Intense sexualisation through Insta

Jan 09, 2019, 07:05 IST | Mayank Shekhar

You would need Gen Z to help accurately navigate the online sub-universe built on hyper self-objectification

Intense sexualisation through Insta

Mayank ShekharNo, no, not that old: I am on Instagram; even post on occasion! Which isn't quite the same thing as being able to instantly grasp the sub-universe that exists within though. Be gentle as you judge, but I actually discovered Instagram as a genuine sub-culture of public figures (most of them unknown in the real world) - wholly building on blocks of fame, based on personal branding, where every minute is an event and the event is the person herself - only sometime mid last year, in Delhi.

We'd organised a bloggers' meet - new-age version of a press conference - to introduce the line-up of films curated at the Jagran Film Festival. Seemed like a simple thing to do. Show a few movies. Talk about the rest. Enticing film buffs with artsy stuff isn't so hard. They're usually jhola types, starved of quality entertainment, anyway.

Or so I assumed, based on my own outdated experience, before walking into a multiplex full of preening, heavily decked-up guests (majority of them young girls), hardly interested in the event, more keen to record it instead - with themselves in the foreground, and the screen or the event's standee in the corner - while pouting, smiling, taking their video-camera on a body tour, and clicking some more, before heading off with a bagful of random goodies.

Who were these folk? I wondered. And I saw them all, later in the night, with pictures from the event tagged to me, and displayed as stories on their Insta feed. Clicking on one handle, following another, checking out more than a few others upon Instagram's suggestions, navigating further through tags on their profile toward several 'shout-out' handles aggregating similar profiles, gradually draining out my phone battery, diving deeper and deeper still, through a brightly filtered tunnel of stunning images over videos revealed to me a whole new underwear-world that I never knew existed.

What was one to make of it? Firstly, that this might be the fittest generation of young women, topping up their calorie consciousness with crunches, right at the early stages of adulthood - a habit, once formed, might be a passage to perennial agility and agelessness. A potential global audience on Instagram might be a better incentive to sweat it out than impressing pimply boys at a prom could ever be!

Yes, it works the same way with celebrities - always in the public gaze. For what's a celebrity, if not someone you consume on screen - whether in sport, or showbiz. How's someone feeding in and feeding off vast audiences on Instagram any different? Not.

What else was common to all these profiles, and ones suggested on infinite loop, some of them from Indian small towns, many of them NRIs, most others from Delhi/Cal/Bombay? That they posed like they would for a lad-mag, in various fractions of nude, accentuating parts of anatomy that might immediately stand them out.

No, not talking about '90s, desi Debonair magazine type stuff, where the women inevitably seemed like they'd been exploited and trafficked into a photo studio. This appeared a more sophisticated approximation of the idealised look, inspired from mass media - films, television, advertising. Which isn't to ignore several plus-size women wonderfully flaunting their self-assurance through pics, I notice, they ascribe to 'boudoir', a very silhouetted, nourished sort of nude photography.

Does this relentless self-objectification further deepen the traditional male gaze still - a screen-addiction for men, an easy validation for women; either case, a win-win for Instagram? It's impossible to weigh in on this, whether you're a man or a woman, without throwing guilt, or attaching shame, which is chiefly a cheap ploy employed by the unbeautiful, and the under-confident. For, who lays out moral codes for society, and gains anything at all from it anyway?

How old are these Instagrammers? Hard to tell, but several seemed to me more 'Gen Z' (late teens to early 20s), rather than the larger millennial (roughly born between 1981-97). What can't be denied is their 'likeability' running into thousands, dedicated followers of lakhs touching million, with each un-self-conscious selfie, a hot pose pre/post-work(out), or a nightclub twerk. Treat it as the visual equivalent of attracting followers by adopting extreme, contrarian points of view on Twitter! These girls, I realise, know their Insta game. They endorse products in their pics, although one's unsure about its effect on sales. There was hardly any footfall spike at our film fest because of the bloggers' meet. We probably just chose the wrong bloggers! But they're called 'influencers'. They put up pics. They make money. So they're rich. And they're definitely famous.

"True," agreed a friend of mine once, at a dinner table full of young, new parents: "How does one define success, anyway? Sunny Leone is as successful as it gets. Wonder how I'd react if she wanted to be a porn star," he said, referring to his baby, still in a pram. Don't know. Maybe he should wait for her to grow up. Contours of the debate could've entirely changed by then. Wiser he learns from her. Than judge, I guess.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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