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Instagrammable femininities: Exploring young women's understandings of gendered self-representations on Instagram

(2019)
Author
Organization
Abstract
Instagram has grown in popularity worldwide, having reached in 2018 over one billion monthly active users (Constine 2018). It became an essential part of many young people's daily lives and central to contemporary visual cultures. However, Instagram exists in an increasingly diversified media landscape, co-existing not only with digital and social media platforms but also with traditional mainstream media, in a complex intertextual relationship (Allen 2006). Instagram is understood as an aesthetically-oriented platform for sharing photographs and videos. As such, it is popularising new aesthetic conventions (Manovich 2017). Furthermore, relying on user-generated content, it carries the potential to broaden the scope of public visibility to a wider variety of representations (Tiidenberg 2018). As young women are amongst the predominant active users of Instagram (WeAreSocial, 2018) and the demographic associated with online self-representation practices (Burns, 2015), this potential also carries gendered undertones, helping to shape representations of femininities both in Europe and globally. Following a feminist media studies perspective, this paper explores the ways in which young women make sense of representations of femininity present on Instagram. This research is based on 13 in-depth interviews with a theoretical sample of female “ordinary” Instagram users (i.e. not celebrities or Insta-famous users), ages 18–35. Our findings illustrate how young women understand representations of femininities on Instagram in nuanced ways, marred by tensions between Instagram's ability to embrace and reproduce preexisting conventions and beauty ideals, but also its potential to showcase diverse femininities. Representations of femininities on Instagram merge traditional and social media conventions, depicting not only “ordinary” Instagram users, influencers or Instagram models (Duffy 2017), but also accounts associated to mainstream popular culture – such as celebrities or models. These Instagrammable representations of femininities follow particular aesthetic conventions, but also particular beauty standards – often dismissed by the participants as overly idealised. However, relying on self-representation, Instagram is also seen by the participants as potentially more inclusive and diverse, showcasing individual lifestyles often underrepresented in popular media. Furthermore, the possibility to curate the type of content followed is seen as creating a space of diversity that is not necessarily reflected in other media consumption or their offline daily lives. Diverse representations are understood as standing in tension with normative representations of femininity. As these diverse representations also abide by the logics of popularity of Instagram (Van Dijck & Poell 2013) they aren't necessarily afforded the same visibility, engagement, and popularity as representations of conventionally attractive popular users (e.g. celebrities or actors). This paper seeks to critically explore the nuanced ways in which young women are engaging with these representations, paying attention to how these Instagrammable femininities echo broader cultural and political transformations in the contemporary media panorama.

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Pereira Caldeira, Ana Sofia, et al. Instagrammable Femininities: Exploring Young Women’s Understandings of Gendered Self-Representations on Instagram. 2019.
APA
Pereira Caldeira, A. S., Van Bauwel, S., & De Ridder, S. (2019). Instagrammable femininities: Exploring young women’s understandings of gendered self-representations on Instagram. Presented at the Media, gender and sexuality in contemporary Europe:  Resistances and redefinitions through performances, productions and consumption, Padua, Italy.
Chicago author-date
Pereira Caldeira, Ana Sofia, Sofie Van Bauwel, and Sander De Ridder. 2019. “Instagrammable Femininities: Exploring Young Women’s Understandings of Gendered Self-Representations on Instagram.” In .
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Pereira Caldeira, Ana Sofia, Sofie Van Bauwel, and Sander De Ridder. 2019. “Instagrammable Femininities: Exploring Young Women’s Understandings of Gendered Self-Representations on Instagram.” In .
Vancouver
1.
Pereira Caldeira AS, Van Bauwel S, De Ridder S. Instagrammable femininities: Exploring young women’s understandings of gendered self-representations on Instagram. In 2019.
IEEE
[1]
A. S. Pereira Caldeira, S. Van Bauwel, and S. De Ridder, “Instagrammable femininities: Exploring young women’s understandings of gendered self-representations on Instagram,” presented at the Media, gender and sexuality in contemporary Europe:  Resistances and redefinitions through performances, productions and consumption, Padua, Italy, 2019.
@inproceedings{8662688,
  abstract     = {Instagram has grown in popularity worldwide, having reached in 2018 over one billion monthly active users (Constine 2018). It became an essential part of many young people's daily lives and central to contemporary visual cultures. However, Instagram exists in an increasingly diversified media landscape, co-existing not only with digital and social media platforms but also with traditional mainstream media, in a complex intertextual relationship (Allen 2006).
Instagram is understood as an aesthetically-oriented platform for sharing photographs and videos. As such, it is popularising new aesthetic conventions (Manovich 2017). Furthermore, relying on user-generated content, it carries the potential to broaden the scope of public visibility to a wider variety of representations (Tiidenberg 2018). As young women are amongst the predominant active users of Instagram (WeAreSocial, 2018) and the demographic associated with online self-representation practices (Burns, 2015), this potential also carries gendered undertones, helping to shape representations of femininities both in Europe and globally.
Following a feminist media studies perspective, this paper explores the ways in which young women make sense of representations of femininity present on Instagram. This research is based on 13 in-depth interviews with a theoretical sample of female “ordinary” Instagram users (i.e. not celebrities or Insta-famous users), ages 18–35.
Our findings illustrate how young women understand representations of femininities on Instagram in nuanced ways, marred by tensions between Instagram's ability to embrace and reproduce preexisting conventions and beauty ideals, but also its potential to showcase diverse femininities.
Representations of femininities on Instagram merge traditional and social media conventions, depicting not only “ordinary” Instagram users, influencers or Instagram models (Duffy 2017), but also accounts associated to mainstream popular culture – such as celebrities or models. These Instagrammable representations of femininities follow particular aesthetic conventions, but also particular beauty standards – often dismissed by the participants as overly idealised.
However, relying on self-representation, Instagram is also seen by the participants as potentially more inclusive and diverse, showcasing individual lifestyles often underrepresented in popular media. Furthermore, the possibility to curate the type of content followed is seen as creating a space of diversity that is not necessarily reflected in other media consumption or their offline daily lives. 
Diverse representations are understood as standing in tension with normative representations of femininity. As these diverse representations also abide by the logics of popularity of Instagram (Van Dijck & Poell 2013) they aren't necessarily afforded the same visibility, engagement, and popularity as representations of conventionally attractive popular users (e.g. celebrities or actors).
This paper seeks to critically explore the nuanced ways in which young women are engaging with these representations, paying attention to how these Instagrammable femininities echo broader cultural and political transformations in the contemporary media panorama.},
  author       = {Pereira Caldeira, Ana Sofia and Van Bauwel, Sofie and De Ridder, Sander},
  location     = {Padua, Italy},
  title        = {Instagrammable femininities: Exploring young women's understandings of gendered self-representations on Instagram},
  year         = {2019},
}