The Evolution of the Instagram Model

By Editorial Staff

As society races towards becoming increasingly digitized, it’s important to remember that as much as mankind has an impact on the technologies being developed, those technologies have an equal impact on mankind. Thus, in an age where social media is in vogue, it’s imperative to analyze how exactly Instagram models fit within this conversation. 

The Origins: Instagram

In order to understand how the area of Instagram model has reached the influence that ir has, analyzing how Instagram first came to be is crucial.

Initially designed for photography, Kevin Systrom and Mike Frieger launched the platform in 2010. With one million users in the first two months, the founders’ goal was to prioritize a minimalist experience on behalf of the users. So, those liking and commenting features that everyone is so accustomed to? Gone. 

Crazy, right? The only features over a decade ago were filters and enhancements.

Hence, it was the easy user interface and the increasingly common short attention spans that allotted Instagram to gain traction. 

Thus, as Instagram gained more investors and expanded the features offered, it seems that capitalism managed to disrupt the minimalist intent that Systrom and Frieger first began with. 

Read more about the backlash against Instagram’s frequent layout and algorithm changes here.

The Instagram Model

Despite Systrom’s simple desire to create a space where photographs could be shared, photography itself is an art form. And with any art, the ideals of beauty arise. 

An Instagram model is defined as someone who gains attention and popularity through the social media platform, and such individuals oftentimes make a living by participating in brand collaborations and various marketing campaigns. 


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A post shared by Kendall (@kendalljenner)

To date, there is no concrete answer as to who was the very first “Instagram model” or who first coined the term. However, it wouldn’t exactly be coming out of left field to state that showcasing a specific look or lifestyle stemmed from the celebrity culture of the 90s. 

And such ideals haven’t really changed over the decades. 

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Blurring Intentions 

While there are no set standards for who can be an Instagram model, what tends to be consistent is that you have to have some sort of following. 

This is where things tend to get a little gray. 

On one hand, an Instagram model represents an opportunity for anyone to really become their own boss and advocate who they are, their beliefs, etc. Yet, society has also come to emphasize numbers — which are largely accumulated by users deciding if the content of an Instagram model is appealing enough to follow, like, and comment on. 

The tension between what Instagram models think their followers want in order to appeal to their audiences and make money can often have messy consequences. 

Via Wish Message

Thus, while there may not be anything concrete that states that these Instagram models have to look or act a certain way, society makes that unconscious decision to validate a certain lifestyle or look. 

For all of the supposed freedom and room influencers have to create, they’re bound by the expectations and standards that their followers set. 

Especially as there tends to be a financial incentive for these individuals to gain the highest stats per post, it’s important to note that there isn’t a set rate for how much an Instagram model makes. However, there is precedent for models with 100k+ followers to charge $10 for every 1,000 followers

Did you immediately start thinking of the possibility of how much you could be making if you gained more followers? My point exactly. 

Read more about making money on Instagram through Instagram subscriptions here.

Thus, it seems that society is placing Instagram models with their backs against the wall. 

In efforts to capitalize on their followings, models post what they think society wants or what their following demands, which may further perpetuate unhealthy ideals in regard to lifestyles, body types, what is acceptable and attractive, and what isn’t. 

The tension between defining what society wants gets confused with what we may — free of external influence — want for ourselves. 

For all the glamor that comes with being an Instagram model, the results may not be as glamorous. 

Via Getty Images

With an Instagram model oftentimes considered to depict a “perfect” reality, the influence they garner then further hardwires society to also always showcase “perfection.”

It’s a lose-lose situation. 

More to Instagram Than What Meets the Eye 

It’s important to note that because social media and technology have opened gateways for opportunities, the underlying power structures that offer these tools must be analyzed. 

For example, what do you do if you have a question you can’t seem to figure out? Odds are, you probably Google it. 

And once you land on your search results page, how likely is it that you’re going to click on the links on the bottom of the first page, let alone the results pages after? Not likely, but if you do, I appreciate you. 

Search results for "instagram model"

Via Google

When you google “Instagram model,” immediately the first result is “Hottest IG Models on Earth.” Other top results include “Top 50 Instagram Models to Follow,” and “The 25 Hottest Instagram Models You Must Follow in 2022.”

For anyone interested in the field and/or becoming such an Instagram model, the odds are that they’re going to Google it and see these results: several social constructs of “hotness” ranked by acceptability based on follower count. The search engine reinforces societal standards of what is attractive and valuable. 

Thus, as advanced and non-biased technology wants to appear, there lies a very tangible impact. According to Dr. Safiya Noble, search engines both “mask” and “maintain” various social, economic, and political inequalities.

Because search engines automatically place the “most popular” hits at the top of a search, the fact that “Hottest IG Models on Earth” is the top result indicates that value is placed on visual sex appeal on the internet and for women as a whole. 

And it’s not just search engines that perpetuate such ideals. 

It’s the curated playlists on Spotify that only will often elevate male voices in the Rap genre. It’s the accessibility of social media that automatically privileges those with the economic means to possess technological devices. It’s the digital divide as a whole that leaves the underprivileged behind. 

A Change 

Fortunately, people are aware of the standards Instagram can represent and are making a conscious effort to generate content that is more inclusive, more realistic, and more diverse. 

Showcasing diverse perspectives and imaging is arising on Instagram. 

Via Professional Beauty

Here’s a list of some popular Instagram accounts that are taking control of their own body narrative: 

  1. @mynameisjessamyn
  2. @preciousleexoxo
  3. @jillianmercado
  4. @winnieharlow
  5. @_yumi_nu

Check out more body positive and activist influencers here.

At the end of the day, there’s no denying that the Instagram model has come to accumulate substantial cultural influence. With clothes, makeup, cars, and food, these individuals can reach people like never before thanks to technology.  

However, how exactly these people choose to use this power and be cognizant of the various underlying social dynamics needs to be evaluated. 

After all, these technologies and algorithms learn from users as much as users learn from the tech. 

This article was written by Serena Ngin

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