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Updated: Sep 6, 2023


Identity can be regarded as a fluid term, one that can be altered and readdressed depending upon one’s stance in society. Identity, like opinions, can change, evolve and even regress. In no other life stage is it more critical than in adolescent young women. Erik Erikson has written extensively on the subject and sees this phase of the life cycle as a critical period of identity formation, a period in which individuals must reflect and consider who they want to be. Today’s young people are technologically literate. Their images which they post online cements their immediate inclusion within the world. There are many issues regarding the fleeting trends of social media and the aim of this study is to investigate Instagram in particular, given it is largely connected with the visual vernacular. Instagram’s ability to attract a high level of female involvement has allowed young women to question and reflect upon the concept of their identity.

In order to establish an informed understanding of the influence of social media on identity formation of young women, this paper will investigate the complexities of digital self-representation and how contemporary artists have responded to self-imaging in their work. With strong ties to my own practice, it is essential to examine the extent to which the body is used to build a curated version of the self on social media platforms. The new generation of young women, which ranges in age from 13 to 24, has never known a world without instant connectivity to the internet. They frequently post images of themselves on social media platforms as a means to explore and build their identity.

The Influence of Mass Media

The impact of mass media on upcoming generations has been documented by Harold Innes and Marshall McLuhan. Their study on medium theory highlights the dramatic changes that have occurred in media technologies over the last century. From print and analogue technologies to digital and participatory platforms, mass media has influenced society in the social, political and economic fields. Digital technologies are now integrated into our everyday lives. Since the introduction of the smart phone in 2007, the use of social networking sites has increased dramatically. 13% of Ireland’s population admit to looking at their phone more than 100 times a day against a European average of 8%. Instagram is now the fastest growing social media platform in Ireland with over 600,000 adults aged 15+ using the platform on a daily basis. We have witnessed a media revolution over the past decade, with endless possibilities for the participant. Everyday users are becoming influencers, who are paid for their promotions and presence. Self-promotion is carefully executed to present a curated version of the subject to the viewer. Self-portraits, now referred to as selfies, is a cultural phenomenon associated with this generation, carefully planned with instagrammable makeup, filters and poses reminiscent of art history compositions.

Self-imaging: the concept of how one sees oneself. See Langlois, G. (2014). Meaning in the age of social media. New York, Palgrave Macmillan. for further reading.

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