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Effects of Becoming Instagram Famous on the Individual

Info: 19413 words (78 pages) Dissertation
Published: 17th Jan 2022

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Tagged: PsychologySocial Media



Web 2.0 has evolved to allow the development of social media, this has shaped societal ideals and enhanced the way in which we communicate on a global level. This study focuses on Instagram (2010), an image-based application that allows users to post and share their own content, often in return for a ‘like’ or ‘comment’. Over the past several years Instagram has advanced into a dominant site for shaping fashion, trends, and encouraging what society views as ‘idealistic’, particular in relation to body image. This is especially relevant in adolescent females who, in our contemporary society, often mature surrounded by social media, filled with celebrities endorsing desirable lifestyles that typically appear unattainable.

Interestingly, often this ‘idealised’ body represented on such accounts is edited and filtered in order to be most aesthetically desirable, creating an inaccessible goal in the process. This study therefore focuses on ‘instafamous’ individuals who find themselves under constant surveillance by their multitude of followers and how this can impact their lives, particularly in relation to societal pressures and their self-identity ‘behind the screen’ when they often feel defined by their virtual identity. 

This study focuses on the development of Web 2.0 in relation to user-generated content, the evolution of filters, the commercialisation of social media, and the use of celebrities as commodities. It also draws upon Goffman’s dramaturgy approach, focusing on self-presentation in our contemporary society and Bentham’s ‘panopticon’, relevant to explaining the power of surveillance. The discussion is shaped around six interviews, based on female participants aged 18-24 with 5,000+ followers on Instagram, mapping out their personal online journeys and explaining how this sense of surveillance has affected their lives through subjective experiences of body image, self-identity and the ability to deal with both internal and external pressures as a result of having a successful Instagram account.

This study also analyses Australian ex-blogger Essena O’Neill’s YouTube video in which she famously quits social media after claiming “I was just living in a screen” (YouTube, 2015). Notably, this insight was the foundation for this study and highlights the impact living a virtual life can have on an individual and the significance of self-presentation in today’s contemporary society, through a screen.

Key Words: Self-presentation, surveillance, virtual identity, web 2.0, Dramaturgy approach, commercialisation.

Chapter One: Introduction

“I was just living in a screen” (Essena O’Neill, YouTube, 2015)

Over the past decade we have seen the evolution of the contemporary phenomenon, social media, providing society an outlet for self-presentation and enabling us the potential connect with anyone in the world at any given moment. Web 2.0 and the growth of smartphones has allowed the development of user-generated content, advancing us from consumers to prosumers (Fuchs, 2011). However, with this comes ability to develop trends, encourage new movements and alter social norms.

Instagram (2010), is a photo-sharing application which allows users to publically or privately share photos in which other users can ‘like’ or ‘comment’ in response. This app is now one of the most popular to date with over 600 million active users (Aslam, 2017). The development of this app has given the platform for new advancements in body image ideals, determining what society depicts as a ‘healthy’ body. Instagram, as a space, has the ability to alter public opinion through popular discourses and redefine social norms.

This can be exampled through the constantly developing ‘idealistic’ body, made prevalent through hashtags such as ‘fitspiration’ (an amalgamation of fit and inspiration), to redefine the general consensus of an ‘ideal’ body, often idolised through Instagram celebrities who have a strong influence over their followers (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016). Sites such as Instagram have therefore created more pressure, particularly for young adolescents, who feel they should conform to these new body idealisms (Fardouly, Willburger and Vartanian, 2017).

Notably, the development of Instagram has paved the way for a revolutionary form of advertising, through product placement and the growth of ‘instafamous’ individuals as commodities. Originally, when Instagram was first born (2010), it was not possible to pay for advertising spaces on the app and therefore companies had to be inventive, paying for celebrities to become ambassadors of their sites and promote their products through subtle advertisements within their standard posts, also defined as self-branding (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016).

We therefore began to see the commodification of individuals, using their own private spaces to promote products and in turn, gain capital. This commercialisation of Instagram was a huge motivation behind this study as the ability to make a living out of being ‘Instafamous’ is the driving force behind many of the issues surrounding Instagram, namely, the addictive nature of posting, and the loss of identity through an individual’s ‘virtual reality’.

Importantly, the development of Web 2.0 means that any individual could become ‘instafamous’; an individual with a large following on Instagram. This is due to the global platform that the app provides, allowing anyone to view a public profile from anywhere in the world. This creates a sense of ‘hyper-surveillance’, the fact that everything we do online can now be surveyed, and consequently judged openly, via likes and comments. Interestingly, when researching into this topic and discovering the impacts living with such a public online identity can have on an individual developed the foundations for my study.

The main motivation behind the topic was the discovery of Essena O’Neill, a 19-year old Instagram model who famously quit all forms of social media after claiming “I was just living in a screen” (YouTube, 2015). This bought to light the idea that when using social media, you are often presenting an inauthentic, idealised version of yourself, made possible through the development of filters, editing apps and perfecting certain poses, or lighting. In turn, this creates an image which is impossible to maintain in the real world, putting huge amounts of pressure on the individual and often causing them to lose their personal identity in the process.

This topic is extremely relevant in our contemporary society where social media has taken over many people’s lives with the average person spending 1 hour 40 minutes on apps such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram each day (Telegraph.co.uk, 2017). Issues of body image, self-presentation, and personal identity are also particularly pertinent, especially in young females who spend more time working on their appearance and get affected by how they are viewed by others than ever before (Fardouly, Willburger and Vartanian, 2017).

This study therefore aims to explore ‘what impact hyper-surveillance of an Instagrammers virtual identity can have on the individual, ‘behind the screen’’. In particular, I focus on the concept of self-presentation, creating an idealised version of oneself virtually, and how this can impact the ‘Instafamous’ individual in everyday life. This is in relation to the pressure of  constant surveillance by their followers, attempting to maintain and perfect their online image and the social ideals they feel they have to uphold, encompassing the notion that you cannot ‘switch-off’ from the virtual world and thus impacts everyday life.

In order to produce reputable knowledge on this area I used interviews, specifically; females aged 18-24 with 5,000+ followers on Instagram. This allowed me to gain first-hand experiences, insights, and knowledge on the impacts of living with such a significant social media presence and the effect this has on their self-identity both on and off screen. In conjunction, I performed textual analysis on the famous case of Australian ex-blogger, Essena O’Neill, analysing her concluding video on YouTube in which she explains the reasons social media eventually broke her, rationalising her dramatic exit from Instagram in which she deleted the majority of her pictures, altering the captions on a remaining few to depict the truth of the images ‘behind the screen’ (Appendix 4).   

This study aims to understand the rising phenomenon of Instagram and the detrimental effects the seemingly glamorous lifestyle of being an ‘instafamous’ blogger can have on their lives ‘backstage’. In recent years there has been a distinct rise in literature on social media and many relate to body image issues in adolescent females, however these typically focus on how the ‘followers’ are affected, being bombarded by idealistic images of toned, tanned, and slim women, causing individuals to create unhealthy relationships with their bodies.

However, research lacks insight into the ‘fitspirational’ individuals themselves and how the pressure of hyper-surveillance from their thousands of followers can cause issues of identity, body-image and even cases of depression. There is also a lack of research into Instagram specifically, rather journals tend to focus on either social media as a whole, or older, popular apps, such as Facebook. However, since looking in depth at self-presentation, it is useful to focus solely on an app such as Instagram which is image-based, encompassing all the issues discussed throughout this study in one site.

Chapter Two: Literature Review

2.1 Self-presentation in an era of social media

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” (Shakespeare, 1975).

This infamous quote from Shakespeare resonated with sociologist, Erving Goffman, who advocated that when humans interact with one another they put on a ‘performance’, acting and speaking in the way they wish to be perceived, rather than that which is natural (1959). Goffman thus coined the ‘dramaturgy approach’; “a metaphorical technique used to explain how an individual presents an ‘idealised’ rather than authentic version of herself” (Hogan, 2010, pg. 379), considering everyday life as the stage for such activity (Goffman, 1959). Throughout his seminal work ‘Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life’, Goffman also advocates the notions of ‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’.

Definitively, front-stage is the situation or site where one displays themselves as they wish to appear to a specific audience such as, using the example of Instagram, their ‘followers’, whereas the backstage represents the work that goes into fostering the impression they wish to exude, also referenced as the authentic version of the person where the ‘performance’ Goffman refers to, is put on hold (1959), this is much more informal and can include everything from sleeping to interacting with friends (Sheldon, 2016). Goffman’s definition highlights that each of these are subjective to the individual and thus a situation that may appear backstage for one, could be front-stage for another (Hogan, 2010), this is because “performances of identity are dependent on context and audiences” (Cunningham, 2013, pg.9).

Notably, Hogan (2010) drew upon Goffman’s dramaturgy approach with relation to social media, exampling sites such as Instagram as a ‘performance space’ (Goffman, 1959) to present oneself in the way they wish to be perceived. “By creating an online self-presentation, users have the opportunity to think about which photos they want on their Facebook. In other words, they can manage their self-presentations more successfully than in face-to face interactions” (Ellison et al. 2006 cited by: Sheldon, 2016, pg.72). This helps clarify the focus of my study, taking consideration of how people use their virtual lives to display an ‘idealised’ version of themselves, selecting images that will define an individual in the way they wish to be perceived. Sheldon noted that such social networking sites allow narcissists to excel due to the highly controlled environment in which they have entire power over their self-presentation (2016).

This has become even more possible through the evolution of filters and editing apps that allow an individual to rework and improve their image before presenting it online. Goffman’s theorisation focuses on situations, whereas, when applying his dramaturgy approach in modern society, namely through the use of social media, it is more effective to focus on exhibitions (Hogan, 2010). This is because “we do not merely move through life as stages as Jacques monologue suggest, but leave a multitude of traces as we go. In an era of social media, these data traces do not merely document our passage in life’s play but mediate out parts” (Hogan, 2010). Demonstrating the use of Instagram to map out our life’s journey through ‘polished’ images and captions, displaying what the individual wants to present, as opposed to the authentic version of oneself.

2.2 Impression Management

Interestingly, Halle (1991) advocated that you can differentiate class based on the photographs an individual chooses to display in their home. This can be paralleled in modern social media sites such as Instagram as the selection of photo’s an individual chooses for their account allows others to make assumptions about their character. Importantly, “the architecture of social networking sites provide opportunities for users to ask questions such as who am I; what matters to me; and, how do I want others to perceive me?” (Cunningham, 2013, pg2).

This is known as ‘impression management’, conceptualised by Goffman (1959) as the desire to manipulate others impressions of us. This concept is more applicable than ever in our modern society as social media plays a significant part in how we represent ourselves, drawing on Goffman’s notion of ‘frontstage’, but related to Instagram and how we wish to appear via a profile as “In the front stage, we are trying to present an idealised version of the self” (Hogan, 2010, pg. 378). This is vital to consider when researching the impcat of hyper-surveillance through Instagram as it helps to define an individual’s virtual identity and aids the feeling of pressure from society if you do not maintain your online ‘image’.

Nonetheless, it is also important to look into the ‘backstage’ of an Instagrammer such as the hours of preparation it takes to create the appropriate shot to display oneself in the perfect manner – “self-presentation becomes a strategic negotiation of how one presents one’s self to audiences” (Cunningham, 2013, pg. 2). Although recent literature touches on explaining the differences between front-stage and backstage, in performance spaces such as social media there remains a gap in deciphering the impact of backstage or ‘behind the screen’, to ensure an ‘instafamous’ individual presents themselves in the way they wish to be perceived and the affect this type of intensified surveillance can have, not only their virtual identity, but everyday life as “in the backstage [real-life], we do much of the real work necessary to keep up appearances” (Hogan, 2010, pg. 378).

2.3 Surveillance and the ‘Panopticon’

Importantly, in his seminal work ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ (1977), Foucault coined the term ‘panopticism’, a theorisation of our surveillance society based on Jeremy Bentham’s architectural design for a prison ‘the panopticon’ (1787). Foucault uses this to explain how behaviour will improve if an individual believes they are being surveyed. Bentham’s panopticon prison was designed so the cells were placed in a circular pattern, with a guard in a central tower (Gane, 2012). The architectural purpose of the panopticon was designed so the prisoners can permanently be seen, but the presence of the guard is concealed by blinds, creating what Foucault names the ‘apparent omnipresence of the inspector’ (Božovič, 1995, pg. 4-5). Hence, causing the prisoners to act as though they are constantly being watched and altering their behaviour accordingly.

This act of hyper-surveillance can be paralleled in contemporary society when considering online activity as “in today’s ‘big data’ internet, users need to assume, by default, that their every statement or action online is tracked” (Feigenbaum and Ford, 2015, pg.58). Similarly, through apps such as Instagram the sole purpose is to allow externals to view your posts and give their opinion for example through a ‘like’ or ‘comment’, therefore, we are aware that we are continually being watched, or ‘surveyed’, being judged based on each post, thus causing us to act in a certain way to get a desired reaction.

Foucault stipulated the use of the panopticon as “a metaphor for modern disciplinary in society, one that observes and normalises people in the form of a social quarantine” (Arp, 2013, pg.438). This is of particular importance when researching the development of the panopticon as although the architectural design was never physically built, years later Foucault used this concept of surveillance as a mark of behaviour control, making the radical move forward from the use of dungeons and imprisonment, but rather saw hyper-surveillance as a concept to control society subjectively – “Bentham’s design created a conscious visible, and ever-present mark of power, in which heavy locks, bars, and chains were no longer necessary for domination – the prisoner’s paranoia and psychological angst kept them under control” (Arp, 2013, pg.428).

This is reflected in the way people behave on Instagram as users consciously think about what they post as they know it is going to be surveyed by the public and thus think about the consequence and how they will be perceived prior to posting, as encompassed by Foucault’s notion that “visibility is a trap” (1977, pg.200), attempting to understand modern power, based primarily on surveillance and management of bodies, later defined as biopowers, made possible by managing and controlling bodies, not through the brutality of public torture, but through the psychology and efficiency of surveillance (Anthamatten, 2015).  

Consequently, this theory of panopticism can be related to modern society as human beings will act differently depending on their surroundings and the social situation. In order to create a ‘successful’ Instagram account and increase followers it is essential to display images that will prove popular in modern society. This study is centralised around Goffman’s concept of front-stage, backstage (1959), in order to understand the seminal differences between an individual’s virtual life, such as what they choose to display on their account, and reality, the authentic self.

Foucault’s concept of panopticism helps to clarify why these differ as if an individual is aware they are being surveyed they are more likely to think more about what they are allowing society to view (1977). This can be represented through the most popular ‘fitspiration’ accounts who all seem to follow the same focus of toned, tanned bodies coupled with exotic scenery. This is the ‘front stage’ that followers are allowed access to, however, the instagrammer consciously does not portray the efforts that go into getting the perfect shot, behind the scenes, or the filters and editing necessary to transform their picture into the aesthetic end result.

Goffman also advocates in his dramaturgy approach how the backstage is used to prepare and practice for our return to the front stage (1959), this is important in considering the effects of hyper-surveillance as if an individual is constantly thinking about how they are going to present themselves to externals, they will not be able to use their backstage moments as effectively in to order enjoy being the authentic version of themselves where they do not need to act up to societal expectations.

2.4 Web 2.0 and the Evolution of Instagram

Historically, digital media used ‘analogue’ form, this allowed a continual stream of information through newspapers, television programmes, the radio, and many more. In today’s contemporary society we have gradually transitioned towards a new era of digital technology known as Web 2.0. This is largely due to advances in smartphones, allowing instant, user-generated content. This evolution in technology has created a platform which allows an instantaneous connection (O’Reilly, 2014), evolving the web into a two-way system, transforming users from consumers to prosumers (Fuchs, 2011), allowing us to move away from the static pages of Web 1.0 where there was a one-way flow of information. “This next generation of the web enabled users to communicate with one another and to contribute user-generated content (UGC) which led to the proliferation of social media” (Nelmapius and Boshoff, 2016, pg. 1)

Definitively, Web 2.0 can be characterised by the shift in users as consumers to prosumers (Tapscott and Williams, 2006), made possible through the evolution of social media. For this study, I am focusing on the use of Instagram, a site launched in 2010, which runs solely on its user generated content as when people sign up they choose to post pictures for the direct result of a reaction such as a ‘like’ or a ‘follow’ (Instagram, 2010). This links to Goffman’s concept of dramaturgy (1959) as social media allows us an outlet for self-presentation, to display ourselves to others, giving the opportunity to be surveyed and judged by people we may never meet but feel the desire to put on a ‘performance’ and present ourselves in our desired manner.

Importantly, the evolution of Web 2.0 has also given individuals the platform to establish a career purely from an app. This is due to the fact “internet technologies have grown from being one-sided and consumption-based to becoming interactive and collaborative, thus creating new opportunities for interaction between organisations and consumers” (Nelmapius and Boshoff, 2016 pg.1). This is particularly evident in Instagram as accounts with a certain number of followers can earn money from sponsors and the promotion of websites or products. This has created a whole new dimension to social media as people have the potential to utilise them enough to become their sole source of income.

When researching the effects of hyper-surveillance through Instagram it is essential to understand an individual’s motivations behind using the app, often this is due to the financial benefits, from building a small business, to being scouted to promote large brands as ambassadors. This is a concept defined as ‘self-branding’; “self-branding, sometimes called personal branding, involves individuals developing a distinctive public image for commercial gain and/or cultural capital.” (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016). Although this may appear to be a positive for such ‘Instagrammers’, in our contemporary society where product placement is a huge part of social media, Instagrammers who have paid sponsors often lose control over their accounts, being told what to post, at what time of day, and even the exact caption to write.

Therefore, not only does the excessive use of Instagram cause individuals to behave in a different way due to their own awareness of how they are presenting themselves, but they are also often under strict instructions from larger companies, often resulting in a loss of autonomy over their accounts and thus a sense of loss of their own virtual identity in the process. This can be paralleled by “the idea of teens decorating their social media pages to reflect themselves is similar to how youth choose to decorate their bedroom as a form of personal expression” (Boyd, 2014, pg. 1171) therefore if you alter this freedom, or take it away altogether, self-identity issues tend to surface.

Over the past decade there has been a huge increase in the use of smartphones, with recent statistics showing that over 64% of the UK population in possession of one (Kissonergis, 2017). This has aided the evolution of Web 2.0 as it is much easier to provide user-generated content (for example, uploading pictures to Instagram from a smartphone), allowing us to blur the boundaries between the media producers and consumers (Tapscott and Williams, 2006). It is this amalgamation that created what we know today as a ‘prosumer’, a term first coined by Toffler who explored the idea that as society has shifted towards the post-industrial era we have evolved into a prosumer who actively works to produce the services and goods we then consume (Toffler, 1980).

This has led researchers to consider society’s ‘addiction’ to social media, as “we now live in a 24-hour rolling, emotive, media world where we can satisfy our indelible need to feel a part of the events that unfold around us” (Reigner, 2007, pg. 436). Thus, encompassing the sensation that we cannot ‘switch-off’ from our virtual lives, making people feel suffocated, and in many cases as though they are losing their personal identity if their life revolves around their virtual one – “’always on’ access via broadband connection has been shown to deepen fans engagement with their passions” (Reigner, 2007, pg.437). This emphasises the excessive use of apps, helping to sustain the development of Web 2.0 due to the increase in technology such as smartphones allowing us constant access to Instagram, and similar apps.

This can also offer an explanation as to why ‘instafamous’ individuals post so frequently and get ‘addicted’ to increasing followers and likes on posts as the new ‘social media generation’ Cabral defined as ‘Generation Y’ are unconsciously addicted to social media as there is constant societal pressures to stay up to date and provide for their following by posting on a regular basis (Cabral, 2011).

Notably, the “emerging structure of web platforms, which placed the acts of rich user experience, online participation, collaboration and data sharing at the centre of its framework” (O’Reilly, 2005, pg.32) has allowed Web 2.0 to evolve. Therefore, with an increase in user-generated content, social media has developed to give citizens a platform to report, produce and disseminate knowledge, this is can be defined as ‘citizen journalism’ (Kang, 2016). However, this causes issues as the information they source is often without accreditation and lacks the appropriate backing from research.

This is particularly problematic in the plethora of ‘#fitspiration’ accounts on Instagram where individuals with thousands of followers will promote food plans and exercise schedules which their followers will take as fact, yet, in reality, they lack any real backing from scientific facts. It is also of concern that in our capitalist society, many celebrities will endorse products they have never even used, purely for financial gain, preaching false facts and causing naive followers to purchase them.

This can be exampled through the rise of biopedagogues through social media. These have arisen simply because an individual is particularly toned or slim, proving aesthetically pleasing to society’s standards and therefore gains a large following. However, this does not mean they have the correct knowledge to pass onto others, despite this, social media has allowed them to become ‘biopedagogues’ and therefore they have a responsibility to their followers.

In our neo-liberalist society we are encouraged to take responsibility for our own bodies, a concept known as ‘individualisation’ (Joseph, 2013). As a result, we have created the perception of an ‘ideal’ body type which can be exampled through the use of the hashtag ‘fitspiration’, naturally constructed through biopedagogues, epitomised by feminist sociologist Markula who stated that a woman would ideally be “firm, but shapely, fit but sexy, strong but thin” (Markula, 1995, pg. 424). However, in reality, having particularly low body fat or an unhealthy amount of muscle built in a short period of time can have detrimental effects on health.

This further highlights how although an ‘Instafamous’ individual may appear to have what can be defined as an ‘idealistic’ body by contemporary society standards, this may often be a result of surveillance through Instagram and an attempt to conform to what appears to attract followers and increase likes.

2.5 Social Media as a global phenomenon

Over the past decade we have seen a drastic increase in the use of social media, with the average person spending 1 hour 40 minutes on Instagram each day (Telegraph.co.uk, 2017), thus demonstrating the huge impact it has in day to day life. Social media networks such as Instagram have evolved into a mechanism to create public discourses, this is because “the internet has the indescribable power to influence, connect, and mobilise the current population” (Cabral, 2011, pg. 5).

This can be exampled through the use of media in a pedagogical sense to push the idea of a healthy, active lifestyle. Although this is seemingly positive for society, by result, social media has formed an unhealthy obsession with body image within the population, creating a new realm of body issues due to tags such as ‘thinspiration’ and ‘pro-ana’ (promoting anorexia) websites. Such ideals are sustained through people in powerful positions, who normalise extreme views, promoting products such as weight-loss pills or ‘skinny-teas’ via celebrities to shape the opinion  of the masses into idolising the ‘slim’, ‘toned’ figure.

These hegemonic forces usually have the financial backing to fuel a public discourse, shaping and influencing society to enforce new widely accepted ideals (Markula, 1995). This can be exampled through the global brand, ProteinWorld, who endorse their products through celebrity ambassadors on Instagram, promoting their products in sponsored posts, motivating followers to go out and purchase them. This has allowed their popularity to increase rapidly, becoming one of the largest women’s protein brands to date, however, their choice of ambassadors who all appear ‘toned, slim, and tanned’, feed society’s contemporary body ideals.

This not only creates unrealistic body expectations for young females but also places more pressure on fitness bloggers profiles who now must fit this ideal on every post, emphasising the impact having a large following can have on body image and self-worth.

Relatedly, the majority of the ‘instafamous’ individuals who were the driving force behind this study run fitness accounts, fuelling this obsession within society to have fit, toned ‘idealistic’ body shapes. Thus demonstrating that it has only been possible for such individuals to gain such a wide following, through Instagram projecting and enforcing contemporary social body ideals, owing the success of their accounts to the growing phenomenon that is social media and the ideals and values that it promotes – “everyday consumers are wielding greater control over their media habits and their role in the commercial marketplace” (Riegner, 2007, pg. 436).

Importantly, such body discourses that Instagram encompasses are a main cause of the issues associated with being an ‘instafamous’ fitness blogger, as the pressure a blogger will feel from having a large following, anticipating them to deliver the next ‘perfected’ image of the individual is a by-product of societal expectations. This reflects Goffman’s dramaturgy approach (1959) as the art of self-presentation is magnified in relation to Instagram as every single post is a reflection of the ‘idealised’ version of the self. This means the individual typically resorts to the use of filters, edits, and perfect lighting to ensure they maintain this image their followers are expecting to see. As a result the individual will often feel extreme pressure, often resulting in body image issues (Sheldon, 2016).

2.6 Celebritisation, and the financial incentive of being ‘Instafamous’

Goffman’s theorisation of self-presentation display’s the importance of one’s identity in everyday life. However, through the development of Web 2.0, we have also seen a rise in commercialisation within apps such as Instagram. This is important when discussing an individual’s identity as many Instagrammers who have a large following have begun building careers solely around their Instagram account – “Internet technologies have grown from being one-sided and consumption-based to becoming interactive and collaborative, thus creating new opportunities for interaction between organisations and consumers” (Boshoff and Nelmapius, 2016, pg. 2).

Instagram only introduced paid advertising spots embedded into a feed in 2013 (Franklin, 2013). Thus, prior to this companies would use ‘subtle’ advertisements within ‘instafamous’ individual’s profiles, utilising product placement within their shots. This allowed Instagrammers to make money from companies that sponsor them (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016). Importantly, financial gain is often a huge motivation behind the excessive use of social media and creates this sense of ‘hyper-surveillance’ for accounts with a large number of followers as when they are constantly posting, the more it becomes their life, increasing the pressure to consistently present themselves in the ‘idealised’ manner.

Significantly, the rise in commercialisation across social media sites have caused an increase in celebrities being used as commodities, utilising their existing platforms to reach a huge following, “sports stars, for instance, can earn many times more from their endorsement fees than from prize money. This is because major sporting events command a large audience. This provides the endorsed brand with massive exposure, and if the sports star also wins major tournaments, the ‘halo effect’ will flow onto the endorsed brand.” (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016).

Utilising Instagram is therefore ideal for companies as it allowed them to handpick a certain type of follower that had the potential to be their new clientele. However, research demonstrates the distressing impact this could have on such individuals, impacting their self-identity and allowing them to be treated as a commodity, or a business incentive, rather than a person (Jerslev and Mortensen, 2016). Typically, this can be mirrored throughout all Instagrammers with a significant following (5,000+), as it is becoming much easier to produce capital from sponsors, thus placing more pressure on the account and typically affecting the Instagrammers self-identity, feeling as though they are promoting themselves as a by-product of the advertisement (Jerslev and Mortensen, 2016).

2.7 My Research Study

Within this literature review I have demonstrated the evolution of social media as a global platform for establishing contemporary social norms, highlighting the power of Instagram to shape body ideals and create a hyper-surveillant space for commercialisation to thrive. Through this, it is evident that there is huge amounts of pressure on Instagrammers with a large following to maintain an idealistic image, often having huge impacts on distinguishing their self-identity from their virtual one if they are constantly thinking about getting new shots. This often results in identity issues, unable to separate their online objectified self and hence feeling trapped in an online world, unable to ‘switch-off’. I will thus be using this research to decipher;

‘what affect can the hyper-surveillance of an Instagrammers virtual identity have on the individual’?  

Through my amalgamation of the relevant literature it is evident that theorists have acknowledged a correlation between adolescents using social media and body image issues, namely the impact of society’s interpretation of ‘slim’ bodies as idealistic. The majority of relevant journals thus focus on the ‘followers’ perspective, considering the impact of promoting unrealistic body goals for young women.

However, there is a distinct gap when researching the Instagram bloggers themselves, who are under constant pressure to live up to such ‘ideals’, presenting the notion of hyper-surveillance and causing the individual to base their whole existence on their online image, causing them to lose a sense of their self-identity in the process and having a huge impact on their everyday life.

This stems from the concept of self-presentation in an era of Web 2.0 where we are constantly attempting to present ourselves in the way we wish to be perceived rather than a natural, authentic version of ourselves (Hogan, 2010).

Chapter Three: Methodology

3.1 Qualitative Framework

For this study, I used both interviews and textual analysis as my methods of data collection. These are both qualitative approaches which are “designed for an ‘interpretivist, naturalistic approach to the world” (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005). I was thus considered as a ‘situated’ observer, taking a subjective, interpretivist approach. This meant that I was aware my background and situation may be influential on both the research process and the data I have collected (Markula and Silk, 2011), I will thus be cautious of this when analysing my data.   

Qualitative research has evolved over several decades and is used “to convince policy makers, to alter public opinion, to drive consumption of a product, to provide evidence on an issue, to expose instances of injustice, to offer competing voices or points of view, to interrogate taken-for-granted ideas or assumptions, to save lives, to make people ‘better’ (physically, socially), or to advance understanding of a particular phenomena” (Markula and Silk, 2011, pg. 3).

I thus chose Interviews for my first method of data collection as it will allow me the ability to obtain a range of opinions and insights into the subject, helping me find common themes throughout. Markula and Silk (2011) also noted that most qualitative research is multiparadigmatic by nature, and therefore sees the world as a socially constructed setting, hence, I must consider the research as an interaction between myself as the researcher, the sample I select to interview and the topic in question (Markula and Silk, 2011).

Definitively, qualitative research is “a form of social inquiry that focuses on the way people interpret and make sense of their experiences and the world in which they live” (Holloway, 1997, pg. 2) thus through interviews and textual analysis I will be able to draw on individual’s specific experiences with Instagram and interpret their responses to create a qualitative conclusion. Denzin and Lincoln defines qualitative research as “a situated activity that locates the observer in the world” (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005, pg.3). I thus have the potential to produce knowledge based on different perspectives, through the use of interviews I can deduce people’s experiences and use them to draw a substantial conclusion (Kozleski, 2017). – “Humans create knowledge through a subjective, meaning-making process” (Markula and Silk, 2011, pg. 4).

3.2 Paradigmatic Approach

Definitively, paradigms are “orientations towards how researchers see the world (ontology), and the various judgements about knowledge and how to gain it (epistemology)” (Markula and Silk, 2011, pg. 24). Consequently, the use of an interpretivist paradigm will endeavour to create conclusions from experiences and emotions as opposed to a numerically measured, positivist approach. “Positivism does not take into account intangible concepts related to this freedom, such as our feelings or emotions, and the role of such concepts in exploring our behaviour (Gratton and Jones, 2010, pg.28).

This is essential to my study as it is impossible to deduce knowledge on self-presentation and the consequences of hyper-surveillance in our contemporary society using quantitative data, rather, I will be using words, statements, and non-numerical measures to portray the viewpoint of the participants in my findings (Gratton and Jones, 2010).

Notably, Erving Goffman advocated the use of social interaction to construct meaning, such as through symbols (1959), this gives us the opportunity to use techniques such as interviews to form knowledge from a participant’s subjective experiences and their emotive language. Goffman also notes the importance of ‘social desirability bias’ as participants may alter their answers as a default of ‘impression management’ (1959), giving inaccurate data as participants may respond artificially, with what they believe they should say as opposed to their authentic, honest opinions (Chung and Monroe, 2017).   

Through the combination of interviews and textual analysis I will form a conclusion based on subjective experiences, collected in a qualitative manner as they allow for an interactive process of multi-voiced reflections (Markula and Silk, 2011). This forms the basis for my humanistic interpretivist approach as I will create knowledge based on person-centered experiences which are interpreted through the interview process and by examining their personal Instagram journey and the impacts of being under constant surveillance – “the interpretive researcher’s main aim is to understand the participant’s subjective experiences and through these experiences, interpret the participants meaning” (Markula and Silk, 2011).

A key benefit of taking an interpretivist approach involves the ability to gain an insider’s perspective (Gratton and Jones, 2010), and truly engage with an individual’s subjective experience on a deeper level. Semi-structured interviews are ideal for creating a space where a participant can reveal intangible data and during the interview you can adapt the questions, allowing the interviewer to give away the most useful, relevant information, which would not be possible from fully structured questioning.

Nevertheless, it is essential to be aware of the limitations of taking an interpretivist approach as the validity can be in question due to the generalised, subjective nature and often ethical issues arise when discussing sensitive subjects (Roulston, 2010). This cautioned me to take care when analysis the data not to make sweeping statements and ensure all conclusions are not drawn from simply one participant’s experience.  

3.3 Sampling and Setting

Once I had settled on interviews as my first method of data collection I began to decipher the characteristics of my ideal sampling group. I was initially going to keep the participants within the UK simply for ease of access however considering a key inspiration behind my choice of topic was based on Australian ex-blogger, Essena O’Neill, I decided it would be beneficial to get a diverse range of participants to ensure I got an accurate global representation.

I also decided to only select female participants as previous studies show that the difference between men and women’s perspectives of identity differ greatly and thus would be too broad for this study to include both. Issues of identity and self-presentation are also more typically associated with females and most notably, “68% of Instagram users are female” (Aslam, 2017), inspiring my topic further along with being female myself, allowing me to relate to the participants and make them feel more comfortable and potentially curbing the likelihood of ‘impression management’ (Goffman, 1959) affecting their responses.

Initially, I selected a sampling age of 16-25 however due to the fact I was discussing personal experiences and the sensitive subject of identity both on and off screen, I restricted myself to participants over the age of 18 to avoid further ethical issues, as discussed later.

Due to the delicate nature of my topic it was essential to create an open and comfortable environment to conduct my interviews as Denscombe advocates; “a relaxed atmosphere in which the interviewee feels free to open up on the topic under consideration” (2010, pg. 185), thus I allowed the participants to choose their desired location to help them feel at ease and more likely to give open, honest responses.

It was always going to prove difficult to create an open and warm relationship within the short timescale of an interview whilst still ensuring the participants felt they could be entirely open about such a private and complex topic considering all but one were strangers beforehand. Therefore, I ensured I collected a large quantity of data and gave myself plenty of time with the participants to build a relationship and environment where they felt relaxed and natural, allowing them to be more open (Rubin and Rubin, 1995).

Another key factor to consider when locating my sample of participants was the number of followers they had on Instagram. I decided on a minimum of 5000 followers as this is the average amount you require before you start to get a substantial amount of requests from potential sponsors. This is important as financial gain is often the key motivation behind using Instagram more regularly, being paid to write certain captions and pose in a certain way. I settled on completing 6 interviews, each ranging from 30-60 minutes. This gave me a large scope of data to analyse and allowed me to find common themes throughout.

I completed each interview 1:1 where I could see their face as this allowed me the opportunity to read their expressions visually and connect with the participant on a deeper level through eye contact, cultivating a relationship where they were more likely to open up about their experiences and be truthful to ensure my data was as accurate as possible (Rubin and Rubin, 1995). I also completed two interviews via Skype as the participants were from Australia and Germany, giving me a stronger global representation.

When starting I was concerned about the accessibility of fitness accounts with larger followings (5000+) and whether there would be enough incentive to give up their time. However, having gained a few contacts over the past few years I found that once I tapped into the ‘Instafamous’ individuals at the University it was a snowball effect, with each participant recommending me to fellow accessible fitness pages to contact.  

3.4 Data Collection

As stated previously, I selected both semi-structured Interviews and textual analysis as my methods of data collection. These were chosen as I believe they complement each other well, allowing me to get a range of individual’s personal experiences with Instagram through different mediums. The interviews helped me to engage with the participant’s first-hand, reading body language and attempting to engage with them on an emotional level, whilst the textual analysis helped me to explore the more well-known, controversial case of Essena O’Neill who would not be accessible to me through private interviews.  

Importantly, I chose to use semi-structured interviews in which “the researcher uses a pre-planned interview guide to direct the interaction, and relies predominantly on open-ended questions” (Sparkes and Smith, 2013, pg. 84). The nature of such interviews lets the conversation flow naturally, allowing the participant to feel more at ease and thus more likely to disclose sensitive, yet essential information for my study – “the relatively tight structure allows them to collect the information about the topic of interest while giving the participants the opportunity to report on their own thoughts and feelings” (Sparkes and Smith, 2013, pg. 84), this gives me less control over the direction of conversation compared to structured interviews however the content will be of greater value as it will be directed by the participant themselves.

The semi-structured questions also allowed each interview to differ, giving me access to a wider range of content than if I had simply asked the same set of questions to each participant. The apparent strengths of adopting a semi-structured approach to the interviews are that it allows a degree of flexibility, heightening the potential of gaining deeper knowledge and subjective meanings from their experiences. It also allows the participant to feel more comfortable in the setting if they can talk freely, without being constrained to specific questioning (Sparkes and Smith, 2013).

Nevertheless, I was also aware that it is more complicated to analyse a collection of semi-structured interviews as if the responses varied a lot, common themes and responses may prove difficult to identify. To avoid this I ensured I asked a similar range of questions to each participant to spark similar experiences and responses. I also took care in asking unbiased, open-ended questions as although when I began this study I had some predisposed expectations of my results, I needed to ensure their answers were not influenced by my questioning, whilst avoiding closed questions that tend to simply evoke yes or no answers which would not prove useful in my qualitative analysis (Sparkes and Smith, 2013).

In order to get the most useful responses to fuel my study I started each interview with a few simple, introductory questions such as ‘When did you first get Instagram?’ (Appendix 3). This was purposeful to allow the participant time to settle into the interview and feel as comfortable with me as possible. Towards the end of the interview I would ask more sensitive questions as Sparkes and Smith advocate, the later in the interview, the more at ease the participant will feel and thus the more likely to respond with honest, accurate answers (2013).

In order to position the participant in the right mindset to reflect on their Instagram journey I asked each to have their account up on their phone in front of them for the duration of the interview. This allowed them to reflect on the amount of ‘likes’, the comments, and their choice of pictures to help evoke their memories, facilitating their answers, and induce emotive responses. This method is known as ‘photo-elicitation’; the use of photographs to elicit memories and experiences during an interview (Sparkes and Smith, 2013).

Notably, this method “has the multiple benefits of helping people to remember key events and assisting them in reliving their experiences during an interview as well as provide opportunities to ask participants about their experiences in different ways, such as asking about the process of deciding which photographs to take and the stories and events that are represented in the photographs” (Sparkes and Smith, 2013, pg. 98).

This is particularly useful for my study as the basis evolved around how individuals choose to present themselves, hence, having the individual pictured in front of them during the interview will help to engage them in discussion of what went into choosing certain poses, outfits, filters, and how this made them feel at the time.

In parallel, I performed textual analysis on a YouTube clip of Australian ex-blogger Essena O’Neill. I chose this video in particular as it was Essena’s story that initially sparked my interest into this topic of hyper-surveillance via social media and how an individual’s virtual identity can affect their day to day life. I therefore selected Essena’s most recent video where she explains the reasons she famously quit Instagram.

Her video almost takes an ethnographic style, communicating her raw emotions and explaining how constant surveillance via social media left her feeling her virtual identity defined her. The video conveys her thought process over the past few years and shows her mapping out her Instagram journey. This will add breadth to my study as she had a significant amount of followers (over 500,000 at the height of her fame), showing a different end of the spectrum to many of my interviewees were just starting out with comparatively low followers.

Essena’s case study also emphasises the importance of my study as she had a mental breakdown claiming; “I don’t even know what is real and what is not…because I let myself be defined by something that is not real itself” (YouTube, 2015). This allowed me to reach the perspective of someone that has been at the heart of the issue, sparking my initial interest and allowing me contact to someone who would otherwise be inaccessible due to her celebrity status.

This choice of textual analysis, combined with the interviews I performed link naturally to create a range of data from individuals with 5,000 to 500,000 followers, giving me a broad spectrum to identify links in the repercussions of hyper-surveillance via social media and the impact it can have on their lives, behind the screen. In order to process the data I collected effectively I recorded each interview on my phone and then transcribed, using ‘cleaned transcription’ onto a document (Appendix 3).

In order to compare the participant’s answers effectively I then highlighted key themes and subthemes relating to the topic and made notes of the patterns that started to appear as “theme identification is one of the most fundamental tasks in qualitative research” (Ryan and Bernard, 2003). Themes were found from both “the data (an inductive approach) and from the investigator’s prior theoretical understanding of the phenomenon under study (an a priori approach).

A priori themes come from the characteristics of the phenomenon being studied; from already agreed on professional definitions found in literature reviews; from local, common-sense constructs; and from researchers’ values, theoretical orientations, and personal experiences” (Ryan and Bernard, 2003, pg. 88).

3.5 Ethical Procedures

Due to the design of my research question, attempting to understand the affect of being hyper-surveyed in our contemporary world, issues with self-identity and feeling ‘trapped’ in a virtual world were encouraged by specific questioning. However, this meant that I had to follow a strict ethical procedure to ensure all participants felt safe and ensure their confidentiality.

Importantly, the general discussion of Instagram amongst participants often led to the sensitive topic of body image issues amongst young females and therefore I felt it was more appropriate to select a sample of participants over the age of 18. In order to carry out this study I had to seek ethical approval from the University who permitted the research on the grounds that I stick to my specified sample group.

Ensuring my discretion throughout the process was of particular importance as many of my participants have very public virtual identities (ranging up to 70,000 followers on Instagram), therefore it is essential that I keep their privacy on this sensitive subject so they understand their personal brand will not be jeopardised. This was reiterated through the use of pseudonyms to ensure anonymity and pixelating faces on any images embedded within this discussion.   

In order to further protect the privacy of my participants I ensured that each transcript was deleted off any external devices, and all data is stored on a password protected computer, which will be destroyed on completion of this study. I gave each participant an informed consent form (Appendix 2) beforehand as it is a sensitive issue for many to go into depth on and reiterates the fact that each participant can withdraw at any time or refuse to answer specific questions. This is to make the interviewees feel as comfortable as possible and ensure they understand that my priority is their privacy going into my study.

Chapter Four: Analysis and Discussion

4.1 Commercialisation of Instagram

Notably, a key motivational factor for many individuals to use Instagram on a regular basis are the financial benefits. Once you reach 5,000 followers it is reasonably easy to make a small amount of money each month through sponsors. This is due to the rise in commercialisation through social media in recent years. “Competitive pressures also induce companies to jump on the ‘social media bandwagon’ to avoid the impression of being outdated or out of touch with innovative technologies compared to their peers and competitors” (Larson and Watson, 2011, pg.2). This is simply because Instagram has created the ideal social platform to advertise new products to a large audience, with the ability to specialise your target audience based on type of follower.

When Instagram was first introduced in 2010 it was a product of Web 2.0, a site made solely from user-generated content in the form of photographs that the individual would post in order to get a reaction such as a ‘comment’ or a ‘like’ (Instagram, 2010). However, over the past several years customers have been bombarded by subtle advertisements within ‘Instafamous’ accounts – “Instagram had no dedicated advertising or analytics tools until 2014 so, in the absence of such devices, brands have developed uses of the platform that engage with the productive ability of cultural intermediaries and consumers to create and circulate images of their bodies, everyday lives, and cultural practices” (Carah and Shaul, 2015, pg.69).

This allowed Instagram to become a feeding-ground for a revolutionary type of commercialisation as “even though they are freely accessible and have come to act as seemingly quasi-public spaces such platforms are designed to produce profits mostly through the tracking of user behaviours, interests, and patterns of use to create new forms of customised advertising” (Langlois et al., 2009). This has become more obvious in recent years as it is becoming much more common for celebrities to become ambassadors for brands, using their bodies as a commodity to promote products such as ‘skinny-teas’, exercise clothes, weight loss pills, and many more.

The commercialisation of Instagram also plays a huge part in the multitude of negative effects associated with using such an app. This is because, without the financial incentive that individuals get by gaining followers and posting more frequently, many users would not become so addicted. This can be demonstrated in my interviews, for example:

Interviewer: Do you feel like over the past few years your relationship with your phone has changed?

Jo: Oh god, yes. It’s like I don’t really like texting people anymore. I don’t like typing…there was a time I was permanently on it [my phone] and it became quite unhealthy, always trying to respond to comments and private messages. It also becomes quite a dark space. It’s just human nature to ignore the positive comments and let the negative ones affect you.

Sara: Yea, I find it difficult to switch-off because I’m always on my phone and when I do post a picture I am conscious of how many likes I get, so I will keep checking.

Importantly, every single one of my participants mentioned how they have a negative relationship with their smartphones since beginning to make money out of Instagram. This is because it removes the pleasure from being able to communicate with people around the world and makes it all about the number of followers or likes you are getting comparatively with each upload. This association can create a very unhealthy relationship, not only with your phone, but with self-worth and body image.

Through my video analysis I witnessed Essena O’neill claim “I let myself be defined by numbers” and “I told myself I would be of more value, the more likes I got” (YouTube, 2015). This can be detrimental as young people can end up trapped in a virtual life, only doing certain things, or wearing certain clothes for a particular Instagram shot.  

Emily: Um, yeah, sometimes I will put on a specific outfit and sometimes maybe even wear make-up for the gym if I know I want to get a good workout picture that day!

This reinforces the concept of self-presentation through social media. As discussed previously, Goffman advocates how humans act differently in certain situations, putting on a performance and behaving in the way they wish to be perceived by society (1959). When relating this to contemporary society Enli and Thumin (2012) paralleled this behaviour with social media, stipulating how the ‘front-stage’ (Goffman 1959) can be reflected within our social media profiles (in this instance, Instagram) and the backstage, the ‘authentic’ version of ourselves, referring to the hours of preparation individuals go through to perfect their online image.

This can be evidenced through one of Essena O’neill’s Instagram captions where she stated “I put makeup on, curled my hair, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewellery… Took over 50 shots until I got one that I thought you might like, then I edited this one selfie for ages on several apps- just so I could feel some social approval from you.” THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT THIS. #celebrityconstruct” (Instagram, 2015).

This demonstrates the falsity of Instagram, the fact that the majority of user’s attempt to portray themselves at the best angle and lighting, with a carefully selected outfit, creating a virtual world. This can be detrimental to all users, in particular young females who take inspiration from the perfectly constructed images they see on a daily basis, oblivious to the hours of posing, filters and edits.

4.2 Financial Incentives

Importantly, it is society’s obsession to look and dress like the ‘instafamous’ individuals who have a significant amount of followers that has allowed companies to commodify such celebrities and utilise their platform for brand progression, “celebrities were able to proffer and ultimately led to their capacity to effectively sell a wide variety of products.” (Marshall, 2010). Each of my participants made a notable amount of their income each month through Instagram sponsors.

Interviewer: So talk me through your sponsors, I see that one of your main sponsors is gymshark, that’s incredible, did you contact them or do they contact you?

Jo: Yeah! So, sometimes I reach out to companies, like maybe a hotel, if I am going to stay somewhere, often if I just say I have x amount of followers and I will do a couple of posts tagging the hotel I will get a stay discounted! Or, David Lloyd (the gym), I contacted them because I wanted a free gym membership, but it’s really chilled with them, they tell me the amount of posts they want me to do a month and I do them, and in return I can use the gym whenever I want…

This new realm of advertising is very powerful and can be extremely useful for new businesses who need to get their brand noticed as it gives them an easily accessible target audience through profiles where the followers are already present. “Instagram has expanded the terrain upon which brands operate by dispersing the work of creating and engaging with images into consumers everyday lives” (Carah and Shaul, 2015, pg.69). However, this can be very damaging for the Instagrammers themselves as they become part of the commodity. If a celebrity is seen in a certain bikini, or gym leggings, this item is much more likely to sell (Jerslev and Mortensen, 2016).

This concept is known as ‘celebrity endorsement’, and consequently, the rise of Instagram has allowed it is to be much more accessible companies to promote their brand in such as way (Marshall, 2010), often through sponsoring ‘Instagram celebrities’ as their ambassadors.

4.3 Loss of Autonomy

Throughout each of the interviews it became evident that being instructed what to post by companies can cause self-identity issues within the Instagrammer, taking away the individuality of their posts as often the companies specify exactly what they want to capture in order to effectively market the product.

Interviewer: So when you are working with these companies, do you get told what to post?

Jo: Ok, so yeah, the company’s tell you what they want from you in order to get paid. For example, I am starting a collaboration with Bondi-sans (a tanning company) in April, and in the contract they said; I want you to do a post before, holding the product, a before and after shot of the product or upload a video of you using it, stating how easy it is to apply, and a picture of you afterwards, looking tanned, with the product somewhere in the picture. They also give you ideal captions, with key-words and hashtags that you have to include.

Through my analysis it is very clear that the majority of sponsorships on Instagram work in a similar manner, with the organisation telling you what they want you to post, ideal captions and even what time of day, evident through the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stating that sponsored posts must be made clear to followers, for example through the use of ‘#ad’ (TheGuardian, 2014). Not only does this emphasise the constructed reality of Instagram, it is very restrictive and can leave the individual feeling they have lost a sense of autonomy and agency over their page.

For individuals who rely on the site as their main source of income it becomes a huge part of their life, to the extent they feel as though it defines them , for example through my textual analysis, Essena O’Neill admits “everything I did in a day was to be that perfect person online” (YouTube, 2015). This highlights how much affect their virtual identity can have ‘behind the screen’ as it begins to consume their lives. This can be exampled through many of my participants who explained that they often do things purely to get a good photograph for their profile:

Emily: Oh god yea, I guess it was as my page got more and more followers, I found myself doing things such as going on a hike or going to the gym just to get a good picture for my Instagram, in fact, I’m ashamed to admit that on occasion I have gone to the gym, got a few good pictures, and then gone straight home without working out! Aha.

Emily’s response highlights the importance of Instagram to certain individuals and how the pressures of being surveyed constantly through social media cause you to act in a different manner, not only front-stage, but backstage, adapting the ‘authentic self’, creating forced situations solely to benefit their virtual identity and get more followers/likes. This relates to issues of self-identity as the more you depend on your online profile to define you, the greater effect it will have on day to day life.

Interviewer: If you got any negative comments on your pictures, would it affect you?

Emily: Yeah, literally every single post will get a whole bunch of negatives comments, you have to just really try and ignore them but when they pick out personal insecurities of mine it’s actually really hard. It gets a lot easier, but that’s sad isn’t it? That I just have to ‘get used’ to being knocked by trolls every time I post.

This emphasises how their lives are affected not only whilst using the app, but can cause insecurities that will have an affect on their whole lives, both on and off the screen. This is another consequence of social media evolving as part of their identities, evident in Essena’s video where she explains “I didn’t know myself without social media and without my physical appearance” (YouTube, 2015). This becomes even more of an issue when financial profits are involved as this often works as an added incentive to gain more followers to, in turn, get bigger sponsors and a larger profit.

Interviewer: So how do you think you wound up with such a large following, did you do anything specific to increase them?

Jo: …this was when I started doing certain workouts, go to certain meetings and make certain foods for my followers, I would also hashtag certain words to get them to reach a wider following.

Notably, although this is not a loss of autonomy in the same way as when a company is telling them exactly what to post on their Instagram’s, it is still an adaptation of their natural presentation of self in order to induce a bigger following. The incentive behind this change is monetary as each participant said they wish to build their outreach to entice more company’s sponsorship, known as ‘self-branding’. “Central to self-branding is the idea that, just like commercially branded products, individuals benefit from having a unique selling point, or a public identity that is singularly charismatic and responsive to the needs and interests of target audiences.” (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016, pg. 1). This involves creating a distinctive public image in order to generate capital (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016), altering what they would naturally post in order to appeal to more followers.

4.4 Celebrification and the Presentation of the Self

Social Networking sites such as Instagram and Twitter proved revolutionary in our contemporary celebrity culture as they allow them the platform to speak directly to their fans, providing them with insights to their lives, selfies, and first-hand images, as opposed to a magazine’s constructed version of the truth – “[Instagram] substituted paparazzi with a sense of direct and immediate access to the authentic and true celebrity addressing his or her followers in immediate and direct manners” (Jerslev and Mortensen, 2016).

However, through a rise in commercialism on Instagram and thus companies taking control over what they post, they create an externally constructed view of the celebrity, taking away from the personable element of such sites, “the pedagogy of the celebrity in the 20th century can be read as a very elaborate morality tale that mapped a private world into a public world” (Marshall, 2010, pg. 37). Not only does this prove the destruction of Instagram for fans, or ‘followers’, it can have a huge impact on the Instagrammers themselves who build their life around Instagram, having their autonomy online taken from them when they are told what captions to write and what to post.

Notably, “celebrities with a following can also use their own media (e.g. websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to influence this audience (e.g. the Kardashians). Eventually, with consistent juxtaposition, the human brand can become synonymous with the brand and hence with the product, service or firm” (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016), this is known as ‘self-celebrification’. Jerslev and Mortensen, explained this concept using the example of singer, Medina, who frequently uses Instagram to post selfies to connect with her fans on an authentic, personal level (2016).

Nevertheless, she also admitted to surreptitiously promoting brands throughout her images – “a number of selfies cross over into adverts. In some selfies, Medina wears products from brands with which she has sponsorship agreements; in others, she endorses brands as an appreciation for free samples of their products” (2016, pg. 257). Medina also chooses to advertise her own makeup range through Instagram, sharing with her followers selfies of her wearing the products, thus promoting the products whilst simultaneously promoting herself (Jerslev and Mortensen, 2016).

This demonstrates how easy it is for celebrities to gain capital through such sites, giving them the motivation to turn themselves into commodities in order to keep up their personal brand, emphasising the idea that “companies know the power of social media and they are exploiting it” (O’Neill, 2015). However the issue arises when there is crossover between the individual and the brand.

Consequently, this image of oneself as a business, rather than a person, often creates an unhealthy relationship with themselves, putting huge amounts of pressure on body image and self-worth (Tiggemann and Zaccardo, 2016). Albeit on a smaller scale, this was also evident within my participants who each admitted that the feeling of promoting products through the use of their own bodies was unnerving and caused them to take more care over what they ate, drank and how much they exercised as they knew the amount of money they could make was directly dependant on how aesthetically pleasing their profile was.

Hannah: I never really stop thinking about my account to be honest. Literally from when I get dressed in the morning, I will be thinking what would look best in a picture, then all day I will be looking out for good backdrops or scenery to inspire me. It is actually quite hard to switch-off from it. My parents are always telling me to get off my phone, but the more followers you get, the more comments start appearing, it is very consuming.

Although it may seem appealing to make capital purely from posting pictures on a social media site, my research proves that the pressures can take over an individual’s life, often leading to obsessive behaviour and encompasses the concept that you cannot ‘switch-off’ from this virtual reality (The Independent, 2010).

4.5 Gender Dynamics, on and off screen

Importantly, another issue which came to light throughout my interviews and textual analysis was the gender dynamics evident throughout Instagram and the affect these can have on the individual’s virtual identity. Throughout this section I will be using normative gender, relative to biological sex when referring to males and females. I specifically chose to analyse women for my study as “girls on average spend more time on social network sites and use them more actively than boys” (Herring and Kapidzic, 2015, pg.2).

This was also due to the stark differences in the uses of Instagram between males and females, namely that “girls place more emphasis on selecting pictures in which they are attractive” (Herring and Kapidzic, 2015, pg.5). Despite society promoting the idea that we now live in a ‘post-feminist’ generation, many females still feel like the need to sexualise their image through the clothes and poses they choose to display on their profiles.

Sara: Um, I guess I tend to choose photos that I think will appeal to the widest demographic possible. So, even though I try to wear fashionable clothes, and blog my makeup routine etc. because the majority of my following are females, I will also make sure I look attractive and maybe have some skin out in order to engage any males swiping past my posts!

This attitude was mirrored across the majority of participants interviewed, acknowledging that they still believe that they need to look ‘sexy’ in order to get more male attention. Through my textual analysis, Essena encompassed this gender discourse in one of the captions on her Instagram – “This is what I like to call a perfectly contrived candid shot. Nothing is candid about this. While yes going for a morning jog and ocean swim before school was fun, I felt the strong desire to pose with my thighs just apart boobs pushed up and face away because obviously my body is my most likeable asset. Like this photo for my efforts to convince you that I’m really really hot #celebrityconstruct (2015).

This demonstrates the pressures female users experience when they post images, believing they need to put their best assets on display in order to increase their number of ‘likes’.

Once again, this relates back to Goffman’s theoretical framework; the dramaturgical approach, advocating that human instinct is to put on a performance and thus adapt our behaviour accordingly, dependent on the nature of the audience (1959). “Self-presentation is generally considered to be motivated by a desire to make a favourable impression on others, or an impression that corresponds to one’s ideals” (Herring and Kapidzic, 2015, pg.1). Relatively, this concept can be reflected in female’s efforts on Instagram as each participant admitted to selecting images for their profiles based on how they think males would perceive them best.

Similarly, another key gender issue that arose through my interviews was the body image expectations and gender body stereotypes. These are particularly prevalent within the multitude of fitness accounts on Instagram in which men and women predominantly display their physiques and workouts in order to achieve them. Over the past few years there has been a distinct shift in ideal body types for women since the 2012 Olympics, with celebrities such as Jessica Ennis promoting ‘abs’ and curbing the nation’s view that women should be thin and feminine, further demonstrated through the hashtag ‘thinspiration’ being banned from Instagram in 2012 (the Guardian, 2015).

Nevertheless, there still remains the widespread conception within adolescents that women should be ‘slim’ and not too athletic-looking, creating issues for young women across Instagram who run fitness accounts, promoting muscle growth. This can be exampled through one of my participants Jo, who was bullied by her male classmates when they discovered her fitness profile after attempting to keep it a secret because she was embarrassed:

Jo: So yeah I just didn’t tell anyone about it and only showed my body, not my face so it wasn’t obvious, but then they found it, like all the guys in my year at school and they literally mocked me for it so much, like they would even post a photo onto their own account pretending to be me with hashtags like ‘I’m Jo’, ‘sponsor me sponsor me’. So for ages I was really embarrassed and had to like block loads of them.

Unfortunately, this was not the only participant who admitted it took them a long time before they could really embrace their fitness account and they often got branded as ‘vain’ for posting pictures of their bodies. Such misconceptions can have a great effect on the Instagrammer, making them feel embarrassed and causing them to lose motivation to Instagram altogether;

Interviewer: That’s very brave of you then, did all this never make you want to take the page down then?

Jo: Yeah. That’s why I blocked all of them and was just so close to deleting it a few times when it all got too much, I would just be really embarrassed of it. I used to really care what people thought of me like I used to really get affected by that. And I was like worried that people’s views of me were changing.

This emphasises the underlying gender stereotyping that apps such as Instagram nurture, promoting body ideals, typically deriving from what the majority of society believe to be ‘idealistic’ (Tiggemann and Zaccardo, 2016). This can cause huge issues for the minority who do not conform to such stereotypes, proved through individuals such as Jo who attempt to promote athletic, muscular physiques but simultaneously have to deal with judgement from others. Detrimentally, this can cause Instagrammers such as Jo to not only be effected by what they feel confident in posting, but can have impact on her life, behind the screen, creating issues in self-esteem and a lack of motivation to continue sharing her story.

4.6 Negative Comments and their Implications

Over the past decade, social media spaces have developed in order to allow us the platforms to produce, share and view media that previously has not been possible (Harris, 2013). Although this is effective in allowing us to connect with people all over the world, it also comes with negative connotations. “Recently, some researchers have associated online social networks with several psychiatric disorders, including depressive symptoms, anxiety, and low self-esteem” (Pantic, 2014, pg.652).

This is an area for concern as the use of social media is only increasing and thus evidence such as this could have a damning effect on future generations. Every single one of my participants also discussed the negative comments that they received on their Instagram accounts and some explained how this affected them;

Interviewer: So when you get these negative comments, does it put you off posting?

Jo: although I was getting thousands of likes on each post and the positive comments always outweigh the negatives it is so easy to get caught up in the negative ones and let them play off your insecurities. Over time you do learn to get thicker skin and nowadays I tend to just brush them off. But it was a hard thing to learn, I won’t lie.

The most notable link between each interviewee was the impact these negative comments had not only on the way they posted, but the effects this would have on their self-esteem ‘backstage’, in day-to-day life. “In many cases posting pictures and comments will generate positive feedback and could have a positive impact on teenagers’ self-esteem. Less desirable reactions to online self-presentation include negative commenting, cyberbullying, and harassment, which can have serious psychosocial consequences.” (Herring and Kapidzic, 2015 pg.9).

This emphasises the effect hyper-surveillance through online spaces can have on adolescents which is of particular concern with the recent developments in social media, considering the research is still very limited and therefore appropriate ways to deal with such cyber harassment remains unknown (Wagner, 2015).

Through my textual analysis of Australian Ex-blogger, Essena O’Neill, it was apparent that she had depressive symptoms linked to her excessive use of Instagram and the impact living such a surveillant intense lifestyle had on her. Importantly, she claimed “proving yourself online, taking pictures in hope to get likes and compliments…it’s not life and it doesn’t give you value or happiness”, she even stated “I’ve met people far more successful than myself and they’re just as miserable” (YouTube, 2015).

Research demonstrates that “constant self-evaluation on an everyday basis, competition and comparing one’s own achievements with those of other users, incorrectly perceiving physical/emotional/social characteristics of others, feeling of jealousy, and narcissistic behaviour—these are all factors that may positively or negatively influence self-esteem.” (Pantic, 2014, pg. 653). Therefore the fact that she spent the majority of her life both on and off screen, evaluating her body, looks and constantly compared herself to other Instagram models had very negative effects on her mental well-being.

Pantic (2014) explains “one of the possible explanations regarding the negative relationship between Social Networking Sites and self-esteem is that all these platforms where self-presentation is the principal use activity cause, or at least promote, narcissistic behaviour” (pg. 654), further highlighting the issues with placing too much emphasis on your online identity, feeding addictions to maintain and improve your appearance and impacting how you identify your self-worth.

4.7 Web 2.0 and the evolution of filters

Importantly, the evolution of Web 2.0 has allowed the progression of sites such as Instagram, operating via user-generated content and allowing us to progress from consumers to prosumers, “with over 150 million users on the platform, 16 billion photos shared, and 1 billion likes happening each day, the photo-sharing and editing platform is one of the most engaging channels on social media” (Harris, 2013). Nevertheless, this has grown in conjunction with a wide range of other progressions in technology such as filters, and editing apps e.g. Hipstamatic.

Notably without the popular ‘filter’ feature on Instagram, the site would be a very different space. The use of filters can easily alter an images colours, shading and overall visual appeal (Harris, 2013). “Findings suggest that it may be the appearance-related and visual imagery components of social networking that are most salient with respect to body image concerns” (Tiggemann and Zaccardo, 2016, pg.2) therefore it is of no surprise that Instagram, an app purely dedicated to the posting and sharing of photos and its emphasis on using filters to create more desirable images is a cause for concern. Many of my interviewees also spoke about the use of filters and editing apps, helping me to understand their repercussions:

Jo: I learnt early on that it is so important not to follow people that make you feel bad about yourself as many people think this would be motivating to try and look like them but I just found it made me miserable. Particularly as most of the people in these shots didn’t even look like that themselves most of the time. Filters are a clever thing!

This emphasises the manufactured, fabricated element of Instagram. Although it is filled with beautiful, inspirational images, these are typically edited and constructed to stage ‘idealistic’ bodies, scenery and situations, portraying unrealistic expectations to anyone that follows such accounts. Ex-blogger, Essena O’Neill, explained in her video “When you let yourself be defined by numbers, you let yourself be defined by something that is not pure, that is not real” and admitted “Everything I was doing was edited and contrived” (YouTube, 2015).

This demonstrates the constructed virtual reality of Instagram, showing that much of the content is not entirely truthful and how even avid users of the app can be drawn in by the apparent ‘realness’ of such accounts.

Interviewer: Do you follow other fitness based accounts?

Emily: Oh yeah, loads! In fact, most of the people I follow tend to be super hot fitness models like @emilyskyefit, I’m just so in awe at how incredible they can look in every single shot.

Interviewer: So does this motivate you to work out more?

Emily: Um, I guess yeah, that’s why I first started following them, for inspiration, or ‘fitspiration’ haha, but actually nah, they tend to just make me feel a bit crap about myself! Like no matter how much I exercise I always think in the back of my head ‘I’m never gunna have legs like her’ or ‘my abs won’t look like that!’

Notably, the majority of interviews drew on similar conclusions, following this theme of feeling inferior to many of the ‘instafamous’ accounts they personally followed. However, not all of them mentioned that this may be due to the editing programs or filters they used to project a contrived beauty. “More frequently viewing fitspiration images on Instagram was associated with greater body image concerns, and that relationship was mediated by internalization, appearance comparison tendency in general, and appearance comparisons to women in fitspiration images.

Together, these results suggest that Instagram usage may negatively influence women’s appearance-related concerns and beliefs.” (Fardouly, Willburger and Vartanian, 2017). Through research it is evident that this is very common, particularly with female adolescents that they become oblivious to the falsity of Instagram, getting wrapped up in the desire to look like these ‘fitspirational’ individuals (Tiggemann and Zaccardo, 2016). It is also interesting to note that with the exception of one, each of the participants admitted to using filters, or editing the majority of their own posts.

Hannah: Yeah, I don’t usually intend to, but if I have a good shot and then I go to Instagram it, I will play around with the filters on the app and 99% of the time it just looks so much better with a filter on it! I don’t know I just think it’s almost impossible to just post an entirely natural picture because they will always improve the look on it, even if it’s just giving a slight tan, or whiter teeth!

This dependency on filters is very common amongst users and highlights the design of Instagram which encourages the use by placing them as an option before you can post Instagram, 2010). This motivates their use and explains why the majority of photographs posted on the app are edited by some description. Unfortunately, this causes many issues for users, creating unrealistic expectations for both young males and females when they are constantly bombarded by perfect, airbrushed bodies whenever they go online – “even a cursory observation of fitspiration images will show that most of the women in the images display a relatively thin and toned figure, consistent with current beauty ideals for women” (Krane et al., 2001: cited by Tiggemann and Zaccardo, 2016).

Therefore, despite the apparent beauty and content amongst some Instagram accounts, it is this evolution of contrived beauty, epitomised by the majority of filtered and edited images littered throughout Instagram only heightens the pressure on hyper-surveyed individuals, with thousands of followers, to post similarly ‘perfect’ shots (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016). This, along with societal body image ideals, stimulated by Instagram’s set-up are the major causes for issues of self-identity, self-worth and disconnection from the real-world for our ‘instafamous’ individuals.

Chapter Five: Conclusion

Ultimately, this dissertation aims to raise awareness of the growing issues that hyper-surveillance via social media presents for future generations. The impact of intensified self-presentation via Instagram for individuals with a significant amount of followers poses threat to their everyday lives due to the pressures and societal expectations they face

 There are several major factors concluded from this study, namely; the loss of autonomy and agency over their page through forced sponsorship material, the ‘idealised’ way they present themselves on social media through the use of filters and edits, generating pressure to uphold this image of ‘perfection’ and creating unhealthy relationships with their bodies in the process.

And, finally, the heightened impact of constantly being surveyed, creating the feeling that they cannot ‘switch-off’ from their social media, and thus basing their lives around their virtual identity, losing touch with what is real ‘backstage’, or ‘behind the screen’.

Notably, the use of six interview’s on aged 18-24 female ‘Instafamous’ individuals produced authentic and honest depictions of experiences, emotions, and opinions of Instagram and their personal journeys. This produced the backbone to my research, identifying the key impacts having a successful Instagram account can have on an individual’s everyday life and highlighting the relevance of the study in young females as each participant relayed similar themes and issues.

The textual analysis also strengthened the research by referencing a specific serious case of the impact of hyper-surveillance and how it spiralled Australian ex-blogger, Essena O’Neill, into depression due to the contrived nature of Instagram and the pressure she experienced from having 500,000+ followers. Due to the relatively new realm of social media, and in particular Instagram, which is only 7-years-old, this study’s aim was to raise awareness of the underlying issues of such applications, particularly as the Instagram ‘blogging’ lifestyle is one that appears glamorous, thus I sought to highlight the detrimental nature of such a phenomenon that will only grow over the next decade, with the potential to affect many users.

5.1 Strengths and Limitations

The chosen methodological process of using both interviews and textual analysis complements each other as it allows the contrast of existing, naturally displayed experiences with new, first-hand insights, constructed in a semi-structured interview to ensure the data collected is of relevance. Nevertheless, the qualitative approach to the topic may compromise the credibility of the research as it limits the ability to deduce facts and focuses on emotive, intangible responses (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005).

Importantly, although the responses I received in the interviews appeared truthful and constructive, in similar future research I would advocate a more personal approach which was not possible in 30-60 minute interviews. This would allow for a stronger interpersonal relationship with the participant and thus heighten the likelihood of getting authentic, personable information (Rubin and Rubin, 1995), especially when researching more delicate topics such as self-identity issues or body image.

Nevertheless, the use of ‘photo elicitation’ throughout the interviews strengthened the research. Each participant was encouraged to have their personal Instagram account open in front of them during the interview process, helping to assist in relaying memories and feelings, generating richer, descriptive, accounts of their Instagram journey’s and steering the topic of conversation in a relevant direction (Sparkes and Smith, 2013).

5.2 Future Research

Ultimately, the aim of this dissertation was to create the foundations for this topic of research, emphasising the significance of an individual’s virtual identity in our Web 2.0 generation of technology. This investigation took a qualitative stance in order to construct a descriptive background and reiterate the importance of the topic in our contemporary society, drawing on people’s personal emotions and experiences in a humanistic interpretivist manner (Markula and Silk, 2011).

However, in order to further this corner of literature it would be useful to produce a quantitative based study, researching the correlation between issue of self-identity and body image and the pressures ‘idealised’ self-presentation can have against the amount of surveillance the individual is experiencing through social media.

I chose to centre this study on Instagram due to the image-based content, helping to focus on the topic of self-presentation and Goffman’s theorisation of front-stage, backstage (1959) as his dramaturgy approach helped to identify the motivations behind the Instagrammers choice to present themselves in an ‘idealised’ manner. Importantly, I also chose Instagram (2010) because minimal research has been produced solely on this application as it is still relatively young and thus studies on male-dominant usage would be invaluable to foreseeing the effects such apps will have on future generations as they continue to expand.

5.3 Final words

Considerably more research is necessary to examine social media’s powerful influence as a public pedagogical site, shaping social ideologies and creating a platform for discourses to grow. However, this study aims to collectively display the many impacts such sites are encouraging from a young female perspective. The work of Bentham and Foucault help justify the impact surveillance can have on society, encouraging individuals to behave differently when they are aware they are being watched, encompassing the basis of Goffman’s theory that life is a stage… (Goffman, 1959).

These theories, conglomerated with my data, emphasise the power social media has as a hyper-surveillant global platform, giving individuals the ability to reach a multitude of followers. However, the impact this success can have on individuals who base their entire lives around their attempts to present themselves in the perfect manner on social media can be detrimental to their lives ‘behind the screen’.  

Addressing the impacts on this niche selection of ‘instafamous’ individuals is noteworthy as through the evolution of Instagram it is becoming much easier for anyone to gain followers, with websites dedicated to ‘tips’ on how to increase them organically, or apps that allow you to pay for more. “Social media tacitly promises fame (and subsequent wealth) to ‘ordinary’ users and thus encourages practices of micro-celebrity.”(Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2016). Therefore, although hyper-surveillance only impacts a small percentage of society at present, the current growing rate of expansion demonstrates the importance of understanding the affects in order to help combat issues in future generations.

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Appendix 1: Participant Information Form


The Purpose of the Study:

This study seeks to explore the potential affects that constantly being surveyed via social media can have on an individual. Instagram is a global platform which millions of people use to present themselves through photographs, creating the opportunity for hyper-surveillance, particularly on individuals with thousands of followers. It has therefore become possible to create a living through sponsors and thus creating a virtual life, many find it difficult to switch-off from. I will therefore be exploring a selection of ‘Instafamous’ individuals to examine how their virtual identity affects their everyday life and the impact of having influence over thousands of followers as a modern-day role model.

Why are you being invited to take part in this study?

This study requires the researcher to undertake interviews with a selection of participants that meet the criteria; aged 18-24, female, 5000+ followers on Instagram.

What the study will involve?

The study will involve a series of semi-structured question to the participant. The answers will be recorded and should take 30-60mins.

Important Information

All participants within this study can freely choose whether they wish to take part or not. Furthermore, all participants have the right to withdraw from the study at any point simply by informing the researcher of this choice. This study has been reviewed by and received ethical clearance from the Research Ethics Approval Committee for Health at the University. The researcher will be the sole individual who will have access to the data that is collected throughout this study and this data will be stored on a locked computer, in a password protected file. Participants in this study will benefit from the experience by having the chance to reflect on their relationship with Instagram and fitness, but must also acknowledge that during the research process they will be asked about their personal feelings and attitudes towards their experiences with social media.

In signing below you agree that you have read the Information Sheet, been given the opportunity to ask questions about the study, and received satisfactory answers to such questions where relevant. You agree to allow this research to be undertaken on your school site and understand that upon signing this form you can still chose:

  • not to take part in the study at all
  • not to take part in subsequent elements of the study (e.g., the survey or interviews)
  • not to answer particular questions during oral and written participation in the study






Appendix 2: Example of Informed Consent Form

Project Title:


The purpose of this study has been clearly explained to me. All my questions about the study have been satisfactorily answered. In addition, I agree that:

  • Information I give will only be used for a completion of a dissertation at the University and publications resulting from the dissertation.
  • I have the right to remain anonymous in this research.
  • I have the right to withdraw any of my statements. I am also free to withdraw from the study.
  • Study materials containing data (e.g., interview files and transcripts) will be stored in a lockable cabinet and/or on a password protected computer. Only the dissertation supervisor and the researcher will have access to these materials.
  • After the dissertation is completed study materials containing data will be destroyed.
  • I have a right to request to see the interview transcripts to make changes.  I also have the right to request to see the dissertation.





Appendix 3:

Example transcribed interview with Jo: Female, Aged 20, 70,000 followers on Instagram.

Appendix 4: Textual Analysis

Australian ex – blogger, Essena O’Neill, had 500,000+ followers on Instagram at the height of her fame, making £1000’s each month from sponsored posts. In 2015, the 19-year-old decided to quit social media, deleting or re-captioning (with the ‘truth’ behind each photo) 2000+ images, claiming it is ‘not real life’, the following video explains her reasoning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1Qyks8QEM (YouTube, 2015)

Key Quotes:

“I had half a million people interested in me on social media, to a lot of people I had ‘made it’”

“I was signed with one of the biggest agencies in Australia”

“I was surrounded by all this power…all the fame… yet they were all miserable, I was miserable”

“I was the girl who had it all, but having it all on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life”

“Everything I was doing was edited and contrived”

“Everything I did was for views, for likes, for more followers”

“I did shoots for hours just to get shots for Instagram”

“Social media is now a business, companies will email you with bullet points of what you should say, with times of the day to post, with what you should do in the photo, wiht how you should hold the product or where you should have in it the background” – constructed reality

“Companies know the power of social media and they are exploiting it”

“I didn’t believe I was beautiful by society’s standards”

“I looked at other girls who were models, who were beautiful and they had all of these likes, and views, and followers and I thought damn, they would be so happy surrounded by all these people that love them … I want that, I want to be valued”

“I told myself I would be of more value, the more likes I got”

“I let myself be defined by numbers”

“The only time I felt better about myself was the more followers I got… but it was never enough”

“When you let yourself be defined by numbers, you let yourself be defined by something that is not pure, that is not real”

“Everything I did in a day was to be that perfect person online”
“Proving yourself online, taking pictures in hope to get likes and compliments…it’s not life and it doesn’t give you value or happiness”
“I’ve met people far more successful than myself and they’re just as miserable”

“I don’t even know what is real and what is not…because I let myself be defined by something that is not real itself”
“I was just living in a screen”

“Real life isn’t through a screen”
“I realised I didn’t know myself without social media and without my physical appearance”
“I was using my looks for money”

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