Instagram + Influencer Marketing: The Implications of Model Culture

Do you ever feel like everyone on Instagram is a model? Or, better yet, everyone is trying to be a model?

As a marketing professional and a social media influencer (to the least possible extent), I’m the first to admit that posting high-quality pictures is essential for building your brand.

Influencer: A social media user who has established credibility in a specific industry with access to a large audience that can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.

I know people who have careers around being an influencer! They’ve amassed large followings (usually by being real, authentic people) and are able to profit by posting sponsored pictures for a variety of brands. It could be fitness, food, tea-toxes, nightclubs, clothes — anything! If you have a large following, it’s an awesome gig whether part-time or full-time.

Still, you don’t wake up one day and decide to be a viral influencer/blogger. You have to build your following with content creation and engagements. It takes time.

I am an influencer, but at a bare minimum. I was so excited when I reached 1000 Instagram followers and was able to apply for FitFluential. I am a FitFluential ambassador, but I’ve never used one of their opportunities. I am selective, not only because I am particular about my personal branding, but because I want to be authentic. I’m not going to post about a brand I’m not passionate about. That ain’t me.

I am an influencer/ambassador for Vital Proteins, the new collagen product you’ve probably seen me post about. It’s one of the only protein powders that doesn’t upset my stomach, and it makes my hair and nails grow fast af. I am excited to see how the industry grows, and I am happy to promote them. It also doesn’t hurt that I receive complimentary products.

Influencer programs are growing in popularity for marketing, mainly because it’s cheaper, more impressionable, and more trustworthy than regular advertisements. People love word-of-mouth recommendations, so having a fitness professional post about their favorite protein powder helps to influence consumers who may not know what protein powders to try. It’s logical.

Fun fact: By law, influencers are required to clearly stipulate that sponsored posts are, in fact, sponsored. #Sponsored or #Ad can’t be hidden in a bunch of hashtags in a separate comment, either. The relationship must be honestly disclosed. Let’s keep it ethical, y’all.

However, this means almost anyone can be a “model.” If an influencer has their friend (with a DSLR, usually) take a picture of them wearing a sponsored outfit, does that make them a model? I mean, they are modelling clothes, right?

Suddenly, everyone on Instagram is a model. We all watched America’s Next Top Model religiously in high school, and it’s not that difficult to figure out your best side and poses. Look at all of the sorority girls who have mastered a candid photo! It’s not rocket science.

I like to think I know my angles, but let’s be real I’m still working on my smize. One of my good friends and fellow RAs is a photographer trying to build his portfolio (he’s also applying for med school, NBD). I asked him to take my graduation pictures last spring, and since, we’ve had a few “photoshoots.” They’re so fun.

I’ve been told I should model since I was a kid. “You’re tall, skinny, and pretty — you should model!” While I appreciate all of these meant as compliments, let me explain:

  1. I’m not skinny enough. This isn’t fishing for compliments, but a fact. I was a size zero for a hot sec in 7th grade, but that didn’t last long. Even during the worst of my eating disorder, I was never smaller than a size 6. Anyone not 0-4 is plus-sized. I have no boobs, so nope, I’m not plus-sized. Factually, I’m not the size of a model, even if I’m tall and lanky.
  2. My sister tried modeling with Barbizon when she was in high school. It was a money-making business. My sister never got any modeling jobs, and she was in the same boat as me for size.
  3. I DON’T WANT TO BE A MODEL.

I have no intention of bashing any models or aspiring models, but I’m going to try to keep it as real and empowering as possible.

Anyone can look pretty.

You can look pretty on Instagram, as a Hooter’s waitress, or as a nightclub hostess. Any relatively attractive person learned the power of their looks early on — you can get away with more if you look good. That’s a fact. But do you want to?

I know so many girls, both from my small hometown as well as from cities, who are aspiring models. They, too, meet with friends trying to build their portfolios to build their own modeling portfolios. Sure, you might land some modeling gigs off of it one day, but you know how else you can make money?

Literally any other job.

The job market is the best it’s been in awhile, so I don’t want to hear anyone say it’s difficult to get a job. If you’re having trouble getting a job, let’s connect! I love helping people enter the startup tech ecosystem.

ANYWAY.

Would you rather sell your face and body for money or would you rather use your mind and heart to work in a job? Not to be brash, but that’s what modeling is. You’re selling your appearance. And honestly, it doesn’t make that much money. We can talk potential business salaries if you’re curious.

So why do people want to model so damn badly? Lack of confidence to pursue other goals? Insecurity with their appearance? The excessive desire for Instagram likes?

I know there’s research on it, but I’ll leave that for you to explore if you’re interested.

I admit I’ve used my looks for the benefits, like nightclub bottle service and as an influencer, but I also worked really hard to overcome my eating disorder and build my confidence external from my appearance. Okay, I’m conventionally pretty, but what do you know about my mind? That’s what I’m most confident in.

One of my main passions in life is to empower others, not only through fitness and confidence, but through all other aspects of their life. I frankly don’t give a hoot if you have a shredded body or a pretty face — do you feel energized and motivated to take on anything life throws at you? Or do you feel dependent on others to validate your self-worth?

I hope more influencers disclose their sponsorships and we keep it real for young girls. I’m sick of seeing pre-teens try to be models on Instagram. Back in my day (hehe), when MySpace was big, I was a “site model” and I once won a *contest* as the “prettiest girl.” Who were the other contenders? I don’t remember. I do remember teaching myself HTML and graphic design so I could build layout sites. 10 years later, I’m working in tech and wishing I had pursued HTML coding even after MySpace faded in popularity.

Who woulda thought?

Don’t forget that you are beautiful and worthy of love regardless of your photos or your likes. And please don’t forget to study hard in school so you can be the boss bitch of your dreams ❤

++ Mary K

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