Step out of your comfort zone for better images


October 9, 2022

In his latest column for AP, nature photographer Marsel van Oosten reveals how facing his fears and leaving his comfort zone led to success

I often hear that I have a very recognisable style. When asked what it is, people often use words like ‘simple’, ‘clean’, ‘graphic’, ‘uncluttered’, and even ‘sterile’. I agree with all those words because they perfectly describe the artistic form that I am trying to create in my work.

As a photographer, you not only need to decide what you want to photograph but also how you want to photograph it. Every photographer has his own preferred way of shooting – one that gives the best and most pleasing results. For me, that means simple, clean, graphic and uncluttered images. As a result, I always find myself drawn to subjects with a strong, graphic shape, in a habitat with as little distractions and visual clutter as possible. For that reason, I prefer photographing deserts over grasslands, and dead trees over live ones. I didn’t always know this.

Golden snub-nosed monkeys, Qinling Mountains, Shaanxi, China Nikon D810, AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, 1/125sec at f/11, ISO 3200 leave your comfort zone for better images

Golden snub-nosed monkeys, Qinling Mountains, Shaanxi, China. Nikon D810, AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, 1/125sec at f/11, ISO 3200

If you have a particular style, it’s usually the result of certain preferences you have as an artist. Then, once you’re very comfortable with that style, you become extremely efficient and almost go into autopilot. Everything is easy because you’re in an environment that fits your photographic style, so you immediately know what to do. You work fast and efficiently and become very productive. Whereas if you’re suddenly in an environment that you are not very familiar with, or even dislike, that’s a whole different ball game.

Abandoning the comfort zone

Many years ago, my wife Daniella and I went on a trip to Costa Rica. We both love the wilderness and a rainforest is as wild as it gets. I had just started in photography and was excited to photograph the wildlife. But, as much as I enjoyed the experience, I wasn’t inspired to take any photographs. I checked my Lightroom catalogue to see how many images I shot on that trip: ten. It was a pivotal moment in my development as a photographer as it forced me to figure out why I was not inspired. Conclusion: too much visual clutter.

Self-portrait in Shaanxi, China, at the exact location where Marsel van Oosten shot the award-winning ‘The Golden Couple’ image

Self-portrait in Shaanxi, China, at the exact location where Marsel van Oosten shot the award-winning ‘The Golden Couple’ image

For the next ten years I stayed far away from forests. The ‘cleaner’ the landscape, the more inspired and happier I was. But, after a while, my decision started bothering me. Every now and then I saw beautiful images taken by other photographers in dense forests and realised that I was running away from a challenge. Years later, I saw a very bad photograph of golden snub-nosed monkeys, in a brochure, somewhere in China.

They were the most fascinating looking monkeys I’d ever seen, and when I learned that they were endangered I knew I had to photograph them. Lichens are the main staple of the monkeys’ diet, and dead trees have the greatest lichen coverage. Unfortunately, those are being taken by the timber industry. The monkeys are also eaten by the local population. Anyhow, the problem was: they live in dense forests.

I absolutely love forests from a nature-loving perspective, but a forest is nothing but clutter. For the first time in my career, I had to think long and hard about how to face my fears, and how I could overcome my ‘clutter-phobia’. No more relying on intuition… it was time to get way out of my comfort zone.

Golden snub-nosed monkey with baby Nikon D810, AF-S VR 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, 1/250sec at f/5.6, ISO 160

Golden snub-nosed monkey with baby. Nikon D810, AF-S VR 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, 1/250sec at f/5.6, ISO 160

In an effort to get control over the immense clutter in the backgrounds, I decided to use a polariser to limit the amount of reflections off the leaves, and to use flash to create separation between the subjects and the forest behind them. Flash enabled me to control the ambient lighting and get sufficient light on the monkeys while, at the same time, being able to underexpose the backgrounds using polarisers, decreasing the amount of reflections.

This proved to be the recipe for my project, and many of the images I shot there are among my favourites. One of them even won me the grand title Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Had I decided to stick to my standard routines, and comfortably continue on autopilot, this would never have happened. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Marsel van Oosten at work in China step out of your comfort zone

Marsel van Oosten at work in China

As told to Steve Fairclough

Featured image: ‘The Golden Couple’, overall winner in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2018. Nikon D810, AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, 1/320sec at f/8, ISO 1600

Marsel van Oosten

Marsel van Oosten was born in The Netherlands and worked as an art director for 15 years. He switched careers to become a photographer and has since won Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Travel Photographer of the Year. He’s a regular contributor to National Geographic and runs nature photography tours around the world. Visit

Further reading

Whether you’re new to wildlife and nature photography or looking to improve your skills, we have plenty of tips and techniques to help you on your way. Take a look here.

See more of Marsel van Oosten’s columns:

You need better backgrounds

Why scale is important

How to pre-visualise a photograph

Making the most of bad weather

Why planning is important in photography

Why you should photograph wildlife at low angles

Follow AP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.



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The Art of Place in Space


Bruce Presents Astrophotography – Virtual Zoom Webinar 

The night sky has long held us captive with its beauty and wonders, only to disappear with the coming of the sun. But photography, beginning with the first pictures of the Moon in the 1800s, has enabled us to see into the dark reaches of space, capturing a moment that can be shared anytime. Advances in photographic technologies have given way to Astrophotography, the imaging of astronomical objects, celestial events, or areas of the night sky. Modern Astrophotography is not only dazzling to behold, but also provides important data and research support on objects invisible to the human eye such as dim stars, nebulae, or galaxies. 


Reservations at


Carina Nebula, photo by NASA’s James Webb Telescope


Support for Bruce Presents is generously provided by Berkley One. Learn more here




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Cancer survivor continues passion for photography and enjoying life


PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) – Lorain Fought – or “Rain” as she prefers to be called – is a four-time breast cancer survivor, two of those times with breast cancer and she is currently battling lung cancer.

Despite the many different bouts with this disease, Rain doesn’t let any of this stop her from continuing to enjoy her life.

As she continues to take up many of her passions, including one that has garnered her both local and national attention.

“I just don’t want to sit around the house,” says Fought. “I want to do something. I got to keep busy. I want to enjoy everything that’s on this Earth, one way or the other.”

After multiple fights with cancer, Fought is not letting this disease wear her down.

She continues many of her passions. One of them being photography.

Something she got back into when she got on Facebook and her friends told her how good she is at it.

Fought says, “And I’m like, ‘You know, maybe a calendar. Maybe make a calendar.’”

And since then, Rain has been churning out a calendar almost every year.

Rain says she provides roughly 150 calendars each year and they go out fast, as people love her wildlife photos.

“I love wildlife. I love nature. I love everything, I think,” says Fought. “So, I’ll go out in the woods and like – for this calendar here – some of the pictures, I sat for probably 10 hours.”

Rain’s photos are not just for calendar use though.

As her work has been featured on many publications and media. Both locally and nationally.

“And I’ve been published in ‘Birds and Bloom,’ ‘Wild and Wonderful West Virginia,’ the bird digest out in Marietta. Also, the Chicago Tribune, the Columbus News,” says Fought.

Rain says that the calendars are also more than a hobby, as she uses these for herself to track her treatments.

“If you look through mine, which you did, you’d see CAT scans, doctor appointments, blood work. You’d see all of those appointments in there,” says Fought. “And I know people do it on their phones, but I’m old school. I use a calendar.”

Fought says that the photos found in these calendars will also be used in “thank you,” “get well,” and other greeting cards at Memorial Health Systems.


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The Most Interesting Photography Blog In The World


The Top Ten Aaron Reed Photography Blogs of All Time

Is Aaron Reed’s Fine Art Photography Blog the most interesting of all time? Do you think blogs are a waste of your time? No one reads blogs anymore right? If you answered yes to any of these questions you need to heed the famous words of ICE CUBE and Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself.

Currently, roughly 409 million internet users read about 20 million blog pages monthly. 53% of marketers prioritize blogging as their primary content marketing strategy. When it comes to fine art photography, EVERYONE knows Aaron Reed is the business, even the most interesting man in the world.

Searching through an extensive catalog of blog posts can be quite boring though, so I have gone the extra mile (I’m always looking out for you guys) and have created this list of my top ten photography blog posts of all time. No time to read? Too Tired? No problem, I’d be happy to read them to you for $250 an hour. Call it the worlds most expensive bedtime story.

Okay, without further ado, the moment you have all been waiting for, here is my top ten list as determined by you, the sad lonely people who actually read my blog posts.

Let There Be Light

A wildfire sunset climbs up the forgotten walkways of the emerald temple of Kirkjufellsfoss in Iceland. Shrouds of whitewater trickle past jeweled gardens of moss on their way to the frigid plain of the open ocean. Fine Art Limited Edition of 50.

1. Fine Art America? I Don’t Think So.

Fine Art America is a POD (Print On Demand) company and online marketplace that sells the work of more than 500,000 artists around the world. Fine Art America offers various forms of art including wall art, prints, posters, tapestries and apparel. Have you been looking for a shower curtain with a boat powered by butterfly wingsfor your newly renovated bathroom? You got it! A rainbow zebra coffee mug? Of course you can, go treat yourself!

2. Aspen Tree or Birch?

Where do we come from? What is the meaning of life? Is it an aspen tree or a birch? These are the questions that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time. Without a doubt, both are beautiful trees, loved by nature photographers, hikers and all seekers of fall color around the country. But what is the difference? Is it the way they taste? The sound that each makes when they fall in the forest and no one is there to hear their cries? Let’s dig a little and see if we can find out.

On Earth, As It Is In Heaven

The whites and ingidos of an alpine meadow of lupine mirror the crags and glaciers of Mount Rainier National Park’s eponymous peak. The highest summit in the Pacific Northwest, the dormant volcano slumbers peacefully beneath the quiet grandeur of a midsummer sunset. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100.

3. What Are Peter Lik Style Prints?

In reality, there is simply no such thing as Peter Lik Style Prints. There are acrylic face-mounted photography prints, produced by thousands of photographers around the world and there are acrylic face-mounted photography prints produced by artist Peter Lik. These truths are separate from each other, as one style does not belong to the other.

4. Ansel Adams | Black and White Photography

Ansel Easton Adams (February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984) was a landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West. He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers advocating “pure” photography which favored sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph.

The Vortex

The desert sun shines down through an iridescent portal in one of Antelope Canyon’s famous slot canyons. Over the eons, the solid rock has begun to take on the shape of the wild rivers which have carved their way through it. Fine Art Limited Edition of 50.

5. Imitation Is Not The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Flattery, is often used in a dishonest way, as a means to achieve what someone wants for themselves. An employee, hoping for a promotion, may compliment the bosses new suit. A waitress, may use flattery to increase the chances of being tipped. Even laughter, when used correctly can flatter and therefore influence a person’s opinion of you.

6. My Scandalous Affair With The Sony A7RIV

As described in my previously released, highly debated and riot inciting story about the FUJI GFX100 and Sony A7RIV, I explained my history with the Canon EOS system and a little bit about myself as a landscape photographer. I have been a Canon shooter since I began my adventure with photography, beginning with a Canon 40D, then a 50D, a 5D2, a 5D3 and finally a 5DSR.

Heavens Gate

The gnarled branches of a Japanese maple spread forth a flaming crown in a sculpted garden in Portland, Oregon. Beside a tranquil pond, the winding footpaths and soft beds of moss are scattered with the gold and crimson stars from this dazzling display. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100.

7. How To Light Artwork In Your Home

You have a fair amount of choices when it comes to lighting, each having its own set of benefits and considerations. The best lighting enhances the artwork, without distracting from the rest of the decor in your room. Before we go any further, lets discuss the various types of lighting available to you.

8. Creating A Custom Las Vegas Photography Gallery

Since then, Helga & Vlajko have continued to add even more fine art pieces of mine to their collection. Now with 35 total pieces of mine on the walls of their home that really does rival any Las Vegas fine art gallery. Please have a look below at some of their choices for this project!

Echoes Of Fall

A tangled web of skeletal branches lace together the ashen trunks of a grove of aspen near Leavenworth, Washington. Unfazed as yet by the chill of winter, the fiery hues of the autumn undergrowth bleed through a hush of fog. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100.

9. The Great American Landscape Painters

Many landscape photographers today, including myself, have found beauty and inspiration in the works of these masters. The composition, light and overall mood created in many of these paintings hold the same allure to landscape photographers of today. Please read on to learn more about the Hudson River School, the movement itself and more about three of the painters who helped cement these works into history.

10. The Best Fine Art Print Mediums Explained

These days, you can have your photographs printed onto almost anything. Care to see your photos printed on a natural plank of wood freshly cut from a tree? No problem. A slab of cold steel? You betcha. How about a t-shirt, coffee cup or a backpack? Consider it done my friend.


You did it!! You have officially wasted a signification portion of your day today reading this blog post and I just want to say thank you! Now grab another cutoff coffee and get back to work!!!


The bleached skeleton of a leafless tree weathers the cold chill of a desert valley in Zion National Park. The rosy sandstone, vibrant even in the depths of winter, bleeds through the spider’s web of bare branches. Fine Art Limited Edition of 50.


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The Rainbow Mountain at Paria Utah under the Milky Way – David Lane Astrophotography


Once you click on the image it may take 15 seconds or more to render!

What some have come to call the Rainbow Mountain is at Old Paria, or Pahreah, which is a ghost town on the Paria River in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in central Kane County, Utah, United States. It was inhabited from 1870 to 1929, and later used as a filming location. it’s on Highway 89 between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona. Although a regular vehicle can make this drive rather easily do not attempt it if rain is in the forecast or if it has rained recently. The road turns into an impassible slime pit for hours.

Paria is one of the oddest places on earth. If you like geology, you are going to LOVE Paria! There are more colored layers of rock here than you can shake a stick at. Here you can see the layers of the area that were laid down in beautiful colors over millions of years. Many other places you can see bits and pieces of the rock layers, here they are all exposed in one spot to gape at.

The Outlaw Josey Wales was filmed with Clint Eastwood here in the 1970s. There was a cool old town till some dimwits burned it down about 10 years ago,

80 images cropped a bit. a very large panorama! Once you click on the image it may take 15 seconds or more to render!


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Fujifilm announce INSTAX SQUARE Link Smartphone Printer


Fujifilm has just announced the release of the INSTAX SQUARE Link Smartphone Printer. This new compact printer has been designed to be 100% portable, and the small size and light weight mean that it will easily slip into a large coat or bag pocket, so that it’s there and ready to printing whenever and wherever you are. 

The new printer is part of the growing and popular line of Link Smartphone printers and creates INSTAX SQUARE format instant prints that are 1.5 times the size of the INSTAX mini. 

As well as the new size in print, the printer packs in various unique features designed to inspire creativity. A new AR (Augmented Reality) print and INSTAX Connect enable smartphone users to create truly individual prints in completely new ways. 

As with previous models of the INSTAX printers, plenty of creative options can be reached through the APP. These enable you to add frame templates and digital stickers as well as giving you access to different print mode options.

The App is fully compatible with Android and Apple phones and can be downloaded and installed for free. 

The new AR feature is the leading ticket with this new printer, and enables AR special effects, text, images, background colours, doodles and animations to be added. It works by placing a QR code on the photo, unlocking the AR potential.

As ever, INSTAX can also utilise popular smartphone apps using the SQUARE Link App. This enables users to share INSTAX images digitally and again allows the ability to add text and effects before sending them to connected devices. 

Along with the special print features comes two print mode options. INSTAX-Rich Mode for deep enriched colours and INSTAX-Natural mode for a more classic look. 

The image on Smartphones can also be enhanced with art filters or more traditional development techniques. 

Shin Udono, Senior Vice President, Imaging Solutions, FUJIFILM Europe, said:

“Designed with instant photography and smartphone printing fans in mind, we are excited about introducing the new INSTAX SQUARE Link. The new SQUARE Link combines everything existing customers love about the existing Link formats, now in a SQUARE format – with exciting new features including AR Print and INSTAX Connect, presenting even more options for users to connect, customise, and share images.”

For more details check out the INSTAX SQUARE Link Printer page at


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The Human-Nature Relationship | Vogue


Eleonora Strano

Eleonora Strano is a Franco-Italian photographer based in France. Her work explores themes such as isolation and invisibility whether it is geographical, cultural, environmental, social, political or visual. Her images are often imprinted by nostalgia, memory and time. In 2019, her work was exhibited at Espace de l’Art Concret in Mouans-Sartoux, as part of “Des marches, démarches” curated by FRAC PACA, and has been part of Jeune Création in Romainville, Circulation(s) in Paris and the 37th edition of the Festival international de mode, de photographie et d’accessoires in Hyères. She was nominated as one of the 31 women photographers to watch for in 2019 by the British Journal of Photography, one of the 250 photographers of 2020 by the PhMuseum, and has been listed as one of the 150 emerging European photographers of 2021 by GUP Magazine. Eleonora Strano is a member of Eyes on Talents, Hans Lucas, Women Photograph and Blink, and works in the South of France. In parallel to her work with the media as a photojournalist, she develops artistic projects among which is a photographic commission launched by Université Côte d’Azur in Nice, Villa Arson and Académie 5 about biocontrol. She is currently working on her next project about shipwrecks, memory and the Anthropocene in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon for which she was the recipient of the BnF grant Radioscopie de la France.


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HII rich region in Norma


HII rich region in Norma in HaRGB

This very interesting region in Norma contains many HII features as well as many other interesting objects. Below you can see an annotated version with the most clearly visible objects identified, except for the HII region in the bottom left corner. I couldn’t find out what this is called, so if anyone knows please let me know in the comments below
Somehow these objects and this fov get rarely imaged, which made it all the more interesting for me to try and get a nice image out of this.

HII rich region Norma - annotated

Most eye catching are the RCW objects, which are different types of objects. Let’s have a more detailed look at each of them.

RCW 103 Supernova Remnant


RCW 103 is the brightest region of hydrogen gass in this image. It is a supernova remnant of a star that went supernova around 2000 years ago at a distance of 9000 light years from earth.
It (probably) has a very interesting neutron star in the center: This might very well be the slowest rotating pulsar we currently know of.
“The source exhibits properties of a highly magnetized neutron star, or magnetar, yet its deduced spin period is thousands of times longer than any pulsar ever observed.”

RCW 104 and Wolf-Rayet 75

RCW104 annotated

Wolf-Rayet stars are extremely hot stars. Their surface temperatures range from 30,000 K to around 200,000 K, hotter than almost all other stars. They have broad spectra, but lack in hydrogen. They cause strong stellar winds, thus shaping their environment and feeding it with material.
In this case we can see such a star (WR 75) in the middle of the HII region known as RCW 104 which is shaping and ionizing the surrounding hydrogen gass.

RCW 106


RCW 106 is a cloud of hydrogen gass and dust. In fact, it contains so much dust that much of hydrogen gass and a lot of stars are hidden from sight in the visible light. RCW 106 contains some very massive O-type stars. These stars (probably) form in the most dense areas of the gass and dust cloud and they live only briefly. They burn through their fuel in tens of millions of years.

RCW 102


RCW102 is another interesting gass cloud that’s a mixture of ionised hydrogen gass and dust. Neighbouring RCW 102 we can find the bright planetary nebula RCW101, Menzel 3 or the ‘Ant Nebula’.

RCW 101, also known as Menzel 3 and the Ant Nebula

Menzel 3 is a young bipolar planetary nebula that is composed of a bright core and four distinct high-velocity outflows. It is expanding at a rate of 50km/s and located at around 8000 lightyears from earth.

PN Mz3 - Ant nebula

Open star clusters

There are numerous Open Clusters like NGC6115, Ruprecht 116, Ruprecht 176, Pismis22 and many more.
Ruprecht 176

Pismis 22

NGC 6115

Planetary nebulae

Apart from the Ant nebula there are two more planetary nebulae that can be seen in this image. They are Pe1-4 and WRAY 17-74.


Acquisition details

Image taken with monochrome Nikon D600 on a APM107/700 with Riccardi reducer and modified Nikon D600 on a TS Quadruplet 480/80, mounted on Fornax 51 and guided with MGEN.

Ha 22x12min ISO400
RGB 20x12min ISO400

Location: Astrofarm Kiripotib, Namibia


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A Farm at Eagles Ridge Wedding | Alec & Chelsea



It was my last wedding of the season and I can’t imagineeee a better wedding to end it with than Alec & Chelsea and their sunshiny hearts!! Spend just five minutes with them and you’ll know what I mean. They’re the kind of couple you just love from the moment you meet them. They’re genuine, kind-hearted, full of joy, and appreciators of the little details in life. <3 Watching Chelsea float around on her wedding day as the happiest human ON EARTH filled my whole heart!

Alec & Chelsea! Thank you for trusting me with these memories and for making my 2019 wedding season end on the perfect note!! One that I’ll never forget. I’m truly so grateful for your trust in me to capture this day. <3

Getting in touch with the best fake tan ireland, to look extraordinary on the wedding day can also be one of the highlights of the ceremony.

Enjoy a few of my favorites from this beautiful Farm at Eagles Ridge wedding full of so much love and be sure to read more of Alec & Chelsea’s love story here! Xo

Vendor Credits:
Photographer | Caroline Logan Photography
Second Shooter | Vanessa Shenk
Planner | Planned Perfection
Venue | Farm at Eagles Ridge
Floral & Event Design | Petals with Style
DJ | 3 West Entertainment
Hair & Makeup Artist | The Bonafide Ginger
Rentals | Treasured Events
Invitations | Minted
Wedding Gown | Country Way Bridal
Lighting | Shumaker PDT
Catering | Tasteful Occasions
Cake | Tasteful Occasions

For Photographers: Love creamy skintones & soft colors? Learn to edit light & airy here!


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On Social Media, You Get an ‘A’ for Effortlessness | Opinion


Today on social media, girls flaunt perfect lives: styled hair, trendy and fashionable outfits, picturesque backgrounds, flattering but casual poses. The snapshots curate a particular image of effortless beauty, but behind the scenes, even the most casual selfies take tens of tries and a full face of makeup. Posed photos are the result of a million pieces falling into place, making one photo the one that outdoes the others: the background, the pose, the outfit, the hair are each good enough. Aesthetic shots of cities and landscapes are carefully chosen to match a color scheme and curate the feed.

These posting rituals speak of long-held beauty standards, modeled by popular accounts and cascading down to the normal person and 16-year-old girl. If you’ve been wondering “why is everyone famous on social media so thin/attractive/white?”, you’re not alone. It’s widely speculated that the TikTok “For You” algorithm scores users by euro-centric standards of attractiveness, and Black influencers find it significantly harder than their white counterparts to secure brand deals and make income. The fact is algorithms boost well-performing content, absorbing an entire human history of white and thin people imposing standards on everyone else.

While beauty standards aren’t new, one might argue that social media promotes them in an especially harmful way. Research isn’t yet conclusive on how social media’s unique interactivity affects perceptions of beauty. Social media does contribute to negative body image; however, exposure to traditional media has a similar effect. Meanwhile, the nature of influential content is shifting from aspirational to relatable, as increasingly digestible media forms connect with audiences in more casual ways. Marketers know this, so marketing has moved from traditional advertisements towards influencer sponsorships. For example, Doja Cat made a Tiktok jingle about Mexican pizza for Taco Bell, and Duolingo is known for its “unhinged” social media persona.

The shift is noticeable. Gone are the aspirational bloggers of 2014, posting DSLR photography and expensive foreign destinations — my current feed is girls about my age, who look like me, holding photoshoots on city streets and parking garages. Instead of VS Pink models, my “celebrities” are influencers like Helen Peng, a girl who could basically be my classmate, except that she’s an incredible dancer with 1.8 million Tiktok followers.

Embedded in the rules accompanying this shift is a gendered expectation, always the message to girls: Try, but don’t try too hard. Look polished but relatable, model but not unnaturally, wear natural makeup but not full glam. Blur your photos so they look taken in the moment.

Instead of aspirational lives that only rich celebrities who evidently have very different circumstances can attain, we constantly view “relatable” content from people just slightly ahead of us. Productivity YouTubers are just like you, but they have a perfect system for studying and note-taking. Fashion bloggers tell you exactly which clothes they bought, so you can buy them and achieve the same look. The standards are subtle but demanding, asking why we can’t do it if they can.

In many ways, the beauty standards of relatability are more far-reaching than before. Instead of being limited to the sphere of physical appearance, an entire lifestyle is idealized and projected. In every aspect of life, there’s relatable content for you to aspire to: diet, outfits, travel, workouts, work, home decor, nights out, nights in, friend groups, even crying. So we strive, because we believe we can recreate these idealized scenes. They make it look easy.

What makes the standards more insidious is that they’re never spoken, only understood by a sea of girls finding their place in the digital age. Influencers often don’t take the stance of a brand selling you a product; they approach their audience as a friend giving an honest recommendation. It doesn’t feel like conforming to a beauty standard when an online persona you trust recommended you a new study system, or a different brand of hair product.

Young girls — the generation we say look like 23-year-olds when they’re only 16 — grew up looking at perfect pictures of others online, and they understand what the digital world asks of them, learning social rules analogous to the ones they pick up in school. Naturally, they learn. They don new haircuts, draw on freckles and eyebrows, learn to pose in photos (perhaps by watching a modeling tips video), get outfit inspiration from 25-year-old bloggers, and wear blazers to school. They become photographers and social media managers. It’s second nature because these are the rules of digital society.

This is the world my little sister will grow up in. Still, I won’t tell her to delete social media and recover some past innocence from before digital standards permeated our consciousness. These are the new rules, and if any girl enjoys engaging with lifestyles portrayed on social media, she deserves to try as hard as she wants without contempt. (No one is telling boys to stop hitting the gym every day in their pursuit of an ideal body type.) Obviously, take care of yourself first, and take whatever measures you need against social media’s many physical and mental negative effects. When your health is spoken for, then curate your Instagram feed if you want, go out with your friends and have a day-long photoshoot if you want.

The act of revolution is not necessarily ignoring standards entirely, rejecting the supposedly frivolous pursuit of beauty in the name of feminism. I think it’s finding a way to love yourself anyway — whether it involves makeup or fashion or fitness, or posting on Instagram, or not posting on Instagram. It’s coming to terms with who you are, both your physical and digital selves.

Elizabeth S. Ling ’23 is a Computer Science concentrator in Eliot House. Her column, “Alone Together,” appears on alternating Fridays.


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