Stina Sanders inarguably took a huge risk in agreeing to post ‘honest’ pictures on her Instagram page.
The London-based model and blogger had appeared in campaigns for Nike, Loreal and a number of major brands when she agreed to share the images on her Instagram account for a social experiment.
Sanders began surprising her followers with pictures they were not expecting to see: of herself bleaching facial hair, while she awaited a colonic irrigation to treat her Irritable Bowel Syndrome, with chipped toenails and with unwashed hair.
A world away from her more glamorous shots, they presented a reality rarely seen on social media amid the unattainable standards of perfection constantly perpetuated by edited photos.
And almost immediately after launching the experiment, her followers began to drop away. Sanders lost a total of 5,000 by the official close.
Meet the stars of Instagram
Meet the stars of Instagram
1/10 Charlie Barker
Barker’s following is greater than the combined circulations of Hello! and OK! magazines
2/10 Charlie Barker
Barker says: ‘I wanted to get a tattoo on the palm of my hand and because it was painful I was like, 'what do I believe in enough to get tattooed on my hand for the rest of my life?', and I was like – Hello Kitty’
3/10 Charlie Barker
With a photographic glimpse – or at least suggestion – of a life of colour and attitude, Barker has earned the sort of fame that only exists on Instagram
4/10 Brian Whittaker
Sixteen-year-old Whittaker has a quarter of a million followers
5/10 Brian Whittaker
Whittaker’s style and physique make him popular, but conversations with girls typically end when they ask his age
6/10 Brian Whittaker
An image of Whittaker's dog on Instagram. Whittaker says he has made new friends in real life, and thousands more on Instagram, many of whom he messages
7/10 Olivia Knight-Butler
Twenty-year-old Knight-Butler has 15,000 followers
8/10 Olivia Knight-Butler
Knight-Butler calls her account a channel, and fills it with fashion and lifestyle shots
9/10 Olivia Knight-Butler
Knight-Butler says: ‘There are followers who like my photos without fail, and they're mostly younger girls who want to know about my life.’
10/10 Olivia Knight-Butler
Knight-Butler had eating problems when she was 15 and 16. A need to be best at everything bled into social media and she later had to decide if Instagram was part of the problem or solution
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Sander’s story instantly went viral. Four months on, she has a burgeoning modelling portfolio and continues to blog and post on social media. She also continues to occasionally share ‘honest’ images, whether it be photos of herself hung-over and make-up free or photos showing the parts of her body still affected by acne. But this time, her followers are unfazed and she now has over 112,000 fans on Instagram. The Independent spoke with Sanders about what happened after her story went viral and to find out why she decided to continue the experiment.
What are you up to now?
I'm currently writing a book, which has been a dream of mine since I started blogging. Although I would highly recommend that people don't write a book. It's a strenuous task!
How did the attention garnered by this story going viral affect your career – did you get more or less work because of it?
The experiment has given me a lot of opportunities but the only thing it's really changed is the perception that people had of me before. The stigma of being a model makes a lot of people stand on their back foot with you. I like to think I've challenged that stigma and shown that no-one, including models, is perfect, nor do models think that they are.
Did you have any regrets about the experiment?
I have absolutely none. I found the whole thing liberating and I feel I've highlighted that anyone can suffer from a mental illness - as well as the fakeness and ridiculousness of social media.
After putting those real pictures up, how do you feel about yourself now? Did it improve your confidence?
Putting real photos online was daunting at first but then I had a quiet word with myself and asked myself, 'who doesn't suffer with anxiety, gross feet or look a little bit rough sometimes?' I feel a lot more confident now because I'm not trying to pretend to be something that I'm not.
You still occasionally post these kinds of pictures; ones of you in bed with a hangover; of yourself without make-up. Why did you decide to continue posting these pictures after the experiment finished?
I enjoy posting real images as well as make-up photos, I think the balance is important. Poking fun of yourself and showing off your glad rags is (in my eyes) how social media should be.
How do you feel about social media now?
I'm so glad I did it because the experiment has not only raised important issues like mental health, it's also shown everyone that things aren't quite what they seem.
Does social media promote body positivity, or can it be harmful to self-esteem and confidence?
It depends on how it's used. I think a lot of accounts can be negative - it's not realistic to have a 22-inch waist for the average person. People should accept their body for how it is. I'm an athletic build - I'll never be six ft tall with big boobs. It's important to understand that we're all different and we're all beautiful in our own way, inside and out. Someone will always want something that you have, whether that's external or internal.
Do many accounts reflect reality?
I think celebrities like Lena Dunham and Chrissy Teigen are brilliant in how they portray themselves online. They show a balance in their fun/real side to their lives. Personally, I think that's how everyone should be online.