Mary Camomile/Adobe Stock
Perusing the feed that Instagram puts together based on the accounts I follow is like watching a movie reel where everything’s beautiful, feminine and perfect — and effortlessly so. Between the home design #inspo posts, ultra-glam makeup looks, flawless bikini bodies and pool parties with giant swan floats and people having so much more fun than you, it’s easy to feel the pressure to keep up.
It wasn’t until reading this article in The Atlantic that I realized that social media pressure mostly falls on women, and here’s why: An April 2016 study by comScore found that “42% of Instagram’s 108 million unique visitors were male, while 58% were female.” That’s a big, fat difference.
Another study from August of 2015 showed that 31% of online women (and only 24% of online men) use Instagram. While a 7% difference in Instagram demographics may not seem like much, when you crunch the numbers, about 7.5 million more women are using Instagram than men — and that’s just in the United States. (Psst: That’s roughly the population of the greater Philadelphia area.)
While there are many ways that brands can use this split to their advantage, it’s important to first understand the cultural factors behind it. (Hint: It’s about much more than Instagramming your #squad or your avocado toast in the morning.) Here are a few possible reasons for the Instagram gender gap:
Instagram is highly visual. “With the most mainstream Instagram users, we see very conventional beauty standards and aesthetics,” social media researcher Alice Marwick tells The Atlantic. The focus on appearance, specifically a visually appealing one, attracts women in droves.
Our understanding of beauty doesn’t just come from magazines and TV anymore — Instagram is changing the way beauty ideals are spread around the world. It’s no longer up to the esteemed beauty experts at Vogue to dictate trends — more and more women are turning to Instagram-famous makeup gurus to learn makeup techniques, hear about new products, and gather inspiration from faces around the world. Thanks to Instagram (and social media at large), women feel a connection to these influencers because their personalities show through in ways that are different, fresh and non-traditional.
Women are doing much more than watching a contour tutorial on Instagram to pass the time. The products that Instagram-famous beauty authorities use time after time actually lead to women making purchases. In fact, a Facebook IQ study found that 34% of beauty and skincare product purchases over this past holiday season took place on mobile devices. Physically walking into a brick-and-mortar store, and even desktop browsing for online orders are becoming things of the past. With seamless, in-app purchasing becoming more of a reality on Instagram, viewers can make that transition from #inspo to order confirmation in no time at all. Learn more about shopping through Instagram here.
Women generally take notice of and are concerned with image (at least more so as a whole than men), which makes Instagram ripe for female engagement. Filters instantly make a photo look better — whether you increase the saturation so your eyes look bluer or make your avocado toast pop against a white background. “Everyone wants to be the most beautiful girl in the room,” gender researcher Rachel Simmons tells The Atlantic. “Instagram provides a platform where you can enter that competition every day. The Internet has been called a great democratizer, and perhaps what Instagram has done is let anyone enter the beauty pageant.”
In the age of Beyonce and belfies (a.k.a butt selfies), the notion of looking flawless is a must-have on photo sharing sites. Third-party photo-editing apps make it possible to fine-tune everything about your photo, from slimming down thighs to filling in sparse eyebrows to blurring away forehead wrinkles. Apps that provide this wizardry include Youcam Perfect, Facetune and Perfect365 (a Kardashian favorite), not to mention VSCO and Lens Distortions for additional filter-tweaking. This body-image modification only perpetuates notions of flawless beauty that border the impossible. Learn all about the best Instagram photo editing tools with our handy guide.
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