Bums are taking over Instagram.
No, not the scruffy, financially-challenged folks we pass by on street corners. I’m talking about the fleshy, peach-shaped area below your tailbone that is so popular these days.
In what I can only describe as a fitness trend turned popularity-hack turned cultural phenomenon, Instagram users are taking their clothes off and being rewarded for it in a big way. On a colossal social network where users are placed in a hierarchy governed by like and follower counts, showing skin has emerged as a surefire path to Insta-fame.
I first noticed this trend a few months ago while aimlessly browsing the “Explore” page, which I’d traditionally known as a hotspot for attractive users’ selfies and various other trendy/popular/aesthetically-pleasing things.
On this day, the Explore page fit this basic description but with the addition of something I hadn’t noticed before… bums! Copious amounts of bums. And the occasional tape-laden boob; apparently if the nipple isn’t explicitly showing, Instagram does not GAF.
After this initial revelation, in the weeks that followed, every time my boredom brought me to the Explore page… bums! And the more I noticed, the more bums seemed to appear.
At first, I was confused: A) Instagram allows this? and B) Normal, everyday people are willing to share their naked bodies with the infinite digital public?
My usual intent for browsing the Explore page is watching skateboard clips, which constitute the majority of posts that appear. In contrast, these semi-frequent bursts of not-so-subtle nudity are a bizarre and distracting addition.
I’ll show you what I mean:
Can you spot the one that doesn’t belong? We’ve got some skateboarding clips, a cool shot of a temple, Wayne Gretzky, some other things… aaand that’s a half-naked woman in a field. Just your standard afternoon hiking attire. Nothing to see here folks.
Since this initial revelation, I’ve frequented the “See fewer posts like this” option. I don’t deny that nudity on Instagram is more interesting than most trends that come around, but it’s not for me.
Having said that, I won’t rush to pass judgment. If you support nudity on Instagram, bear with me.
Nudity isn’t a bad thing. We are born naked. Beneath our clothing and our personas we are naked, always. I believe that if we aren’t celebrating our bodies, we aren’t truly living. You were given this body and it’s your right and privilege to love it.
I don’t know where you’re from but, in Canada, with our young, progressive Prime Minister who has spent 90% of his time in office thus far marching in Pride parades (fact), sexual tolerance appears to be the dominant trend of 2016.
If nudity on Instagram is the logical output a trend towards sexual tolerance and enlightenment, I reserve my judgment and applaud the progress we’re making.
But is it progress? I question the connection between sexual progress and nudity on Instagram.
It’s frequently suggested that celebrity culture has a deleterious effect on our collective self-confidence, a dialogue that has traditionally focused on women but has recently opened up to include men too. We worship people who are gifted with genetics and a lifestyle which enable them to maintain a physical form unattainable to most.
In the 90s when stick-figure females were in vogue, women were taught to fear calories and fat. Eating disorders became a pandemic in the modelling community and normal women devised various rituals of starving themselves, lest – heaven forbid – they gain 10 pounds and their bodies show signs of health and vitality.
In that respect, we’ve made progress. We’re now encouraged to feed ourselves so that we can exercise and transform these much-deserved nutrients into strong, functional bodies. With the gluteus maximus (aka your bum) being one of the largest and most powerful muscles in your body, it’s no surprise that big bums are in style.
And bums are only one niche in an emergent culture of body worshipping. In comparison to the past, everybody is working out these days, having fun sculpting their bodies and flaunting them. Fit, modern humans for the win! (#fitfam).
The problem is that Instagram isn’t a neutral playing field. It’s algorithmically wired to favour the beautiful. When we choose to ‘like’ a photo or video we are casting a vote; I like looking at this or I don’t like looking at this.
From a primal perspective, we are more likely to give our votes to the most beautiful people.
From a social perspective, the most beautiful people are poised to collect the most likes and followers, situating them in a position of influence.
From a behavioural perspective, people who show skin in an Instagram photo and receive an influx of likes will want to feel that gratification again. People who notice the influx are encouraged to mimic so they too can feel the gratification of increased attention.
Finally, from an algorithmic perspective, Instagram is more likely to give exposure to all these sexy and scandalous posts that are attracting so much attention, hence why my Explore page still to this day resembles a spread from Playboy.
And none of this is inherently bad. Humans will be humans. Trends will come and go.
My concern is that we’ve absorbed celebrity-worship into our own lives and increased its toxicity. Instead of comparing ourselves to beautiful celebrities who, on a certain level, we perceive as being different from us, now we’re comparing ourselves to other Instagram users who we perceive as being just like us.
So I’m turned off by nudity on Instagram because I don’t support anything that makes people feel poorly about themselves. Instagram is competitive and hyper-curated by nature. What started as a few artsy types and fitness enthusiasts showing off their bodies has escalated into a game of who can be the hottest and most naked of them all?
Not every girl is slim-waisted with exaggerated, voluptuous curves. Not every guy is chiseled and masculine. Even if these desired traits evolve into something new (maybe pot bellies or large calves will become a thing), what will remain constant is that many of us won’t fit the description of what is considered desirable. Attractiveness is a numbers game and it’s going to require a LOT of genetic evolution before all of us can win.
The message is good but the medium convolutes it. Our society is brimming with possibility for a new era of sexual and physical acceptance, but I don’t believe Instagram will be the network that facilitates it.