Unique Camp, a four-day “creative conference”. At the camp, something novel happened: everyone had to give up their mobile phone, they had to switch off, and instead of the mobile, they had wristwatches.
With 13 million followers, she had photos of her nearly-naked self at Carnival, going topless on the beach, smoking joints on surfboards, kissing ex-lovers, butt shots, Hollywood glamour, and her bare breasts.
Patrick wrote: “For the next three days, everyone will be
off the grid and engaged in the moment at hand. (I’ll be keeping my phone so I
can share these moments with you!) #theuniquecamp”
Indeed, the New American Dream. For everyone but Patrick who lives the American Dream, where disconnection is impossible.
His Instagram account caught the eye of the fashion world and he was awarded the Instagrammer of the Year 2014 award at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). That evening Patrick took over the CFDA account and shared 12 images including one which dominated the Internet for days: Rihanna in that now-famous see-through dress, with 2,30,000 Swarovski crystals, shining like a diamond on the night she was received an award as CFDA Fashion Icon of the Year.
ctober 2013, Paris. Rihanna and Olivier Rousteing—an alliance struck in couture heaven. She unapologetically defied and defined fashion, and inspired him by breaking the rules. He was the new designer at Balmain, a fashion house that seamlessly merges rock and sex and clothes. When they met in the fall of 2013 in Paris, fashion just happened. Rihanna was at the atelier, in a micro-mini that Balmain is so famous for, and had called it art. He called her his muse.
The Greeks had nine muses that were the sources of inspiration needed for creation. There was Euterpe, the muse of music, holding a flute, and Terpscichore, the protector of dance who carried a harp. For the fashion world there was hit singer Rihanna, and she carried a smartphone.
Calling herself @badgalriri on Instagram, with 13 million
followers, she had photos of her nearly-naked self at Carnival, going topless
on the beach, smoking joints on surfboards, pink wigs and green lipstick,
kissing ex-lovers, butt shots, Hollywood glamour, and her
Sex sells and Tom Ford, designer par excellence, knows that as well as Rihanna. “Customers don’t care any more about reviews or hard-copy publications. They care what picture Rihanna just Instagrammed while she’s naked in bed, what new shoes she has on, how she’s talking about them. That’s what they respond to,” he told Style.com.
But @badgalriri was no more, her account had been suspended after a topless shoot that revealed the areolas. Nipples, that’s where Instagram draws the line: Instagram’s usage terms ban images that are “nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos.”
Then there was Heather Bays, a professional photographer, whose Instagram account was suspended a few minutes after she received a negative comment over a black-and-white breastfeeding picture. But supermodel Gisele Bundchen, the “Boobs from Brazil,” had done it too: uploaded a picture of breastfeeding her daughter while getting her hair, nails and make up done. Miranda Kerr soon followed, and Calvin Klein model Natalia Vodianova also uploaded a picture of her breastfeeding her baby. Many celebrated these women as furthering the cause of breastfeeding. In chat rooms and blog, on online forums and mommy websites, people slammed Instagram’s policy.
NippleGate didn’t end there. It soon acquired a life of its own.
Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, uploaded an image of a sweater with two topless women. Her account too was suspended. She then took to the streets of New York, walking topless while shopping for fresh flowers. She then posted the image with the caption: “legal in NYC but not on @instagram” and a campaign followed: #FreetheNipple
Writing on XOJane.com, Scout Willis says, “I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness… what I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body—and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her. No woman should be made to feel ashamed of her body.”
British model Cara Delevingne lent her support; she was pictured at the American ambassador’s house in London wearing a white t-shirt printed with breasts and the #FreetheNipple slogan. What started as agitation towards Instagram’s pinching policy morphed into an online debate on feminism. Elle called 2014 the year of the nipple, and at the time of writing, Lady Gaga stepped out with her areolas proudly on display.
Kevin Systrom commented, “Our goal is really to make sure that Instagram, whether you're a celebrity or not, is a safe place and that the content that gets posted is something that's appropriate for teens and also for adults.”
an Bilzerian knows how to dodge censorship. He complies with it. In the picture, Dan Bilzerian is sitting on a sofa, eating what looks like cereal in tweed pajamas and a mauve fitted t-shirt that reveals bulging biceps. To his right is a woman in her underwear, exposing her bare bottom to the camera. Behind him is another woman, bottom on display in a hot pink bikini. To his left is a third barely-dressed woman, whose feet caress the bottom of the pink bikini girl. None of the girls have faces but you see Dan Bilzerian’s exuberant smile.
“I was happy with my life… Then I followed this guy,” is written in white. This is just one of the many such images you find when you look up the hashtag #DanBilzerian on Instagram.
“@Dan Bilzerian, Actor/Astronaut/Asshole and I play poker sometimes”, is what his profile proclaims. He looks like Santa on steroids with a tan and a black beard. Bilzerian is a multimillionaire poker player who almost made it as a US Navy Seal. He won the 2009 World Series of Poker, founded an online poker room, and has a net worth of $100 million. He holidays in the south of France, has a cat called Smushball, a girlfriend-type person called Andrea, and a nephew. His home is open for all attractive women with breasts above the size of 36D, as is his yacht and holiday homes.
Whatever it is, Dan Bilzerian, followed by 2.7 million people, has established himself as Instagram’s playboy. And when he puts photos of nearly naked women on Instagram, he blanks out their nipples, sometimes with clip art of guns, or marijuana leaves. Instagram considers it appropriate.
n her uploads she’s always smiling, almost always at an exotic location. Jessica Stein, known as @tuulavintage, is a blogger and is ferried from country to country, across continents, because her 96,000 followers are a prospective market that companies want to tap.
Does she ever cry? We don’t know, because Instagram has created an unreal world where we only show our best face, where war is a subject of art, where advertising is art, where the mundanity of life is art too.
Madonna once sang, “It’s a material world and I’m a material girl”; she recently uploaded an image of a painting of a naked woman with her areolas on display, perhaps in defiance of Instagram’s policy. But her real rebellion took place in the 1980s and was enacted on stage in front of thousands of fans and an angry Christian establishment as she fought against censorship and for freedom of expression.
It’s a lot less hassle to just move the selfie-fan relationship elsewhere like Rihanna has done, turning her back on Instagram, opting for Twitter, and in a sense, allowing Instagram’s censorship. The #nofilter tag remains a novelty. We seldom acknowledge life as beautiful, just the way it is.