The beauty revolt: these women are making a stand against the tyranny of perfection on Instagram

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Anna Pollitt
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Women are revolting. In a small but influential corner of Instagram - the very platform that champions digital enhancement - a deliciously ironic beauty rebellion is taking place. Stylist contributor Anna Pollitt charts the rise of a new and refreshingly honest vein of Instareality.

In a visually obsessed, narcissistic society preoccupied with feminine beauty, perfect poutface selfies have thrived and raw, spontaneous snapshots are a rarity.

Reality is a powerful tool, but one that we’ve long been editing and filtering away.

Now, a defiant trend is seeing women highlight their everyday "flaws" and embrace "real you" beauty with hashtags like #nofacetune, #nomakeupselfie and #celebratetheimperfect.

While airbrushing apps like Facetune, Cream Cam and Perfect365 are touted as necessary social media accessories to make our faces more palatable for an online audience, the result is a deluge of exhaustingly perfect selfies - complete with skin that's been blurred into "flawlessness" and contoured to work for the camera lens.

Like Mindy Kaling (above), Fearne Cotton is another high-profile Instagrammer who has sought to reject unrealistic standards of perfection on Instagram, voicing her desire to "reverse this scene."

In a message with her "greasy-haired," and "tired mum eye bags" shot, Cotton called social media culture "out of control":

Filters and edits, much like the transformative powers of make-up, allow us the novelty of making ourselves look brighter, bolder and glossier.

While having instant access to "tweaks" that go far beyond the illusory wonders of a good foundation may make us feel momentarily happy when the likes are racking up, what happens when we look in the mirror?

"We are over-exposed to images that inevitably warp our sense of what's real and what's possible when it comes to women's appearance," psychologist Elaine Slater tells

She describes photo-editing and filtering selfies as a "toxic" practice that can lower self-esteem and body confidence, as well as trigger depression.

"In order to belong to this virtual community, we feel we must succumb to a narrowing aesthetic and the tyranny of a flawless ideal of perfection," she says.

One woman who knows all about succumbing to the pressure of displaying a "perfect" life on Instagram is model Stina Sanders. 

Sanders had more than 100,000 followers tuning into her feed of bikini shots, yoga poses and yacht dates, when she switched to posting real pictures as part of an experiment for The Daily Mail. 

Close-ups of the 25-year-old bleaching her moustache, squeezing spots, unflattering up-nostril angles and one in which she admitting she hadn’t showered, lost Sanders thousands of followers in a matter of weeks.

She did, however, win a new batch of fans attracted to the novelty of turning the medium on its head.

Sanders tells that the experience was "liberating" and says she believes we'll see much more Instarealism from female stars.

"When we see a celebrity showing an airbrushed selfie, it doesn’t sit well with everyone, because we know life - no matter how much money you have - is never perfect," she says. "We also know that everyone suffers with some sort of imperfection, whether that’s acne, frizzy hair or depression."

Another model who exposed the "manipulation, mundanity and insecurity" of a life lived through Instagram is Essena O'Neill. 

The Australian teen earned money through sponsored posts to her half a million followers before she spectacularly quit last year, explaining: "Social media isn't real. It's a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers."

In notes later added to her pictures, O'Neill, 18, revealed how the contrived final shots were a far cry from from the happiness they depicted:

“Edit: “Please like this photo, I put on makeup, curled my hair, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewellery... Took over 50 shots until I got one I thought you might like, then I edited this one selfie for ages on several apps- just so I could feel some social approval from you.” THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT THIS. #celebrityconstruct”

Bella Younger, the woman behind the hugely popular parody account Deliciously Stella, is well-placed to comment on fakery at play on social media.

She tells us that she welcomes the tentative uprising of Instarealism, especially among celebrities and influencers.

"It gives people some respite from the constant glamour," Younger says. "It’s nice to see a person I admire is like me, sat at their desk with Hula Hoops in their hair.

"Instagram is essentially a highlights reel of people’s lives but everyone has a crap time to deal with some of the time."

Slater believes the new wave of honest selfies among celebrities could also be an attempt to redress the balance of judgemental gossip coverage.

"Anyone who doesn't look like a mannequin is open to the 'circle of shame' with grey hairs and pimples held up for judgement," she says. "Celebrities are showing signs of reclaiming these 'flaws' and taking ownership of their looks - halting the toxic process of society telling us what we should look like."

Before you post that perfect selfie...

Slater suggests that before editing our faces on Instagram, it's useful to think about how we view ourselves as women:

  • Acknowledge and value what defines us as women beyond our appearance such as; intellect, emotional intelligence, professional success, loving relationships, creativity, capacity for empathy and compassion, resilience and strength, loyalty and leadership, kindness and love, health and vitality
  • Mindfully avoid subscribing to someone else’s reality in terms of what defines who you are as a woman
  • Embrace your sense of individuality and uniqueness and avoid getting caught in the toxic trap of comparison
  • Remember being flawless and perfect is a myth - it does not exist. True beauty lies in our flaws and imperfections - they are what make us unique
  • Trust that your space in the world is assured and believe that you are enough just as you are.

While Instarealism has yet to grab the likes of Victoria Beckham or the Kardashian/Jenners, take inspiration from these famous faces who are saying it like it is and rejecting filtered standards of perfection on Instagram:

Work so hard on these motherfuckers and it's never enough #brows #browse #brow-ow-ow

A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on


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Anna Pollitt

Anna is a freelance writer and editor who’s been making her dime from online since 2007. She’s a regular at, ITV News and Emerald Street and moonlights as a copywriter and digital content consultant.