Power works in mysterious ways. Like, literally mysterious. In order to be effective, power must be invisible. Michelle Foucault used to say that, when you locate a source of power, it means that it has already fled somewhere else.
Another philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, used to talk about control societies. More than three decades ago, Deleuze pointed out that we were leaving the disciplinary society and moving towards a new kind of regime. In a control society, information is key: people are no longer confined to closed spaces, a watchful eye lengthens and the data processing machine is multiplied and softened. Everything we share, every personal data, we now share willingly. “People are not confined making a road, but making a road multiplies the means of control, ” as Deleuze would say. Information was traditionally central in the evolutionary configuration of the power apparatus.
“Innocence” is another disguise that power likes to wear. The first ever Instagram – or rather Snapchat – filter? The famous, harmless dog face. What dangers could be present in such cuteness? Let me tell you that the most remembered Instagram filter did not only add dog ears and a big muzzle to your face: it also elongated it, making it thinner. It also gave you slightly imperceptible bigger eyes.
To understand the construction of body image, and almost every phenomena in modern societies, the key word is The term refers to ways of keeping control not just through violence and political/economic coercion, but mainly through ideology. Why? It is not only cheaper but also much more effective. Hegemony is political and cultural dominance over others. “It’s the way things are” and “it is what it is” – two phrases that colloquially sum up what hegemony is all about. Fashion? Trends? Hegemony at its best.
Social media is constantly shaping and reshaping the way we see others and ourselves. In times when diversity and inclusion are taking over every scene, Instagram does not seem to have gotten the memo. Although the platform’s community guidelines claim that diversity and expression are to be respected, in practice things are quite different. When it comes to bodies and body image, especially women’s, inconsistency arises.
The short version of Instagram’s guidelines states that “We want Instagram to continue to be an authentic and safe place for inspiration and expression. (…) Respect everyone on Instagram, don’t spam people or post nudity.” Moreover, the long version offers a take on diversity: “Instagram is a reflection of our diverse community of cultures, ages, and beliefs. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the different points of view that create a safe and open environment for everyone.”
Can Instagram be deemed “fatphobic”?
The vast majority of Instagram’s actions, responses and resources point in the same direction. Double standards may (and most likely will) apply when it comes to reporting nudity: if the body in question is slim, fair and traditionally beautiful – what you may call “an hegemonic body” – a little exhibitionism may be overlooked. But if the body exposed is curvy, unfair or downright fat, the picture will most likely be taken down. The curious thing here is that, most of the time, the removed pictures do not actually violate Instagram’s guidelines: they do not show any hint of genitalia. What Instagram (and users who report these pictures) actually finds offensive is the display of bloated bellies, or fat thighs, or arms with signs of cellulite.
Instagram also fails at providing appropriate resources to report certain types of bullying. The community in general and activists in particular claim that there are no suitable options to report fatphobia, or hate against fat people. The way the system is designed, anybody could verbally target a person just for being fat and get away with it.
But what find most concerning today is the production, endorsement and curation of most filters. Instagram filters have quickly become plastic surgery previews, and it is frankly worrisome. A 25-year-old girl I follow told me yesterday that she “decided to save up for lip fillers after trying this Instagram story filter”, and all my alarms went blaring.
It is hard to miss the similarities between the vast majority of Instagram’s story filters. Under the premise of “beautifying your face”, there are a zillion different filters that more or less do the same: make your face thinner and your eyes bigger and your mouth fuller. Oh, and for some reason, they all give you freckles. Wait, I just remembered that freckles are the biggest trend today.
Even plastic surgeons are concerned by this new Instagram filter trend. Last fall, journalist Sarah Manavis interviewed cosmetic surgeon Max Malik about the topic in question:
He tells me he’s concerned by the increase in face-altering filters on Snapchat and Instagram that can be accessed by people as young as 13, nothing that they are pushing young people to constantly up the ante, requesting more and more extreme cosmetic surgery. “These filters and edits have become the norm, altering people’s perception of beauty worldwide,” (…)“They can have a significant impact on a patient’s self-esteem”
Not worried yet?
Oh, there is even a fatphobic filter. It was created by Spanish instagrammer Francesc Enrich, and removed some time after. Making fun of fat people may have gone unnoticed a couple decades ago, but today…not so much.
For better or worse, cancel culture is here to stay. It is easy to see foul play and wrong-doing in cultural pieces that are two or three decades old, like The Cosby Show or Roman Polanski’s filmography. However, it is much harder to detect certain phenomena when we are contextually immersed in it. And today sexism, ableism, fatphobia and all kinds of discrimination take more subtle forms.
The challenge is set. We need to exercise our critical thinking skills, lest we continue to perpetuate the stereotypes we so abhor.