No filter needed – ‘Insta’ diversity
A couple of weeks ago, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, up popped a picture of Alexandra Shulman, former editor of British Vogue, in a swimsuit; undoctored, natural, highlighting all of her 59 year old self. It stopped me in my tracks, mainly I think because it was in stark contrast to the homogeneous representation of beauty that the magazine she was at the helm of for 25 years propagated, and was consistently met with criticism for.
There is a sense of melancholy in how an undoctored picture of a 59-year-old in a bikini is seen as an act of revolution. For women in Western cultures, the mass media tends to portray slender or thin bodies as attractive and associates them with success, youthfulness, or social acceptability, in contrast to overweight bodies, which are often linked to a lack of control or laziness, leading women to be dissatisfied or pressuring them to either lose weight or be thin (Grogan, 1999: 6; Mask & Blanchard, 2011:54).
The social networking app, Instagram, is currently the fastest growing social network site globally (Wagner, 2015) and presently has over 700 million monthly users. It can be interpreted a platform for changing how we perceive the body and beauty, and a potential vehicle for challenging normative portrayals of women’s bodies by corporate mass media images.Women can construct themselves how they desire in these spaces, create women advocacy spaces, and cyberspace itself acts as a means to undermine “the gatekeeping role of traditional print media and opening up new opportunities for the publication and dissemination of women’s work and other related interests” (Sampaio & Aragon, 2001:131).
By Shulman displaying such an image and the subsequent impact and response it elicited, it highlighted the power of social media in presenting diverse perspectives of beauty, but also diversity in all of its guises.
We must also understand that diversity is more than just a case of race, sex, creed, age or nationality. While these are important factors to consider, diversity also involves perceptions, thoughts, approaches to problems and insights. By individuals having the increased opportunity of control online, power is more dispersed (Conboy & Medina, 1997:147). After centuries of "body beautiful" and fashion trends dictating the flavour of the month of what is deemed an attractive woman, social media sites, it appears, are empowering people to both discuss and portray new perspectives and redefining beauty on their terms. They are amplifying freedom of expression and allowing us access to a megaphone that gives a different sound to the existing beauty and diversity rhetoric.
Through taking ownership and sharing her photograph on Instagram, Shulman has added to a more diverse perspective of beauty, and after 25 years, 306 issues, 1,600 fashion shoots as the editor of British Vogue, perhaps this is her best shoot yet - here’s to celebrating the diversity of beauty, and the beauty in diversity…in all its guises.
Zoe Shaughnessy has recently graduated from the London College of Fashion with an MSc in Applied Psychology in Fashion.
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