Written by by Felicia Vance, CNN
Instagram has been the force behind numerous controversial photo trends.
From overly-dramatic filters to selfies to the now-defunct InstaCat, there’s been no shortage of heat for the popular mobile photo app.
But as Instagram’s global community continues to grow — to 300 million users by Instagram’s last update — its vast global influence has come with criticism from body-image experts.
“Instagram is a tool, not a dictate,” says Cynthia Wong, the chief creative officer of Street & Straight. Wong is a social entrepreneur who has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, including Walgreens, Unilever and the Royal Bank of Canada.
“Instagram does little to inspire self-esteem,” Wong says.
‘Body-shaming at its finest’
One problem, Wong adds, is that the app lacks a comprehensive and aesthetically beautiful user interface, which is largely up to Instagram’s user-developer.
“It’s body-shaming at its finest,” Wong says. “Users cannot visually see the bodies that are being reviewed and approved, and in doing so, reinforces female objectification and reinforces a culture of not seeing body diversity.”
Wong says that today’s Instagram users might not realize that, for example, a so-called “edgy” model of today’s day does not often have the same body type as a model in decades past, like the timeless Jean Harlow.
The good news is, Wong believes, Instagram can be a force for good, but that there’s a lot of work still to be done.
Recent studies have shown that 90% of women prefer to follow inspirational models instead of beauty icons like Kim Kardashian and Barbie.
And when women follow role models like Martha Stewart, marketers are able to tap into female aspirational feelings, potentially influencing their purchasing habits, says Wong.
Instagram to address the problem
Instagram’s soon-to-be-released animated portrait filter, called Artistic Insta, is designed to encourage users to find their authentic selves on the platform.
But Wong cautions that Instagram users need to see more consistency in the app’s images, “both from a technology perspective and a person operating the camera lens perspective,” she says.
If Instagram is truly committed to making body-image changes — both culturally and fiscally — Wong says the company needs to scale out across all its platforms, not just Instagram.
For example, a push to include both men and women in Instagram advertising would provide women a wider range of body-image choices, and would be a financial win for the company.
“Women are bringing home many more dollars to marketers than men, because we spend so much more,” Wong says.