The rise of social media networks has changed how we communicate, and visual communication has seemingly become important because it is more attractive and engaging. Social network platforms that are visually based are beneficial for people seeking to build their own brand as visual communication is effective in reaching large groups of people. Instagram has become more accessible and is now seen as a beneficial tool in the rise of beauty and fashion influencers. Particular features of Instagram like commenting, sharing, and editing and filter tools make it simpler for beauty influencers to reach and interact with their followers creating a loyal community. Instagram may be an ideal tool for beauty influencers to get connected with their followers but the extensive use of photo editing and filter tools contribute to the creation of unrealistic beauty standards that have negative impacts on both individual community members and the whole of the community.
Visual images have a strong impact on social media and are fundamental for body image and beauty industries. Therefore, visually oriented social media platforms are particularly significant for people interested in these industries. The beauty industry is a large competitive space where brands need be innovative and rely on highly visual and creative advertising campaign that speak to a target audience. The visual emphasis on social media platforms aligns with the visuals emphasis presented in beauty marketing and advertising, shifting the industry from television and magazine to social media orientated. Visual content has become an important part of online communication (Yoo & Gretzel, 2011) because it is a highly effective way for people to reach others. Visual information is processed quicker than text as people remember 80% more of what they see. Because visual information is easier to understand it is easier to understand it is more likely to be shared on social media, reaching large amounts of people (Manic, 2016). Using visual platforms like Instagram and YouTube allow consumers to watch, listen and read about products all at one time (Forbes, 2016). Social media is seemingly becoming popular within the beauty industry because it drives a direct engagement between the brand/industry and consumers (Booth & Matic, 2011 as cited in Forbes, 2016).
The affordances of these platforms enable users to easily manipulate and share visual media. New web 2.0 technology that has emerged has led to a rise in visual social media platforms leading to an introduction of a variety of tools that enable users to create, publish and share content all in the one space. Such low-cost technology means modification of photos is longer confined to studios but is now implemented into social media apps. (MacCallum, F., Widdows, H., 2018). The availability of smartphones contribute to ease of sharing images on the internet with applications that make photo sharing faster and editing tools more readily available. (Halpern and Humphreys, 2010 as cited in Leaver, Highfield & Abidin, 2020). The smartphone has introduced a world of apps where users can capture, store, edit and share photo’s all in one app within a matter of minutes. Instagram is an example of an app where effects and filters are readily available, allowing users to share and edit their photos before posting. These include altering of brightness or colour intensity (Kleemans, Daalmans, Carbaat & Anschütz, 2018), removing imperfections and cropping. Features like third party apps and hashtags also allow users to gain easy access to editing applications and sharing possibilities, sharing their content on multiple applications and reaching a large range of people. The height of social media use has introduced a new form of communication where those who desire to share creative content have the ability to do so.
The Influencers of Beauty
This ease of manipulation has facilitated the emergence of beauty Influencers on platforms such as Instagram, who use the platform’s visual affordances to build their brand and gain large numbers of followers. Instagram has slowly become one of the most popular social networks, as it is a platform where users express themselves through visuals. This has led to a class of users, classified as Influencers, who gain a large following because of their content and engagement. Unlike other social networking platforms, Instagram provides creators with the necessary tools to design, post and share authentic and creative visual content (Nouri, 2018). Therefore, users can actively generate and publish multimedia content, including their opinions on brands or products, hacks and comparisons in the form of an image or video that may also be enriched with embedded content or textual descriptions (Welbourne & Grant, 2016., Aral et al, 2013., and Lipizzi et al., 2015 as cited in Sokolova, Kefi, 2020). Attracting attention to their page through visuals gain Influencers a large number of followers who become important in the creation and uphold of the INfleuncers brand (Djaforova and Rushworth, 2017 as cited in Casaló, Flavián & Ibáñez-Sánchez, 2018). Instagram is the most popular platform to use for influencers because of its ease in creation of communities. (#Hashoff, 2017 as cited in Casaló , Flavián & Ibáñez-Sánchez, 2018). From comments to like and dislike buttons and direct messages, followers can consistently give feedback and communicate about products with Influencers (Nouri, 2018), and Influencers have the same possibility to reply back to messages and comments (Sokolova & Kefi, 2020). An essential part of building a brand is building a relationship with consumers. Interaction created through watching videos or viewing pictures make fans respond to the influencer as though they personally know them (Nouri, 2018). Followers feel more connected to an influencer if they are high levels of engagement, like direct interaction through comments. This makes them seem more relatable and accessible. This is significant because online friends become an effective tool in word of mouth. According to Wiley (2014 as cited in Nouri, 2018). online product reviews are more influential because they seem authentic and accessible. Consumers relate more to influencers because they see them as relatable because their posts invite them into their normal lives (Nouri, 2018). The success of an influencer is not only dependent on the number of fans or followers that they maintain but through frequent engagement and personal, trustworthy online representation (Forbes, 2016)
Such branding and impression management create beauty norms in Influencer communities. The development of communities on Instagram leads to norms within the said community with ideas around acceptable practices with expected values and behaviours (Leaver, Highfield, & Abidin, 2020). Beauty and fashion blogs represent notions of ideal female beauty, promoting beauty as an essential component of female embodiment. Their images portray certain beauty ideals and practices associated with what is considered to be normal (Sur, 2017). Beauty influencers who rely highly on visuals set the standard for what the group should view as realistic in terms of appearance. With a large following, influencers become the leader of their own community, enabling them to influence the views of consumers. It is likely that their followers are highly influenced by them because they identify with them and therefore seek to borrow certain aspects of their personalities or views to feel closer to them (Peter, 2004, Boon, 2011 as cited in as cited in Sokolova & Kefi, 2020). Because influencers are seen are reliable, consumers are likely to seek out their opinions on what to and what not to buy, how to use products and how to look or dress better. The credibility of an influencer is crucial to their audience because they want to feel that they are sharing similar values and attitudes which in turn gains their trust and loyalty. If they are considered to be trustworthy it can influence the attitudes and behaviours of followers within the community (Kelman, 1958 and Ohanian, 1990, Petty and Wegener, 1998 as cited in Sokolova & Kefi, 2020). Therefore, members who identify with this community agree with the norms, values, beliefs and interest of the group because they feel they match the standards of the group.
Beauty vs Envy
However, these beauty norms can lead to envy and social comparison within and between communities and create body image issues in community members. Beauty standards set by influencers create different forms of peer pressure that can encourage a person to change their attitudes, values or behaviors in order to fit into the community (Power & Phillips-Wren, 2011). Exposure to idealised images, have been found to relate to how women internalise their views on how they should look (Feltman & Szymanski, 2018) and are shown to increase body image concerns in some users (Burnette et al., 2017, Cohen et al., 2017, De Vries et al., 2016; Holland & Tiggemann, 2016; Marengo et al., 2018; Tiggemann & Slater, 2013, as cited in Kennedy, 2019, p. 27). It is common for individuals to compare themselves and their lives to others based on the information they receive online (De Vries, Möller, Wieringa, Eigenraam, Hamelink, 2018). According to Lee (2014 as cited in De Vries, Möller, Wieringa, Eigenraam, Hamelink, 2018) individuals revert to social media to browse other people’s profile with the intention to socially compare themselves with others posts or photos. Individuals who engage in social comparison then consider themselves worse off than those of influencers leading them to become highly dissatisfied with their face, body, skin and hair. (Fardouly et al., 2015 as cited in De Vries, Möller, Wieringa, Eigenraam, Hamelink, 2018).There is research that even suggests that continuous social comparison on online outlets is associated with negative consequences like depression (Feinstein et al., 2013 as cited in), changes in self-esteem (Kalpidou et al., 2011, Lee, 2014, Vogel et al., 2014 and Haferkamp & Kramer, 2011 as cited in De Vries, Möller, Wieringa, Eigenraam, Hamelink, 2018) body monitoring, body dissatisfaction and anxiety (Chae, 2017). Envy becomes the direct result of social comparison (Festinger, 1954 as cited in Chae, 2017). Envy is likely present when users view themselves as similar to their target of comparison (Smith, 2004 ac cited in Chae, 2017) which suggests that because users view Influencers as ordinary people like themselves, they likely envy them. Although Influencers have more in common with their followers then most celebrities do, they hold more wealth and beauty than the average users. Posts like selfies aided by lighting and photo editing tools or apps contribute to the view that influencers possess everything that most women aspire to have but cannot obtain (Abidin, 2016 as cited in Chae, 2017). Envy and Social comparison can also lead to negative behaviours within members of the influencer community where internalized feelings of body dissatisfaction and other self-esteem issues are expressed through online commentary. This leads to members of the group leaving negative comments on individual posts surrounding one’s physical traits (Feltman & Szymanski, 2018). Negative feedback from content shared between peers or by an influencer leads to further body dissatisfaction (Kennedy, 2019) which drive members to change or alter their body in an effort to conform to the communities set standards in order to be liked or accepted by the community and influencer (Power & Phillips-Wren, 2011).
The availability of Instagram features like photo editing tools and filters to both beauty influencers and their followers are ideal in creating a successful brand community. Instagram has many features that beauty influencers can use to reach their audience and visually appealing content is the most effective. However, high exposure to manipulated imagery gives the community narrow ideas and standards about beauty and body image, all of which have negative impacts of social comparison and envy. Instagram may be very beneficial to beauty influencers in building a brand community but their influence on their followers is not always as beneficial to their followers as it is to them.
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