2014 Instagram is shaking in its grave. What used to be a glossy platform home to sausage legs, posed group shots, and meticulously crafted flat lays is now embracing the rise of anti-perfect content. Photo dumps, shitposting, and finstas have all had a part to play in shaking up the social media playground into a more carefree, effortless, and authentic scene — at least that’s what the aesthetic is leading us to believe.
Instagram fatigue is real. And so the lawless, unattainable ideal has taken a 180, and taking its place is content packaged up to be relatable, spur-of-the-moment, and candid — think blurry outfit photos, close-up crying photos, and referential memes. To put it frankly: traditionally ‘bad’ photos are in. The lower the quality, the better; the blurrier, the better.
Pair that with the Y2K resurrection that’s not only infiltrated fashion but photography styles, too: bulky flip-screen video cameras are carried around by YouTuber Emma Chamberlain, and digital flash photography is heralded by the likes of Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa.
The latest step in Instagram’s identity crisis sees a trend that embraces this nonchalant aesthetic while nodding to something else entirely: the farcical nature of social media. The ‘meta selfie’ has slowly crept into our feeds and has made the fake mirror selfie trick look like child’s play. The meta selfie is essentially a photo of a selfie, and it can manifest in many forms. It’s a mirror selfie taken with the front camera interface, creating a vortex of mirror selfies within mirror selfies. It uses another phone’s front camera as a mirror, screenshotting the camera interface with the back camera. Confused? It’s an Inception-esque head-scratcher.
As half the world wraps up their Hot Girl Summer while the other half inches closer to its beginning, there’s been a collective acceptance of self-proclaimed hotness; an unabashed attitude to self-love and feeling hot. Coined by Megan Thee Stallion, a hot girl summer means “women and men being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time, hyping up their friends, doing you.”
This shameless acceptance of selfie culture is perhaps trying to reclaim the narrative that those who take selfies are self-absorbed narcissists. The criticism is typically levelled at young women, who are ridiculed for hobbies involving social media, beauty and fashion.
The popularization of the meta selfie feels like a departure from the effortful and contrived content that influencer fatigue is built on.
And in comes the meta selfie, with its eerie surveillance-type feeling. Pixelated screens, face-identifying yellow frames, and the red record buttons remind viewers that they exist in this microcosm of technology and data. It checks out that Gen Z is then the generation least concerned with companies using their personal data — privacy takes a backseat in comparison to customization and personalization.
This trend says, we’re aware we’re being judged, but we don’t care. It says that we know we’re being watched and that our data is being mined, but we don’t care. It provokes viewers who eye-roll at the selfie generation, but is simultaneously poking fun at how vain it is perceived to be.
It might mark the next step for selfie culture’s new uncharted territory. Once a platform known for fostering body image issues and overly filtered photos (and let’s be honest, it still kind of is), the popularization of the meta selfie feels like a departure from the effortful and contrived content that influencer fatigue is built on.
While people used to go to great lengths to remove camera reflections from mirror selfies, this trend captures the selfie process in its entirety — literally. It comments on the selfie process: we don’t just see the edited and retouched end product; we see the framing, the dozens of shots it takes to get 'the one', and fingers hovering over camera buttons.
Sure, social media might be eating itself, but we were never going to be sustained on a diet of dry, overly polished, monotonous content anyway.