Meet a new breed of fearless social influencers who are taking Instagram by storm, one post at a time. From the ridiculous to the sublimely artistic, they have the ability to strike a chord with 18,000-48,000 followers
No inhibitions. No filter. No photoshop. Meet the new Instagram generation who dares to bare it all in a country plagued with moral policing. Asking you to be bold, they challenge conventional accepted norms and are creating conversations about issues that continue to be taboo in our country. They dispel loneliness and add colour to boring everyday routines. Finding a way to strike a chord with a population that exists in the world of internet, they are the new divas of virtual life.
From orgasm, foreplay, body parts, to date rape, body shaming and sexuality, she talks about it all. Swara’s* (name changed) account on Instagram has taken these discussions from behind closed doors and put them out in the open.
Suffering from eating disorders and body shaming, she had taken to Instagram in 2015 to talk about her problems. Posting photos with long captions, the 21-year-old initially spoke about body positivity, self-acceptance and asked her followers to be happy with their own bodies. Slowly she started talking about sex education, her personal experiences with her partners and her sexuality through videos added in her highlights. Not holding back, she described in graphic detail the instance where she claims to have been raped at 19 by her date, and disclosed his name as well. However, she has withdrawn the video stating legal reasons.
With over 17,000 followers, she makes good use of the latest add-on, a Q&A feature. Answering varied bold queries of her followers, she makes it clear that she remains undeterred at a time when slut shaming is so rampant. Requesting her name to be changedSwara explains, “I do not use it for receiving appreciation or any kind of validation. Instagram is a safe place for me.”
Another Instagram handle, Brown Girl Gazin is fiercely challenging the conventional narrow standard of Indian beauty. Started by a 21-year-old photographer, Anushka Kelkar, it captures women in the raw without using filters or photoshop, the caption describing their problematic relationship with their body. The posts do not shy away from featuring women with all their scars, acne, body hair and stretch marks, making it relatable for most women across the country.
Growing up, Anushka felt her body was very different from the ‘beautiful’ women she saw on TV and never really felt comfortable with her appearance. “They all looked flawless in a way that I found impossible to replicate—skinny but with curves in all the right places, glowing, fair skin with no blemishes, long hair that never had split ends like mine.” Though she had been an amateur photographer since her first year of college, it was while she did a couple of photo shoots last year that she realised the amount of work that goes behind ‘creating’ that perfection. “When we see images on our feed, we can’t help but compare ourselves to the people and I felt a deep disconnect between the way I saw the women around me, and the way they were portrayed on social media. In order to seem like we are living our best lives, we curate our personalities, thoughts, and insecurities to appear a certain way online,” says Anushka.
Initially she had no clear idea about the format of the page and wanted to create a space for honest portraits of women around her being vulnerable about their bodies. “I wanted to make more representative portraits and openly discuss the kind of pressure that women are routinely put under to fit into a certain kind of beauty standard,” she adds.
Starting in March with over 150 posts she has already garnered more than 6,500 followers. Each of the photographs strives to encourage women to embrace their bodies and makes an attempt to de-construct the accepted beauty standards. In one of the posts, the women featured writes, “To talk about ‘real women’ you need to acknowledge what ‘real women’ can have on their bodies: acne, rough skin, uneven skin, moles, scars, bruises, hair, cellulite, stretch marks and so forth. It’s taken me a while to realise that none of that makes me look ugly.”
Anushka decided to name her account Browngirlgazin as she wanted to allude to the stereotypes and pressures that are often attached to a brown girl. “I wanted to imply that I was the brown girl who was gazing at all the women around me, trying to re-construct my own gaze and understand what it means to be a brown girl.”
She mostly receives overwhelmingly positive responses from her followers. However, the idea of women owning and being proud of their bodies continues to make certain people uncomfortable. She has been subjected to quite a few trolls from angry men. “It can be really demotivating sometimes but it’s also a reminder of the exact reason why I started this project. If this stigma didn’t exist then the project wouldn’t be relevant.”
Grabbing eyeballs with his doodles, here’s another account that is creating quite a stir on Instagram. Samar Khan, the man behind ‘MetroDoodle’ is making mundane metro rides in the city fun with his creative artworks. A software developer by profession, Samar captures photos of unsuspecting travellers while travelling and adds aliens, monsters and other mystical creatures to create unique situations.
A giant pink octopus at Yamuna Bank, a tired Powerpuff girl resting in the metro seats, a panda leaning against another commuter waiting for the train, each of his creations experiments with new ideas and gives a refreshing take on boring subway rides.
Commuting quite some distance regularly for work, he started doodling to kill time. At first, he shared it on his personal account; soon his work soon got featured in other popular pages. Following this, he decided to create a separate handle for it and has over 19,000 followers now. “I do this to spread smiles and to work on my drawing skills in my commute time which would have otherwise gone waste” says Samar.
Posting at least twice every week, it takes him two-three metro rides to complete a work. “The only reason behind creating these on a regular basis was the love I get from people in exchange. I try to put in some sort of humour whenever possible to make it more entertaining for my followers,” Samar adds. His work has led him to collaborate with big brands like Disney, Marvel and Cartoon Network.
Drawing inspiration from several artists, he believes Instagram is the best place to seek motivation. “I have discovered so many amazing artists on Instagram. I randomly go through the explore tab which gives me suggestions of artists and their artworks and I Iove how I find something new and amazing every time.”
While these Instagrammers are using the platform to raise social issues and showcase their talent, there are some who are rising to fame thanks to their unique antics. Deepak Kalal, a man from Pune is a social media star in Kashmir. Calling himself the John Abraham of Kashmir, he talks in a nasal effeminate tone that sets him apart from others.
Occasionally clad in nothing but a towel, the middle-aged man tries talking seductively (fails miserably): it’s his goofiness that has made him a raging hit. In one of the videos he says, “Modiji mein aapko pappi dunga”, in another he claims that Virat Kohli had impregnated him.
Trolled and abused every day, Deepak remains unfazed and has over 48,000 followers. He also claims to have received a call from TV reality show Big Boss and is joining them soonas one of the inmates of the ‘house’.
Explaining how social media sometimes influence the behaviour of people like Deepak, Aarti Anand, a psychologist with 18 years experience says, “These people are sometimes lonely. They behave in such ways so as to catch attention.”
This may not be true for all. In any case, love them or hate them, one just can’t avoid them.