Identity in Communities and Networks Social Networks

Visuals, Influencers, and Envy

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.

The Visual

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)

The community

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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18 replies on “Visuals, Influencers, and Envy”

Hey Kaitlyn,
I liked the way you addressed the dangers of comparison to mental and physical health with your topic. Still extremely relevant and was a great read!
I enjoyed the way you introduced new content and ideas, backing them up with evidence and also giving definitions. I agree with your point about engagement – a little thrill runs through me when I’m acknowledged by someone I admire on social media (my claim to fame is a twitter reply from Mitch Grassi of Pentatonix). It’s a large significant part of growing a following through word of mouth too, as people want to share what makes them happy.
It would have been nice to have a case study of different individuals/communities displaying what you were saying but the paper was done well!
How do you think influencers could address body image issues effectively? Do you think their action would make a difference?

Hi Anne-Marie,
Thank you for the feedback. I can relate to your point about getting a thrill when those who you admire finally acknowledge you. I still recall the time Ariana Grande followed my fan account on twitter way back in 2013.

Like you, I do wish that I had included an example of popular influence and their community but there were many to chose from and I unfortunately ran a little short for time. I think that influencers would be more appreciated if they maybe were completely themselves and completely honest, who embrace their body and their flaws. Hopefully that would encourage their followers to do the same. Also maybe if they made it obvious that they have altred their images for whatever reason, that might also help their followers.

Hi Kaitlyn,

I enjoyed your paper it was an interesting read and the topic was well explored. The way you explained to show the point you wanted to make was very good. I agree when you discussed social media has changed the way we communicate and visual communication is more important to engage when using these networks. It is important for content, visual images posted by followers and influencers to be engaging and relatable their audiences.
Do you think some think some people might be offended by visual images posted on social media networks by influencers of beauty?


Hi Kaye,
I’m glad that you enjoyed reading my paper.

I do think that some might see others negativty towards beauty influencers as them being offended and I do believe that people are more offended by infleuncers looks or status and almost view their visual content as bragging.
I also think that some people might be more offended that beauty infleuncers think that we dont notice that their images are altered and many could be even more annoyed that they dont make it obvious or deny it.

Hi Kaitlyn,
Very interesting and topical read, the way you broke the topic down was excellent!
When you spoke about the ease of promoting brands through influencers, it made me think about how businesses and brands have got it made with this cheap and effective marketing, but what is the cost? The mental health and self esteem of their consumers and customers? Is it worth it? It does seem they think it is.
I believe social media is able to facilitate an unparalleled connection between consumers and brands which increases loyalty. The influencer is the perfect middle man for brands: the influencer builds connections with their followers, they promote a brand, the followers have a certain amount of trust for that influencer so they buy those products. It’s genius really.
I finished your paper thinking, is envy the perfect marketing tool that brands are capitalising on?
Good work on such an engaging paper!

Hi Georgia,
Thank you for reading my paper. I agree that influencers are the perfect middle man for any brand, they almost seem more trustworthy then the brands themselves and they already have a large following built on trust so why wouldn’t their opinions be trusted.

I think that envy could very well be a perfect marketing tool. Everybody wants something they can’t have right? and now with everything so affordable, it almost just gives us an excuse to purchase things we don’t really need but belive we do.

Hi Kaitlyn,
I enjoyed reading your paper, it covered an interesting topic and stretched my understanding of social media marketing. I noticed recently that YouTube has allowed the posting of still images, like Instagram; it could be possible the are trying to take advantage of the power of images as you touch on. And if your old enough to remember a time before the internet, images were an effective mechanism for marketing; only the way they were deployed was via magazines and billboards. Social media has lowered the barriers to publishing for armature content producers, but it also comes at a cost to the community in forms of accountability, fact-checking, and censorship. Are we better off, I am not sure? The point you make about consumers relating to influencers because they seem more like normal people really resonated with me. I watch influencers give technology reviews, and despite them having 2 million followers, I still see them as an average Joe rather then a marketing ploy by a corporate juggernaut. What I didn’t resonate with, was where you mention “Individuals revert to social media to browse other people’s profile with the intention to socially compare themselves with others posts or photos”. Like, really people do that?
If you would like to read a paper from the Communities and Online Gaming stream, mine can be found at:

Hi Craig,
I’m happy that you enjoyed reading my paper and gained some more insight into social media marketing. I was not aware that youtube allowed users to post still images but I find it really interesting that they did that and it could very well be them taking advantage of the power of images, I feel that youtube is also trying to evolve to keep up with other visual platforms.

It is hard to believe that others really browse people’s profiles in order to compare themselves but some people can’t help but compare themselves or even their own photo’s to those of others, even if their not actively aware of it.

Thank you Craig for your insightful comment and I look forward to reading your paper.

Hi Kaitlyn,
I was intrigued by your title and had to read more!
I think you’ve done an excellent job. I thought how you detailed the affordances of social media, Instagram in particular, facilitating engagement between brand/influencers and community members was really clear, and the paper flowed logically.
I think beauty standards will always be present and social media has had a helping hand in amplifying them, with the popularity of influencers seeming to just be on the rise (from what I see). Do you think the level of influence they have on community members decreases as users recognise the job of an influencer is to market to them? Or potentially, as influencers strive to gain more followers and the less they can personally engage with community members, they become more like out of reach celebrities? There is still a level of envy there, but we do not compare as much?
A colleague recently shared an article, which you’ve probably seen about how a beauty influencer faked a trip to Bali by filming in Ikea as a message to her followers to don’t trust everything on the internet. I think it potentially garnered her more trust/attention and heightened her social status within her community. What do you think?
Well done again,

Hi Charlotte,
Thank you so much. I do think that the level of influence an Influencer has on their community will decrease as people start to realise that they are essentially being marketed. They may not unfollow them, because that would take something more controversial, but they are less likely to buy into everything they sell and stop seeing everything that influencers post as real or essential. I also think that they will always still be some level of envy towards Influencers, but if it’s known that influencers life are edited online to benefit them then fans might become slightly less envious.
Just as the article you mentioned conveyed, If influencers are more transparent with their community, they seem to gain more trust as they’re seen as more real or reachable. Faking a trip to Bali to express this was highly creative (and quite funny), and although it worked for her, it’s probably not what every influencer should be doing.

Hi Kaitlyn,

Thanks for coming back to me. I thought it was quite smart also and a clever marketing move. My partner found something online recently about a tv series filmed in Ikea unaware by shop assistants and customers. Brilliant!
I guess people are still envious of celebrity but the rise in reality tv and influencers on social media perhaps bridges the gap between us and them a bit more.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference!

Hi Kaitlyn,

Good research you have conducted there on your paper!

It would be a fair assumption to make that these so-called ‘influencers’ use their real identities because it is their brand, at least the majority of them. How do their followers perform their own identities on Instagram while protecting themselves from the harsh realities of visual virtual online trolls, bullying, harassment, and the like? Perhaps pseudonymity helps them maintain a bit of safety?

So, there is an element of fake personas as well because the images people are sharing have been manipulated. Still, there is relationships forming and community building going on Instagram, but it is just that the content may not be real. Our isolation in the real world is forcing us to seek relationships, community, belonging and interactions with ‘like-minded’ people across geographical boundaries in online SNSs but is also exposing us to non-beneficial influences. Does Instagram have a mitigatory strategy to deal with technically misleading and damaging information at all?

I enjoyed reading your paper and well done!


Hi Bayayi,

Thank you for reading my paper.

Yes! Infleuncers identities are essentially their brand. And yes pseudonymity does help followers maintain some safety. Instagram has a feature where users can fliter/block certain phrases or words from others comments and they can also control who can see and comment on their posts and stories.

I agree that even though the content is fake or altered their still is a strong sense of community and followers still build strong relationships with influencers and other followers.

I wouldn’t say that Instagram’s strategy to deal with misleading information is not solid but they can identify posts or stories that are misleading and send them to a team that reviews them, however the posts just don’t get recommend to users and don’t get displayed in explore tabs or the hastag page they don’t actually get deleted. Users are also allowed to report ads, however unlike other countries, Australia’s advertising standards don’t make Australian influencers be clear about whether their posts are ads or sponsored, that’s the infleuncers personal choice.

Thanks again.

Hi Kaitlyn,

I enjoyed reading your paper. I don’t use Instagram myself, but one can immediately recognise its power. It gives us a way to display or showcase a life that perhaps in reality isn’t quite as elegant and romantic as the filter options would have us believe. Everything is carefully controlled, and in some sense fake, but because it’s a heightened version of reality, it’s entrancing. I think its power comes from tapping into something deep that’s in all, or most, of us. That being, our obsession with status, and our need for it.


Hi Duncan,

Glad that you enjoyed reading my paper.
I agree! Instagram gives us an opportunity to present a version of ourselves and our life that we wish to share or wish we had. I believe it’s why people love using Instagram because they can control what aspects of their life they show and then it almost becomes a reality for them. And once they’ve had a taste of it, it becomes hard for them to get away from it.

Thanks again.

Hi Kaitlyn

I found your paper great to read, it resonated with me as it related to many other papers I have read on identity or how Web 2.0 is used as free marketing through the use of influencers posting pictures or videos on social media platforms and viewers tagging and sharing these is also a form of marketing, spreading the ‘sell’ of the product for those big companies.

When you discussed influencers and beauty on social media, it reminded me of the more disturbing things with beauty communities are the beauty ‘hacks’ you sometimes see where things go terribly wrong, after they try ‘alternatives’ that could potentially be dangerous and others within the community also this and it goes viral, all in the name of beauty. Or some of the hacks are just plain funny, like these:

Leung, D. (2018). 15 Weirdest viral beauty hacks of 2017 so far. Narcity.

You mentioned: “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”

This is interesting, as you also mentioned how people like to view influencers as being relatable, so it seems there comes a time when people start to feel a gap and that there is a level of status. This influencer has it all, they have all these products they get to try out, fame, beauty, money, power, success…oh, yet they’re still so likeable! On the other hand, indeed jealousy can rear its ugly head either from lurkers, people who join the channel for no reason other than to make nasty comments or people who have turned jealous and envious after a period of time.

Have you had much experience with Instagram and/or the photo filters? I have 3 accounts. One for myself which just has general photos, the 2nd is for my dog and the 3rd was also for my dog but was meant to be a regular channel where she ‘speaks’ (my edited voice) and sends a fortnightly/monthly positive message to children. I haven’t really used that account much yet. Have you used the filtering tools much? I love them but the initial cropping of photos frustrates me as I can’t resize photos from my gallery, it has to be a photo I take immediately. I hardly ever take selfies there, it’s usually photos of ‘stuff’ or my dog. Are you familiar with any other photo editing apps?

Thanks again for a great read!

Hi Indre,
I’m happy that you enjoyed reading my paper.

Beauty hacks are highly popular in the beauty community and Instagram is also filled with people doing bizarre things with makeup etc. and most of the time that makes no sense and is doing more harm than good. I can’t tell you how much I cringe at those hacks.

I agree that there comes a time where people start to feel the gap of status. It’s just that I think people often follow influencers because they seem more reachable than celebrities and therefore see them more as a peer, unlike celebrities. but then eventually they realize the difference between themselves and Influencers and I guess that’s when things start to shift. I also agree that many people join these communities just to troll Influencers whether because their jealous or just plain mean.

I do have an Instagram account (only one, don’t know how you manage 3 because I can barely manage one), but I don’t post as much as I used to and I usually use the cropping tools and usually just change the lighting, contrast, shadows, etc. Most of the time I usually don’t post anything but just play around with different images and all the available features but besides my go-to editing tools, I don’t use filters and such.

Thanks again.

Hi Kaitlyn,
Interesting topic here Kaitlyn. I spend a lot of time scrolling though Instagram and catch myself making comparisons to Influencers and the appealing images on Instagram. Usually it’s an aesthetically pleasing image of an Influencers house, or shopping haul & at times its a hair style or make up application. I keep reminding myself that what you see on social media is not always the truth and is manipulated to attract likes and comments. I can see how someone, especially a young person could be influenced in a negative way by a post whilst at the same time that post is making money for an Influencer. It is interesting that people have managed to make a living out of something that can be so evil in society by simply adding a few cheap photo editing tools to a social media app.

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