Fast-rising young influencers such as Emma Chamberlain, Jazzy Anne, and Joanna Ceddia all reject the notion of a curated feed in favor of a messier and more unfiltered vibe. While Millennial influencers hauled DSLR cameras to the beach and mastered photo editing to get the perfect shot, the generation younger than they are largely post directly from their mobile phones. “Previously influencers used to say, ‘Oh, that’s not on brand,’ or only post things shot in a certain light or with a commonality,” says Lynsey Eaton, a co-founder of the influencer-marketing agency Estate Five. “For the younger generation, those rules don’t apply at all.”
In fact, many teens are going out of their way to make their photos look worse. Huji Cam, which make your images look as if they were taken with an old-school throwaway camera, has been downloaded more than 16 million times. “Adding grain to your photos is a big thing now,” says Sonia Uppal, a 20-year-old college student. “People are trying to seem candid. People post a lot of mirror selfies and photos of them lounging around.”
Take Reese Blutstein, a 22-year-old influencer who has amassed more than 238,000 followers in just over a year by posting unfiltered, low-production photos of herself in quirky outfits. (A recent flash photo into a mirror with her dog picked up more than 5,000 likes). She, like many members of her generation, doesn’t stress about posting almost the exact same photo twice in a row, something first-generation influencers wouldn’t dream of. “I’m not afraid to over-post. I don’t think, Oh, will this mess up how my feed looks,” she says. “I don’t think too much about it. If I like an image, I just post it.”
Anything that feels staged is as undesirable for Blutstein’s cohort as unfiltered or unflattering photos would be for older influencers. “For my generation, people are more willing to be who they are and not make up a fake identity,” she says. “We are trying to show a real person doing cool things as a real person, not trying to create a persona that isn’t actually you.”
Matt Klein, a cultural strategist at the consultancy Sparks & Honey, also says he’s seen a gradual shift away from the rainbow-colored preplanned photos that dominated the platform in late 2017. “We all know the jig is up,” he says. “We’ve all participated in those staged photos. We all know the stress and anxiety it takes. And we can see through it. Culture is a pendulum, and the pendulum is swaying. That’s not to say everyone is going to stop posting perfect photos. But the energy is shifting.”
Over the past year, “Instagram vs reality” photos have grown in popularity as influencers attempt to make themselves seem more accessible. Earlier this month at Beautycon, a beauty festival, Instagram stars spoke about moving away from ring lights and toward showing off their faces in sunlight. As the public becomes more aware of the prevalence of sponsored posts, beauty influencers are abandoning branded shots for ones that show off their “empties” (empty bottles of product they actually use). A growing number of accounts are dedicated to calling out the various cosmetic procedures celebrities and influencers have had. Influencers have also been actively speaking out themselves about burnout, mental health, and the stress that comes with maintaining perfection.