How Instagram lets women of color own their own images

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Social media has aided in giving representation to young black and brown girls in more ways than one.

Before the rise of Instagram and Tumblr, there were only a handful of women of color represented in realms like the art world, high fashion and television.

Although these spheres still lack a great deal of diversity, the rise of the Instagram model and influencer has been able to crack the glass ceiling of exposure and create a revisionist narrative.

The exposure and voice that was once lacking has been reclaimed, all under our own gaze, and our guidelines. We are now in control of our image in the most non-commodified, raw, pure form. I sat down with three women, Sage, Jheyda, and Armanda, who have helped in shaping digital activism and are breaking barriers within the web sphere,

Sage, Curator for Art Hoe Collective, @sageaflocka

Photo by Patricia Ellah

“I think it changed pop culture in a lot of ways. Even four to five years ago, I remember surfing the internet as a teenage and what I was seeing, aesthetic wise, were just pictures of unobtainable things, and things that didn’t make any sense that I had no relation to. Obviously that’s changed, I think now we’re seeing a social media world that’s dominated by individuals and individuality, and not group mentality, so that’s nice. I think this is really cool because you can can step into all these little different worlds and  other people’s lives, and see how expressive it is: it’s just them talking, and them interacting with the world. Also it changed casting [of models], in a lot of different ways. It’s changed the way people have casted these campaigns because they’re looking for people who have complex identities and who are already so good at being themselves that it transcends them being a model, or being conventionally attractive. And that change has been massive. Social media has become culture, which is really crazy.”

Jheyda, Art Hoe Collective Curator, @jheydamc

“People really are super reductive of Instagram fame as it pertains to women of color, because they don’t have accessibility and they’re not ‘conventional.’ Look at how people view Instagram models. There has always been different types of modeling: there’s commercial modeling, there’s high fashion modeling. It doesn’t matter what type of model you are, and it doesn’t matter how you came about: you don’t need to be reduced for being a different type of model. A lot of ‘traditional models’ came about the same way through exposure, but it’s just about accessibility and social media is accessible to people who don’t have the money to just say, ‘Hey mom, can you get me casted in the Chanel show?’ And I think that makes people very angry, people of color being able to have representation and have a source of comfort that’s not just eurocentric white media telling them that they’re not pretty enough. [It] makes people very mad because people start to become self-aware. What’s hot on social media is what’s hot with the youth, so to not be on the same page is to do yourself a disservice. Social media is so powerful and I feel very thankful to be apart of Art Hoe because it’s definitely made a big difference in like online activism and like online community for young queer artist of colors and it’s super cool to be apart of that.”

Armanda Tounghui, @GlowPrincesss

“I feel like my page promotes self love, confidence, independence, melanin obviously. If you just look at my page, you can know what to expect. The main message would be loving yourself, loving your skin, that’s the message I want to give to dark skin girls. Once upon a time I was that dark skin girl that — I wouldn’t say I didn’t like myself,but I wasn’t as confident as I am now. I feel like when other girls come to my page and if they look up to me, I just try to build other people’s confidence, by loving yourself. I think [social media] helped a lot because back in the day it, dark skin girls were not accepted and loved as much. Instagram now shows all types of skin tones, now, every time you get on Instagram there are all different skin tones and dark skin girls who are being embraced. It’s good because it helps now with our girls. If a girl that is dark skin who’s going through some shit, doesn’t like herself, she can go on Instagram and see other girls that’s like the same shade and see someone that look like her and see that people are accepting her, and she’s loving herself, and she can do the same, because in middle school I went through people telling me, ‘Oh, you’re too dark, no one wants to talk to you.’ I just hope that it stays this way and it’s not just a trend.”

It’s true, social media has changed almost every aspect of our lives. But, over the past few years, we have finally been able to see its large scale structural effects in realms outside of the digital world. Real support networks for issues like self-care and self-love are only a swipe away, more visibility and direct forms of activism can now, thankfully, take place without a middle man or any type of commodifying of the cause.

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