Presenting the ideal body: narratives of Instagram engagement by a group of African Black women
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Instagram is a photo-sharing social network application that allows users to share pictures and short videos, also enabling its users to upload and share photos on other social network sites (SNSs). It is currently the fastest-growing SNS worldwide, as a result of its popularity among young adults. This study aims to conduct a phenomenological exploration into the motivations behind Instagram engagement, the lived experiences of young Black African women who engage with Instagram and the reasons behind presenting the ideal body on Instagram. The study also seeks to gain an in-depth understanding of the lived experiences of these young women and their experiences of portraying their ideal bodies on Instagram. The theoretical foundations used in this study are phenomenology, social constructivist and interpretivist thinking, existential sociology, the dramaturgical theory, feminism, as well as intersectionality thinking. These theoretical frameworks guide the study to explore the participants’ experiences through their own individual experiences. Therefore, the focus of this study is on how these participants experience their lifeworld (lived reality) on Instagram and how they socially construct their identity and femininity on Instagram. This study’s research participants comprised young Black women between the ages of 18 and 29 years of age, enrolled at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein campus. All of these participants are upwardly mobile and active users of Instagram. The data collection for this study is semi-structured indepth interviews, with the aim being to obtain rich descriptions of the participants’ narratives. Furthermore, the purpose of this study is to present findings in such a way in order to maintain the voices of the participants. The findings of this study explore the lived experiences of young Black women through their narratives. It seeks to discover the reasons behind each woman’s engagement with Instagram and how it can influence her self-perception and body image. The findings explore how Instagram can influence how participants present the self when engaging with the SNS. Self-presentation is an aspect of this study that illustrates how an individual tends to present the better version of the self, namely the ‘ideal self’. This is influenced by an individual being able to create an identity suited to her virtual identity on Instagram by using an individual’s username, profile photo and bio; all of these contribute to the construction of an individual’s virtual identity. This online identity used by the individual results in her being identity-conscious on Instagram, thus she wants to be seen looking at her best at all times. However, this version of the self by an individual on Instagram is not necessarily an accurate reflection of her identity in reality. The individual is omitting certain aspects of her identity, which can be seen as presenting a fake identity, thus not the real or actual self (Lindahl and Ӧhlund 2013). Furthermore, the findings of this study explore the experiences of femininity—how each participant experiences her body uniquely and how this influences her relationship with her body. Also, it explores their experiences with beauty and how African beauty standards have evolved and being renegotiated over the years. Lastly, the study explores the shared online experiences that create a sense of belonging to the virtual community. The community of users offers various experiences. It can either be positive experiences where an individual feels a connection with other users by sharing her personal experiences or the individual may not share her personal experiences.