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“Casual” Instagram and the Death of Aesthetics

by Charlie Zhang

Instagram has been around since 2010. Does it feel like the platform has existed for 12 years? The app has gone through many changes over the years, and we’re now at a point where we can look back and point out trends that have come and gone. 

Back when Instagram first started, aesthetics were a second thought. Then something happened. Instagram became a place for highly curated profiles. Somewhere between 2015 and 2016, nearly every brand showed off their aesthetic content. For a while, this trend seemed like the perfect way for brands to connect with consumers.

But Instagram feels different today: unfiltered photo dumps, memes, messy clips. What happened?

🤷‍♀️ Luxury Became Unrelatable 🤷‍♂️

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people were in lockdown, socializing took a backseat and glitzy influencer-esque content began to dissipate. Instead, photo dumps of our monotonous every day lives instantly became more relatable and compelling.

👀 An Appetite for Authenticity 🥺

Performative Instagram, highly curated content, started to feel inauthentic. Gen Z developed an appetite for content that showed personal moments with their friends with photo dumps that felt spontaneous and "unplanned."

✨ Stories, Reels, TikTok 🤳

Short clips like stories, reels and TikTok videos encouraged people to show effortless content. As these channels became more prominent, they started influencing the visual aesthetic of users' grids.

🤔 What Does This Say About Instagram? 🤔

The aesthetic shift appears more personal and less contrived, but many argue that it’s all but “casual.” Many claim that this trend shows people have actually become more aware of social media habits, and that our efforts to make our feeds look more “casual” is our attempt to forge a curated reality.

🔥 Quote 🔥

“Casual Instagram is an even greater performance… Reality TV is not reality… It is attempting to convince the viewer that what they are watching is, in fact, real life, but it’s not. That is what photo dumps and casual Instagram are.”

— @cozyakili

💫 Takeaways 💫

🤷‍♀️ Luxury content became unrelatable due to the social limitations of the global pandemic.

👀 People developed an appetite for content that looks “effortless” and “candid.”

🤳 The popularity of Stories, Reels and TikTok influenced the look of posts.

🤔 Many argue that Instagram is still performative and that the “casual” trend is just our attempt to forge a curated reality.

In case you missed it, check out our article on Instagram and mental health.

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