By: Toslima Khatun
**In this article I focus on the South Asian community because it is the one that I belong to, and the one that has affected my decisions. I fully recognise that the issues I write about are more universal but at this moment I do not feel informed enough to speak on behalf or even about anything beyond the immediate sphere I inhabit. Having said due to the content of this particular piece I am going to proceed to unblock everyone given that I feel that it is only fair.**
I wrote an article a little while ago about how the #metoo article was instrumental in making myself and other women I knew in their early 20s into making sure that people were held accountable when they were racist; sexist or you name it. Whilst some influencers are definitely a force for good, I quickly realised some of the South Asian influencers that I was following on Instagram were making me feel inadequate and were actually colourist. I had initially followed them because I felt I identified with them, but it was actually something that as time felt on I saw as capitalising on a gap in the market without realising the wider issues that were being created and ignored.
The first instance when I realised that something was off was when an Instagrammer that identified as Muslim (as I am) donned a headscarf and captioned it along the lines of belonging in the ‘Handmaids Tale’. My uneasiness stemmed form the fact that this particular ‘influencer’, whilst Muslim, was definitely passing and very light-skinned and did not wear the hijab and so did not face any of the preconceptions – or at least very few of the preconceptions – that I did as a young slightly darker skinned hijabi. However, at the time the hit Channel 4 show was out, and I could not be sure that the girl had decided to just associate the colour with the costumes she saw on the adverts and did not actually know what she was saying. I was making excuses but honestly, for some weird reason I was afraid of being labelled as the ‘sensitive snowflake’.
But I want to be clear, this includes some of the men I was following too. A lot of the issues we face in the community have just been carried on by the children who are taking the places of their parents online. I’ve seen celebrity South Asians fall into messy divorces that have been splashed over social media to the extent that unfounded cheating allegations were thrown and discounted, and the women involved have been sent death threats and splashed over tabloids. What compounded the problem was that whenever I saw issues such as these it was always the man accusing his wife and then proceeding to get back together with their wife once the storm blew over. However, in the midst of this grown men decided to weigh in and stream videos claiming that such women who dress ‘immodestly’ should be punished and anyone found to be cheating deserved literal execution.
My point is that whilst such ‘Instagram beefs’ can be and are entertaining from the outside, once one looks at the deeper issues in the comments being made and the bullying that some of these accounts engage in are actually deeply problematic and just plain ignorant. If you are on social media all the time, then it is easy to become immune. But the issue of any abusive relationship is that if the effect is gradual it is easy to not be aware of the deeper issues at play. Taking a regular hiatus is usually the easiest and also the most effective way of realising how much time you take out looking at other people’s lives and if they are watching yours. Social media is an amazing platform for art, connecting, news and activism. There is a dark side though, and even if an account says, ‘good vibes only’ in the bio, those vibes may be poisonous for you.
Despite the deep misogyny in these posts, the comments that they were receiving were alarming in vitriol from both sides. There is also the pressure that comes from girl on girl pressure. Whilst I agree with the idea ‘my body my choice’ there is a difference between deciding for yourself in order to improve mental health and self-esteem, promoting such actions can sometimes be just as unpleasant. This is the case if, for example, an Instagrammer proceeds to go under the knife for enhancive surgery for chests and lips, as well as nose jobs, but it becomes an issue when the surgery is actively promoted to vulnerable people as an avenue into a better life. ‘Promo’ codes that the same bloggers benefit from, and present as a new product like any other, despite the fact that surgery is a big decision and normalising such actions is just an avenue that leads to more mental health issues for those who cannot afford the procedures. Moreover, elective surgery is still dangerous and has side effects that are still being discovered. These things are real issues that should not be swept aside in the pursuit of the ever-changing ideal of female beauty.
I’ve seen selfies posted with ‘no make up selfie!’ as the caption where the person (regardless of gender) has had laser hair removal that creates a smoother face, lip fillers and botox. But the hashtag is #natural and honestly, no. The venom that they receive in comments is also awful, and my point is that it is a cycle of abuse and that bloggers should not always be ‘cancelled’. A lot of them bought into the idea that their lives would be perfect if they presented it as such. But if you feel inadequate – even a little – when you look at these pictures day in day out. Then maybe it is time to at least mute them for a while whilst you refresh.
I take regular breaks from Instagram and so do a lot of my friends and the impact it has on my workload and just how much I see my friends in person was shocking. I got out more, I finished my work faster and honestly, I was earning more because I had the time to put in extra hours. But only when I felt I could, and I did not feel overworked. A couple of times I went so far as to delete the app until I felt like I had flushed it out of my system, and only went back when I was at a networking event and did not want to give out my personal number. It also highlights who you want in your life all the time, and who you have around because of your mutuals. It’s a good thing to be aware of, because, well, just because life happens.
Toslima is currently a second year PhD student at SOAS living in London studying near and Middle Eastern studies and History. Her hobbies include travelling through Europe and as much of the Middle East as she is able to do, eating good food and reading whenever time allows her to.