The Instagram face and its implications | #socialmedia | #children

Do you remember the Kylie Jenner lip challenge in 2015? The internet went under her spell as countless teens took to social media to share videos of themselves suctioning their lips inside a shot glass, hoping to recreate Kylie’s voluptuous (and artificial) lips. The results of the challenge were grotesque: Participants would end up with bloodshot, bruised and swollen lips, and some teens were sent to the ER for their injuries. Looking back on the challenge six years later, I have come to realize that a trend I initially found hilarious as a child was, is in fact, a symptom of a much larger issue: the mindless replication of the Instagram look.

What is the Instagram face? Go on the Instagram Explore Page, and you will soon find out. Most women able to garner fame and praise through their appearance on social media have very similar faces; it is as if their features follow a specific template. Based on my observations as an avid social media user, the “look” often includes:

  1. A youthful, heart-shaped face
  2. A small button nose with an upturned tip
  3. Full lips with a defined philtrum
  4. Full, but well-groomed brows
  5. Upturned, cat-like eyes
  6. A defined, forward-pointing chin and a chiseled jawline to match
  7. High cheekbones 
  8. Defined lashes sometimes achieved through extensions
  9. Tan, dewy skin
  10. The length of the nose perfectly trisects the rest of the face
  11. Distance between the eyes being equal the width of one eye 
  12. Natural-looking makeup
  13. Voluptuous bust and buttocks
  14. A tiny waist with defined abdominals 
  15. Long, shiny hair
  16. Never repeating an outfit and always trendy

The Instagram look is racially ambiguous, as it includes many features commonly found in Black women, Indigenous women and other women of color. However, BIPOC women who naturally have these features, compared to rich white and white-adjacent women who have gone through cosmetic procedures to achieve the same features for aesthetic’s sake, are rarely given the same level of acclaim or endorsements for their natural beauty. 

The Kardashians are known for going under the knife and appropriating ethnic styles to achieve a racially ambiguous look, all the while denying they have gotten cosmetic procedures, thus further raising beauty standards for women. Kylie Jenner underwent a lip-enhancing procedure in her teen years that broke the internet, making her the pioneer of the Instagram face. She has been able to market and create a lip product line so successful it elevated her to the status of a “self-made” multi-millionaire. Through excessive tanning, getting procedures to plump their lips and creating a more curvy figure, the Kardashians are effectively appropriating Black and brown features as their own. By becoming the trademarked beauty standard in the 2010s, the famous family did erase and is still actively erasing BIPOC beauty and encouraging more white and white-adjacent women to follow suit in appropriating these features.

Consider how we take naturally full lips on Black girls for granted, but Kylie Jenner’s surgically altered ones are admired and emulated. White models routinely use fake or spray tan to appear darker and more exotic, while darker-skinned women are rarely praised for their natural skin tone. BIPOC women often face colorism and even sometimes pressure to become lighter. Also consider how East Asians have always been mocked through the racist gesture of pulling one’s eyes back, but when white models are doing said gesture in the name of fashion or a more “lifted” look, they are deemed as beautiful.

The appropriation doesn’t end at BIPOC features — Instagrammers and celebrities alike are also appropriating BIPOC styles and creativity. A lot of the styles popularized by social media, such as bandannas and streetwear, were worn almost exclusively by Black and brown people before the age of social media. Through appropriating Black and brown creativity, white influencers and celebrities have commodified styles that used to be more accessible to the general public. For instance, certain Nike sneakers used to be much cheaper when they were much more popular within minority groups. After the popularization of sneaker styles such as the Jordan Mids, resell prices then skyrocketed to maximize profit, thus excluding the communities that popularized the style in the first place.

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