A young woman scrolls through Instagram. Each picture she likes is of a different model, celebrity, influencer, or friend edited to perfection. Some photos show airbrushed skin and flawless smiles; others highlight slender legs and toned stomachs. Although the posts are all edited differently, each one shows a warped reality that strays further from the truth.
Women experience constant pressure to show only the best parts of their lives and looks on social media. But although the obsession with perfection is still alive and well, it appears that social media users are editing their posts less extensively.
This recent trend towards authenticity stems from influencers who believe that it’s important for audiences to see their honest selves. Carrie Dayton, a YouTuber with 346,000 subscribers and over 71,000 Instagram followers, emphasizes body confidence and mid-size fashion for women whose measurements fall outside of traditional model sizes. She strives to be as real as possible in all of her content.
“I’ve obviously grown a lot in my six years on YouTube, and being authentic and relatable is my #1 priority now,” says Dayton in an email. “Being told I’m real and relatable is still the absolute biggest compliment you could ever give me.”
Often times, influencers feel the pressure to be perfect because they believe their audience expects more from them than from “normal” people. Jerusha Jacob, a student at the University of Cincinnati, thinks it’s important to remember they are only human.
“It’s so important to remind everyone that no one is perfect, because I think we hold people with a large platform to such a high standard,” says Jacob through email.
Dayton says that growing up, she did not feel that her body type was seen or represented. Now, she is striving to provide others with the representation that she didn’t have.
“In high school, I only saw one body type in movies, magazines, TV shows, etc.,” says Dayton. “If I’d seen someone my size being confident and bold, I can’t imagine what it would have done for me. That’s what I’m hoping to be for my viewers now.”
Influencers also believe it is important they accurately portray their lives, not just their bodies. Emily Wass, a YouTuber and student at the University of Richmond, has 200,000 subscribers and 10,400 followers. She tries to make sure that her audience knows her life is not perfect.
“I have recently been trying to include a part in a lot of my videos where I talk about either issues that are important to me or some of the more serious/negative experiences I’ve been through,” Wass says through email. “I think this is important because I never want to portray my life as perfect and I want my videos to make a positive impact and be more than just surface-level content.”
This openness and authenticity between influencer and audience was not always there from the start. While Dayton does everything she can to show her true self online now, there was once a time in her YouTube career when she tried to fit in.
“When I first started YouTube in 2013, my little beauty guru community was so polished. We all had the same cameras and lenses with the same Bath & Body Works candle burning in the background, with the same background music and high-pitched voices, and we all bought the same makeup,” Dayton says. “There wasn’t much originality or authenticity, and I honestly don’t even recognize myself in those videos.”
With all this pressure to conform, social media can lead to comparison. As influencers constantly post their toned bodies, large houses, and lavish lives, it’s hard for audiences to not feel like their lives are inferior. But Dayton believes that audiences are past this feeling and are starting to appreciate more authenticity online.
“I think more and more people are growing tired of the mental anguish it causes seeing these unrealistic photos and are flocking to real, unaltered content instead,” says Dayton.
While highly edited posts, exaggerated personas, and Photoshopped pictures still dominate social media platforms, the cry for authenticity grows louder each day. If influencers continue to produce honest content, it won’t be long before creators will need to get real or get out.
This was originally printed in Equal Time Magazine’s Fall 2019 print issue. Read it here.