Instagram Influencers Undermine Feminism and Hurt Women.

Though it may be unintentional harm, still, this stuff causes harm. Here’s how.

Empowered and liberated feminists? Not so much. (Image by Alex Azabache from

“Women should be empowered and confident enough to feel comfortable with their bodies.”

Absolutely. This, in and of itself, is a positive, important message.

The above photo and numerous Instagram “influencers” though? These are not empowered or liberated women. And, these are not women who lift up and help other women with their behavior.


For several reasons.

This photo is not for these women (or, for any women). It’s a photo for men. It’s imagery aimed at garnering desire and approval from men.

It is going along with and an attempt at fitting into society’s narrow, homogenized beauty ideal that prescribed to women.

It’s an advertisement of sorts. Look at how hot we are, look at our bodies, here is what we have to offer you. It’s a call for attention based on what our culture tells women they have to offer that is valuable: their bodies and looks.

It is these women making their sexuality about, and for the enjoyment of their male viewers.

It is complying and going along with the age-old, deeply harmful, wrong cultural idea that women’s values lie in their appearances.

All of this is contained in Instagram “influencers” photos like the one headlining this article.

Instead of marching to the beat of their own drum (as they are hoping and likely imagine coming across), these women are playing right into the hands of our wider cultural message, which is: women’s worth is weighed in their bodies and looks. And, that women’s sexuality is a performance and carefully crafted image for men.

Women who post images like these are chasing and going along with the cultural idea that “women who do not have a highly sexualized, very particular look and body will never be noticed, unlikely to be loved, and are not enough.”

They are buying into the idea wholeheartedly that, “what women have to offer is in their bodies and looks.”

They are complicit and encouraging such toxic, old-as-the-hills, harmful messaging.

These women are not unique, they are not trailblazers or bad-asses, they are not making a bold statement. They are the opposite. They are exactly like all the other millions of women who sadly fall prey to this insidious, toxic cultural message. That women’s sexuality is for men. That women’s sexuality is a performance…for men. That women’s bodies need to look a certain way…for men.

Many, many women forget that these images are fake and homogenized. Every nearly naked woman on Instagram looks much the same (yet, this is a body type that exists very rarely in nature, even though somehow, every woman on Instagram seems to have it). Huge breasts (usually purchased, plastic, and inserted via surgery), fake tan, ripped body via hours a day of working out, coquettish look in her eyes directed at her male viewers, wet hair, and red, open lips.

All of this is a performance. It’s carefully crafted. And it is to elicit and earn the desire and approval of men and our culture at large.

Women today are still taught that the fastest way to “the top,” so to speak, is through self-objectification. And these Instagram influencers? They are buying into it, hook, line, and sinker. They are not doing anything out of the box. They are, instead, living very much within the tight confines of the box that has been made for women, and in which we are still entrapped.

There is little to no diversity in these types of images. Therefore, these images are not a celebration of women. Why? Because there are not a variety of body types and varying women of all colors, shapes, and sizes featured. And, in different types of outfits. Instead, they are all eerily alike. Always nearly naked (because, with their bodies, women have learned this is how they get male attention and achieve value in men’s eyes), and with very similar body types.

These images then, are oppression of and pressuring toward women. They showcase one narrow type of beauty within their very similar body types and looks. And as a result, the message then to the other 98% of women? You are ugly, you are not enough, you are lacking, you are not worthy or up to snuff, you are not acceptable, and, your body isn’t good.

These images are all about women appealing, with their bodies, to men.

And, they are about pressing on female viewers a very specific type of body.

They are about fake beauty. Not the natural, real deal. Not the authentic bodies of women, which are diverse and come in all shapes, colors, and sizes.

These images are not a celebration of female beauty. They are a declaration of only one type of sexy. They are a prescription and warning signal: this is how you are supposed to, and had better look, if you can have any hope to be noticed, loved, seen, or accepted, by both men and society at large.

The women in the photo above are doing nothing daring, nothing bold, nothing unique, and certainly nothing empowering or feminist.

They look like all the other half-naked, clamoring, similar-looking women doing exactly the same thing.

They are merely going along with all of our culture’s damaging messages of and pressure toward women making themselves into sex objects for men, of women sculpting and crafting their bodies just so…for the desire of men. The photos above are not for women. They are for men.

Women who deny this are either in denial or lying.

Instagram is filled with thousands of these women.

And this is very unfortunate because, whether they intend to or not, this type of thing harms women, it doesn’t help them.

What is heartbreaking is that these women do not see it in such a way (because either they do not have the ability to dig deep and analyze it in such a way), or, because it’s too emotionally painful to admit such a thing.

Women who engage in such behaviors tend to live emotionally searching, somewhat emotionally chaotic lives. Ever in search of feeling like they are…enough. Ever in search of finally feeling…full. Ever in search of eventually feeling…sexy “enough.” Their sense of worth and self-esteem is often found via their appearances and thus, is a rollercoaster, depending on the feedback they receive from others (though especially men). Their lives tend to be lived largely in pursuit of and focus on their weight, their looks, their body, and outsider's reactions to them.

Women who self-objectify and live their lives perpetually in search of that ideal look (treating their body, essentially, as a project) have high rates of anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and sexual issues.

Those women who spend hours of their lives revolved around how they look, and attuning that look just so (and, let’s be real, it is, in part, a fake look. Frequently, these photos are airbrushed, the women spend hours every day in the gym, they may have eating disorders, and they may have had surgery in order to look better), this continues to cycle of other women feeling ugly, never good enough, and as though they do not measure up to these falsified images.

And, it continues the cycle of these very women who are scrambling to feel and look “sexy enough,” of feeling insecure and obsessed with such a shallow, hollow life pursuit. One which does nothing for their souls.

Thus, this stuff hurts all women.

A litany of photos online posted by women with all the same body type (very thin, with a fake tan, and almost always with fake breasts) is not behaving like a liberated, bad-ass, empowered woman.

This is, instead, these women joining the oppressive, mass march, and collective going-along-with exactly what society, consumer culture, and men want from them. It’s falling into line. It’s going along with the masses. And, it hurts all women in the process.

Truly liberated, confident women do not get fake breasts to feel better about themselves and appeal to men.

Truly liberated, confident women do not spend hours and hours in the gym, trying to sculpt and tone their bodies just so, in order to look “sexy enough.”

Truly liberated and confident women do not craft imagery of themselves in order to gain approval and garner desire from others (though namely, men).

Truly liberated, confident women do not starve themselves in order to be “thin enough” (according to our culture’s standard).

Truly liberated, empowered, confident women do not walk around nearly naked to elicit the attention and gaze of men. Instead, they get men’s attention in other ways. With who they are as a person and not on the outside as a sexual object.

Truly liberated, empowered women do not self-objectify.

The reason so many women do these things?

Not because they are empowered, liberated women. It’s because they are insecure, lacking confidence, and want attention and approval from both men and society at large.

And this is the fault of our toxic culture at large. It’s a very sad thing. It diminishes the emotional and mental lives of women. It results in a lot of women living very emotionally insecure lives.

But, it is also women choosing to buy into it. And until they stop doing that, this culture that is toxic to women will continue.

Women who post such homogenized, fake, hyper-sexualized imagery online are sending mixed messages and muddying the waters.

On the one hand, we have a group of (truly) confident, educated, liberated women who realize that women are worth more than how they look, who do not dress for men, who do not post soft-core porn of themselves online as an advertisement for “what they have to offer”, who do not starve themselves to feel “skinny enough.”

And then we have the women who play into these very toxic messages that women receive all the time, going right along with them. Women who send the message with their photos and dress that they do feel their worth is in how they look, who are dressing and behaving to gain the sexual allure and approval of men, who starve and sculpt themselves in and gym and even through surgery, to feel more acceptable to men and our society.

These are contrasting messages. They confuse men and women alike.

It is not surprising, though, that women are doing this. The messages our culture press on women are everywhere and unavoidable. So, it isn’t shocking that women are sucked into them. Most women are, at one point or another.

The key, though, is breaking out of them. The key is learning this stuff and garnering these insights, and then ceasing going along with and playing into such crap.

Women are worth more than just their bodies…and yet, we have whole Instagram accounts dedicated to and premised on a woman getting attention for her (partially falsely obtained) body. This is a problem, because it perpetuates such harmful thought processes throughout our culture.

Women should not be treated as merely a sex object. And yet…we have whole hosts of women who do self-objectify and who step gladly into the role of sex object. This is a contradictory message to our culture at large.

We have got to stop going along with, chasing after, and playing into such wider cultural messages as women if we ever want to have a hope of making things better for women in our world.

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author.

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