The Instagram aesthetic is dead, long live the Instagram aesthetic

Heartbroken latte.

I have seen a lot of people sharing Taylor Lorenz’s great piece about Instagram’s perfect aesthetic being “over” (the general idea is that influencers are now raking in more likes for posting unedited, candid pics). Though it holds some truth and is full of compelling examples and fun quotes, I must say the article misses two major things.

The first one is that the imperfect, messy aesthetic Lorenz is describing has been around for years, thanks to Snapchat’s huge influence over pop culture. The irony is that when Instagram successfully cloned Snapchat’s Stories feature in 2016, they also copied its “perfectly imperfect” aesthetic and quirky mindset (for French speakers, here’s an article I wrote back then about this aesthetic change). The Stories format, which favors ephemeral, immediate, as-candid-as-possible picture sharing, was meant to become the counterweight to IG’s hyper-crafted pictures. It eventually became more than a mere counterweight: its massive success introduced the “messy aesthetics” which have thrived on Instagram ever since, through memes and influencers, small or big.

The other important point is that, even though pastel-coloured housewares, exposed bricks walls and flare effects have become less popular, there is still no such thing as authenticity on Instagram. Even the messiest picture is as painstakingly curated or distorted as the heavily filtered ones. The bad flashes, the quirky outfits, the faces — every detail one posts is there to show how cool, “non-self conscious” one is.

There is still no such thing as authenticity on Instagram. Even the messiest picture is now as painstakingly curated or distorted as the heavily filtered ones.

As human beings, everything we share or do collectively is more or less staged to send more or less subtle messages. Therefore, it’s no surprise this universal behaviour is dialled up on social media. Even when we try to go unfiltered, we end up trying to distort reality to our benefit. Take again Snapchat, the O.G. of messy aesthetic: the app popularised sharing bad pictures and silly jokes, but also made applying all sorts of embellishing effects onto your face mainstream, eventually leading to what some call (in an oversimplifying way) “Snapchat dysmorphia”.

If the original Instagram aesthetic is over, it’s because it’s been 1) killed by Instagram itself and 2) replaced by another aesthetic, which isn’t more authentic at all. Whether in the real world or online, we just keep applying lenses onto our lives.