I’m going to start you off with a little honest story. Once upon a time I, maybe like you, only walked around in hiking pants and jeans for days on end during my travels (except if I was shooting for our photography project @followmeaway or traveling somewhere hot like Italy).
I was also in the business of trying to get my photos featured by large accounts like @dametraveler and @sheisnotlost. I was miffed that the majority of the photos on these feature accounts seemed pretty much the same. It felt like the ONLY types of women these accounts feature are what I like to call “the Instagram girl.” Usually fit, usually wearing a dress, usually in a brightly-colored location, possibly with their butts showing, and most certainly wearing a hat and looking away 99.9% of the time. I think you know the types of girls I am talking about.
I was annoyed that my hiking photos were never featured. During this time I did find out about other accounts such as @alpinebabes and @mtnchicks that featured girls in hiking pants and leggings and not a straw hat or bare foot in sight. But I talked down about a whole lot of women in the process.
I created a post in my private Facebook group venting my frustrations and saying how annoyed I was that “realistic” female travelers were never featured on Instagram. I talked about how you always see skimpy outfits — hello woman bashing…from someone who likes to think she is pro-woman — and how feature accounts never feature diverse people (this isn’t true because there are a TON of different types of feature accounts). After I vented about there not being many “real women” out there, my friend Carlinn commented and I have never been the same.
I had known Carlinn from Instagram for years. We “grew up” together because we started around the same time. Her account @campsbaygirl is focused and stunning travel photos and she is based out of South Africa so a lot of her work is African based which I love because you don’t get to see enough of it. I 100% considered her a friend and I always commented on her work and she commented on mine. I loved her work.
Carlinn gently commented on my rant and reminded me that she actually always wears dresses and skirts. She likes wearing swimsuits that show off the figure she works so hard for. She goes on safaris in skirts and hikes in hats and none of this make her any less of a woman than me or anyone else who decided to hike in hiking shoes and pants. (Of course, she put it more eloquently and kindly than this but this was the gist.)
I was instantly taken aback. All of these anti-women sentiments I was spouting was like I was saying them directly to a friend. To her face! In person! I imagined that I was sitting with Carlinn saying you aren’t worthy of reposts because your (real) life is unrealistic compared to what I think it should be. Who the hell was I to judge her and her photos? Since that day I have changed the way I thought about everything. I have set out to never bash another woman again. To never call a woman “unrealistic” just because she isn’t my version of realistic.
I’ve never told Carlinn that her sweet and simple words made such an impact on me. She will find out from reading this post and I want to thank her for making me a nicer and more tolerant person. She shouldn’t have had to and I should have always been, but I wasn’t and here we are. I hope you can learn why discussing women’s bodies and the things they decide to put on them is a negative idea just because it doesn’t align with what we think someone should do when traveling.
Note: This article is NOT to say that it is okay to dress provocatively in a conservative country or in front of temples, mosques, churches etc. I HAVE seen it done and consistently see it happen and this is not okay. Totally still wear a dress, but wear a conservative one and respect the country and location you are visiting!
Here are my 5 reasons to stop hating on “the Instagram girl”:
#1. She is a Person Too and She is Worthy
First and foremost, she is a person too! When you want to post a rant about the “unrealistic” girls on Instagram on your Facebook or in a group, stop, wait, and consider if you would say this to their face. Would you sit one of these women down and tell them, to their face, all the things you are about to rant about online? From my experience, I 100% would never and I don’t think you should either. Pretend like you are going to say these things to her face and then proceed based like that.
As long as the women in question aren’t doing anything illegal or scamming people, that makes their only crime looking a way you don’t personally like (and you don’t ever have to) and dressing and taking photos a certain way. This woman has feelings. She has a reason. She is worthy and certainly undeserving of our judgment and hate simply because she wants to wear a straw hat and hike in a dress and haul balloons on the subway and we don’t.
It is SO easy to be negative and annoyed because you aren’t represented online. It is a big problem! But don’t talk negatively about the women who are succeeding. We should have their back. We should support them in their success even if it isn’t what we personally wear or look like. And most importantly, we should remember that they are people with feelings and thoughts and hopes and dreams too. This is not to say you can never vent your frustrations about Instagram, but check yourself and make sure they don’t tear down your fellow woman first.
#2. Just Because YOU Don’t Hike in a Skirt Doesn’t Mean it is Unrealistic or Bad
As a Floridian, I live in shorts and dresses pretty much all year round. Before I went to India, I would wear hiking pants and jeans on trips. After India, which I bought a whole new wardrobe for, you guessed it, Instagram photos, I had a whole host of amazing Maxi dresses that I now wear everywhere! Maxi dresses are my jam! With leggings under them, they can be worn in the cold. I wear them to Disney, to church, during my travels, on flights, I even had a skirt custom made and wore it when I spoke at the New York Times Travel Show.
Even before this, I would carry multiple wedding dresses on my back and change once I got to a location for my photoshoots for @followmeaway. Sometimes I would hike in a dress so it is entirely possible. Now I wear hiking shoes with a dress and it is so comfy and much cooler than pants or jeans! I even shoot photoshoots of my own where I am on the ground in dresses.
Just because you (or I) don’t hike in dresses does not make it unrealistic or bad. It doesn’t make that woman vapid or stupid or an “idiot.” There are millions of women (and men) around the world who wear dresses or skirts for cultural reasons. Consider traditional Islamic women, Amish women, conservative Christian women……these are just a few groups of women who may choose to live their daily lives 100% in long skirts and dresses and do just fine. Not all women in these groups choose to only wear skirts or long flowing pants, but many do, a few such women that I even personally know! By saying hiking in a dress or long skirt is stupid we are essentially calling entire groups of women stupid and unrealistic!
When I was in the Andes in Peru we were in such a remote area that a local told us about that didn’t even exist on Google Maps and we were met by a woman at 17,000 feet at a ruin older than Machu Picchu and her little daughter holding a dead alpaca. Guess what this woman was wearing? A skirt. Guess where she was? On top of a damn mountain. Guess how it impacted her? It did not impact her at all! Skirts and dresses are traditional Peruvian clothing and she did just fine.
Before we critique someone behind their back (or to their face) let us try and remember that it is quite realistic to hike in skirts. Just because we feel we may not be able to for whatever reason doesn’t mean someone else can’t. We would never bash a “traditionally” religious or culturally aware woman for climbing a ruin or hiking in a long outfit and we shouldn’t bash the women on Instagram either for doing the same exact thing.
#3. Consider That This May Be A Job That Makes Her Money
When I went on my very first trip abroad to Europe before I was even on Instagram, I walked around in maxi dresses in the heat of Rome and Florence. Some people just like dresses. Some women wear them for comfort, cultural reasons, or whatever reason they choose.
BUT, some women on Instagram wear dresses because it is our job. I used to wear hiking pants in all the photos too because that is mainly what I did. Cue India last year when I bought a whole wardrobe for India specifically (I live in those dresses now, haha) and my photos have never done better. Cue Iceland, when I bought a $90 skirt for the job. Did I wear that skirt all around Iceland? No, I sure did not. But did I put that skirt on over my pants and take off my jacket to reveal my top simply to get a photo for Instagram? You betcha I did!
Why? Because this is my job and photos of girls in skirts just do better on Instagram. Love it, hate it, it is what it is. Why would I go take photos of me in hiking pants in Iceland when they can do okay when I can throw on a skirt for the photos and they can do epic?! It is just a smart business move!
Many of the “Instagram girls” you see on the gram are running their own business of which they are the product. Why would they do something such as post photos in “realistic” gear when it just does so much worse than them in a flowy dress in a location? I have actually polled my followers before and 80% voted for flowy dresses over realistic clothing.
Yes, it can get annoying when we look to Instagram and we don’t see ourselves represented. But we should try and reframe this mindset and instead remember that for 99% of successful “Instagram girls” Instagram is a job! It pays the bills. And pretty dresses are a simple part of the job. Lately, I have tried to stop taking Instagram so personally. Do what works. Put on that dress or wear that hat or look away from the camera. It is a business no need to get emotional over it! And most importantly, consider that there may be a savvy businesswoman behind this all!
#4. A Damn Lot Of Work Goes Into Creating These Photos
Would you talk negatively about an entire group of hard-working business owners? Maybe you would but you probably would NOT do it in the way most of us have talked about “Instagram girls” before. We should ALL stop spreading negativity about these women for the reasons above and because a whole damn lot of work goes into creating these photos just for us to say they are “unrealistic” or “stupid.” How would you like to paint a beautiful painting or knit something super cool for someone to tell you it was just terrible and dumb?
Take my friend Tina from @ofleatherandlace, for example. Tina’s work is pure art and a ton of work goes into it. You can look at her work and be like “omg how wasteful she had to buy five boxes of pizza for this stupid photo.”
What you don’t know is Tina bought her own pizza which she ate and asked for four other empty boxes. You also wouldn’t know that Tina spent time and effort to get partnerships with dress and gown companies in the city she is visiting. You wouldn’t know the hours of work she spent photoshopping out ugly lights and outlets in the image. You wouldn’t see all the time Tina put into making sure her shot was just right as she took her own photos with a tripod. All you would see is the finished product and you would remark how wasteful and unrealistic this all was. What a way to show Tina appreciation for the art she created, ammirite?!
Now, Tina creates art in each and every image. What about those of us that don’t do quite the extent of work she does? What about your “generic” girl on Instagram in yet another flowy dress in front of yet another monument or pretty door? Let me break it down for you because I have been that girl!
First, I agonize for months over what dresses are going to look good in that location. I scour the internet for something affordable. I know these photos have to look good not only on Instagram but on my blog and pins on Pinterest which are my real money makers. Once I pick my outfits for the trip, I have to choose the various locations. Then, once I arrive, I actually have to make it a point to go to those locations. We have to choose the best time of day to photograph so the location doesn’t look hideous.
We have to get up at 5 am to visit so there aren’t a billion other tourists and so someone doesn’t complain that we “shouldn’t get people in a shot.” I have to choose which outfit to wear on what day and in front of what monument. We have to go to the locations for the photos while I lug all the outfits and wear one and my boyfriend lugs all the camera gear. When we get home, we have to choose the photos we want out of the hundreds we took. He has to edit them. I have to spend 30-60 minutes crafting a unique caption, tagging, hashtagging, and posting the image. And for what? For someone like my past self to complain about me on the internet?
Now, this isn’t to say that this happens a lot of times, but how do you, dear reader, know when I do hours and hours of work vs when Terrence and I see an amazing shot in passing and he tells me to jump in and I do. How can we tell the difference between a shot someone spent 5 hours planning and shooting and editing versus a shot that literally took 30 seconds to create because we “happened upon it.” The real answer is we really can’t.
And there lies my whole entire point that we should respect the amount of time and effort that goes into these businesses. That goes into this art. That goes into these small women-owned companies. Because at the end of the day, that is exactly what is happening.
#5. Keep in Mind That it is OUR FAULT This Content is so Prevalent
Why do people do anything in business? Because it gets a reaction and people like it. Before you, as I do, go out and complain about the circumstances on Instagram and the type of content that is more widely created, ask yourself if you follow that content too. If you DO NOT follow that content at all, then sure, rant away. But if you DO follow some of us (and if you are reading this you may already be following me) keep in mind that you are helping perpetuate this type of content. This isn’t exactly BAD, but those of us who wear skirts and sun hats and look away in every photo do so simply because they garner the best reactions online. When they STOP getting the best reactions, a lot of this content may transform or disappear, especially for women who do this as a business as opposed to women like Carilnn or myself who wear these clothes quite often.
This is NOT to say you can’t champion for more representation. But go out there and look for it. Follow a diverse type of traveler and not just one niche. Keep in mind that your likes and your interaction keep this trend going. The more people you follow in a similar niche and the more people you like with these photos, the longer it will go on for. Don’t get me wrong, I love love love these photos. They are artistic and pretty and I will 100% like them. But I too am continuing this culture. If you don’t like the culture, you have the power to start the change. Every person’s impact is valuable.
But please, I beg you to not like and engage with tons of accounts you follow and tell these women how awesome their content is only to turn around on Facebook and complain about them and what they do when your likes and attention are a huge part of why this content succeeds.
If it makes you feel down or if you feel like you want more representation, then seek it out! I recently did a set of Instagram stories where I featured diverse travelers. I featured body positive travelers, older travelers, LGBT travelers, black travelers, differently abled travelers, and chronically ill travelers. I reached out to friends to ask them for suggestions that I could include and almost no one knew anyone in any of these areas to suggest. Many admitted they were sorry they didn’t know but told me they would LOVE to find people.
Do you know what I did? I shared the ones that I already knew about and then researched and found my own inspiring accounts in these categories to share! People loved it, but I am a little sad to say that when I shared these accounts vs when I share accounts of “Instagram girls” that I want to suggest, guess which one gets triple the clicks and follows? You guessed it. This is NOT a bad thing, it is simply what content does well on Instagram and what people like. It just makes me a little upset that people clamor to follow these accounts (mine included) and yet when I share diverse accounts that people supposedly want there are crickets in comparison.
As I mentioned above, I polled my followers on @followmewaytravel and asked if they wanted more “realistic” (so to speak) travel photos or if they preferred the long skirts and flowy dresses. I was 100% ready to switch it up because I am a business and what my viewers say is the most important to me. And guess what? 80% of people said they wanted skirts. People said they loved the more magical and dreamy photos versus the more “normal” ones (what is normal, anyway, besides a setting on the dryer) and so every since I have obliged. That isn’t to say that I haven’t included some Iceland photos of me in hiking pants. But the majority of photos that KILL IT on my Instagram are me in a dress with my hair down and facing away from the camera.
If it is what the people want then why shouldn’t I give it to them? Instead of posting a public rant about hating this type of content (like I did!) consider reframing what you follow. Unfollow those accounts. Unfollow me. Follow accounts that make you sing and smile and feel inspired and represented. Please don’t come back with “but you are different your account is different” no, I am really not. I am another girl in a long dress in a pretty location and I beg you to not enforce double standards because I really hate them! Support women by being kind. You can hate on Instagram for sucking, but please remember that your like and follow is the reason we are all here!
If you read it this far, thank you for sticking with me. I hope you learned something. If you have done this before and this article made you feel crappy and a little guilty, I hear you! I was right there with you the day I said those things to Carlinn and she responded. I know how you feel. Now, when I want to post about the “skimpy” swimsuits on my Instagram stories, I remember that some girls like them and just because I don’t doesn’t make them bad! Now, I say these swimsuits aren’t for me! That is fine, but for me putting down an entire group of women who like them and calling myself pro-woman, that is just not okay.
I know it is way easier to say what we think and if you read this and still want to then you do you. It is much harder to reframe the way we do things. I know that because I did it. But if we make positivity and kindness a habit, it will be.
I hope this article made you think. I hope this article will help you reframe your mindset towards women. I hope that the next time you want to post a rant like I did or post about this thing or that thing, you pretend like you are going to sit down and tell that to me, to Tina, to Carlinn. If you wouldn’t tell me to my face (and I’m up for a good debate any day of the week!) then maybe you should simply consider changing what you are going to say or reframing it in a different context. I hope you continue to spread light, positivity, and change on Instagram!
About the Author: Victoria Yore and Terrence Drysdale are the model/photographer duo behind the project Follow Me Away. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find out more about them or follow their globetrotting adventures on their website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.