Before Instagram

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Since the launch of Instagram in 2010, the app has changed many aspects of life for creative people all around the world. Instagram has helped the spread of digital art, photography, and has become an important vehicle for entrepreneurship in the last decade. Small businesses and freelance artists take advantage of the app’s format to further their reachability and sell their products. The photo-sharing app is the perfect breeding ground for advertisement and self-promotion. Naturally, Instagram’s impact on the spread of photography led to large modifications in one industry heavily reliant on photos: modeling.

Before the creation of Instagram, models were discovered in public by talent scouts. There are many stories of young girls approached in shopping malls or amusement parks and in the next month they’re taking headshots and applying to casting calls for the runway. However, with the popularity of social media, it is much less likely to hear stories like this from up incoming models. Instead, most of them will say they were discovered after they reached ten thousand followers on Instagram and were offered photoshoot opportunities that brought them more fame. Why would any agency risk hiring someone inexperienced from a shopping mall when they can find millions of users on the app who are well-practiced in posing and their digital portfolio is free for the public to see? Being authentically discovered is almost impossible now because Instagram girls with large follower counts are the most sought after.

Instagram’s influence on the industry is so obvious that the title “Instagram model” has been coined to describe the success of an entirely new brand of models. These girls aren’t typically walking runways or on the cover of magazines but they are all over the internet selling clothing from brands like FashionNova, PrettyLittleThing, and SHEIN. If not clothing then they are selling weight loss supplements, hair vitamin gummies, and getting new sponsorship deals every day to sell to teenage girls. The birth of the Instagram model created entirely new expectations for modeling.  Becoming one is a package that includes millions of followers, daily posts, and essentially turning your image into an entrepreneurial opportunity. There are thousands of girls who make a living doing this with attention most models were never getting from the public before.

Models who did become wildly successful before Instagram were considered “supermodels” like Tyra Banks, Gisele Bundchen, and Naomi Campbell. It was incredibly rare for girls to ever reach the level of fame of the women mentioned above and the status that came with it. With the rise of Instagram and social media, the process of becoming famous and gaining recognition is very different from the work those models did in the ‘90s and ‘00s. In 2018, Forbes released a list of the highest-paid models of that year and while that list did include traditional models (Gisele Bundchen, Adriana Lima, and Joan Smalls) there were also names like the Hadid sisters Gigi and Bella, Chrissy Teigen, and at the top of the list was Kendall Jenner. In 2018 Jenner did not have half of the runway talent Bundchen or Lima had but what she did have was over 100 million followers on Instagram. Having a significant presence on social media has basically become a requirement to get into the fashion industry and be noticed.

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