Instagram’s problem with Women

I love Instagram.  It’s a wonderful place to showcase some of your work, create your own personal gallery, get social, interact with other photographers, editors, and curators, keep up to date with family. It’s a great platform. However…

Last week I was reminded of Instagram’s weird issue with women. As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed I came across a photo by Jocelyn Bain Hogg of the photo cooperative VII. The model in the photo is using a kitchen knife to cut off a tag from her dress. And, as you can see, her breasts are exposed. As you can also see there are two “X”s over her nipples. No they are not two pieces of tape applied to the nipples by the model herself, they are digitally added to the image so that it can pass muster for the censors at Instagram. That’s right, one of the worlds most respected photo agencies has to degrade itself and have an employee put little “X”s over the nipples in an image just so they can post it to Instagram.

My friend and colleague, Lisa Hogben, posted a self portrait couple years back showing off her damaged shoulder, bruised and broken in a skiing accident. She made the photo just after a shower and as it happens you could see one breast and nipple. She posted it to our PRISM Instagram account and it was up only a short time before Instagram took it down with a warning of being banned from the platform if similar photos are posted. Lisa later posted the same photo (see below) on her personal IG account but this time with a black strip across the breast. This, the Instagram censors allowed. As Lisa pointed out however this only seems to make the image seem seedier than it really is. How is this a win for Instagram…for any of us?

It takes no time at all to find on Instagram young women, many of whom look as if they’re barely old enough to drive, in little to no clothing, in comically obvious sexualized positions, but as there is no nipple showing there is no censorship. Now think about that. Two adult women in two thoughtful, mature photographs that happen to show nipples, they get the humiliating treatment of censorship. But doe-eyed, hyper-sexualized young women? That’s A-OK.

Again, this attitude toward women from Instagram is not new. The hashtag #freethenipple is one of the most popular hashtags (over 3.6 million posts so far) due to the prudishness regularly exhibited by the censors. But it is still an infantile, degrading attitude.

It’s long past time for Instagram to grow up.


Photo by #JocelynBainHogg / @VIIPhoto. Click on the link in our profile to buy the print! Anouska de Georgiou, singer, songwriter, actress, model and 'It Girl', customizes her party dress by cutting off the label with a kitchen knife inside her apartment in London's trendy Portobello Road before Sir Elton John's summer party in Notting Hill, London, England in June 2005. To celebrate the agency's fifteen year anniversary, VII is offering a very special edition of our VII #printsale — iconic prints for just $100. Each 8×10 photograph is hand-signed by the photographer. They are printed on #Fuji Crystal Archive Paper at New York City's top photographic lab and are beautifully backed and sleeved in fully archival materials. Each print is embossed with the VII logo, and comes with a certificate of authenticity printed on museum quality acid-free paper. The sale ends on June 7, so click on the link in our profile to shop now!

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90% of your Instagram followers do not like your photos.

Go to your Instagram page. Take the last 20 images and average out the number of “likes”. Divide that number by the number of followers you have. That number will probably be somewhere around 0.10. That’s the average percentage of people who “like” your photos. About 10%. Doesn’t matter if you’re a famous photographer or a well known photographic organization. Doesn’t matter if you have 400 followers or 400,000.

After all that time chasing “likes” and followers, about 90% of your followers won’t “like” your photos. Now, it may be that they truly don’t like your stuff; it’s not compelling enough to even garner a simple double tap on the screen. But more than likely it’s because they didn’t even see your photograph because they too are chasing “likes” and followers. They too think more is better. They follow a ton of people in the hopes that those people will blindly follow them back. And your one in 2,000 photos on that person’s IG feed is going to get lost!

These people want to look at the number at the top of their IG page and see that it is greater than their friend’s and acquaintances because, you know… winning! They console themselves that the photo they posted earlier today has 150 “likes”, 25 more than the picture they posted yesterday. Yet the reality is the vast majority of their followers won’t “like”, won’t see their photographs.

My point in pointing this out is to give you a different way to think about social media and followers and likers and all that stuff. For me it comes down to quality over quantity. The vast majority of people I follow are people whose work or art I admire, and am genuinely interested in watching it evolve. I would hope people follow me for the same reasons. I don’t follow someone simply because they followed me. I don’t do “like-for-likes”. I appreciate it when I see someone new has decided to follow me. But I will still take the time to look at their page and see if it’s something I’m interested in before I click “follow.” And often I don’t. Sometimes those people continue to follow me and many times they take back their follow. Which is fine because they weren’t really interested in my stuff in the first place.

Yes, we all have friends and family we follow because they’re friends and family. I do like to keep up with all the nieces and nephews! But for me Instagram is mostly for the art, for the photographs. It’s my own personally curated gallery. A place where I can view interesting, powerful, and unique photography. It’s not a competition for “likes”.

What I’m getting at here is don’t waste your energy chasing those numbers. Because they really don’t mean anything. Or, I should say, they don’t quite mean what we once thought they meant. Follow who you want. “Like” what you genuinely like. Post photographs that mean something to you, that are true to your artistic spirit. The followers will come. You’ll still only see “likes” from about 10% of them, but they’ll be more meaningful.

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