The Aspirational Lifestyle on Instagram

With the rise of social media and the lifestyle industry, so too has risen the term “aspirational,” which  more or less translates to a representation of a way of life that is relatable, but better. Technically what constitutes an aspirational lifestyle is a personal question with as many answers as there are people in the world. (We all aspire to different things, obviously.) However, common usage of the phrase doesn’t really acknowledge that. We mostly use it refer to depictions of semi-mortals living lifestyles of the rich and the famous, and this bothers me.

There is probably no better place to showcase a life of lust-worthy extracurriculars than Instagram because as the adage goes, a picture is worth a whole lot of words. (Plus, filters are fun.) If you around Santorini for the spring break, and post pictures, you’ll drum up some jealousy in a few of your followers. If you follow up your boat pictures with photos of a pristine white kitchen with good light, shiny appliances and marble countertops supporting a big old bowl of citrus fruit, you will be well on your way to implying that your whole life is worth coveting. And if your next step is to take a post-workout selfie in which you flex, glow and wield a technicolor acai bowl while wearing especially white shoes, your followers probably either think you epitomize perfection or find you irritating. Depending on who your followers are, you might induce a lot of envy or a lot of eye rolls.

Some of us roll our eyes in large part because “the aspirational lifestyle” covers such a narrow sliver of ground. It’s offensive to me that indicators of wealth and social status are the default subjects for “good” or “attractive” content. It makes me mad that so many of us are complicit in defining “the aspirational life” as a singular way of being. The term ignores the range of our collective pastimes, strengths and priorities.

Political implications aside, featuring “the aspirational lifestyle” on an Instagram feed isn’t about sharing joy. Authenticity is missing. It’s not a case of, “I’m having so much fun, and want you to be able to join me in my glee” or even “I just got a Vespa and it’s the best thing to happen to me!” It’s more like: “Admire me for the things I have.” Or better yet, “jealous, aren’t you?” There’s a sinister undertone to the story the aspirational character is telling, and it’s is the same one underneath most advertising campaigns: “Just in case you hadn’t realized, you’re not good enough.” In ad campaigns, a product swoops in to solve your problems and make you good enough. On Instagram, there’s usually not always option for immediate relief, but aspirational posts sure do beget copycats (hence the ubiquity of yacht shots and acai bowls).

Clearly, I have mild disdain for the exercise of glorifying luxe living. Personally, I think it’s dangerous. I am particularly conscientious about my posts. My approach is to avoid gratuitous boasts, and err on the side of modesty. Still, I’m sure I’ve posted photos that come across as showing off. I’ve probably been shot down by someone else and their snark, and I’ve probably unwittingly made someone else feel badly. In a way, that’s par for the course. We all use social media showcase the parts of our lives that strike us as interesting, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re wired to show our good sides, and that’s part of what helps us look in the figurative mirror each day.

Once, I even managed to put the single worst picture I’ve ever taken to the task of self-promotion. A year ago, I posted a picture of my face (and hysterical tears/snot bubbles in my nose), and at least two of the reasons I did so were self-serving:
1) I thought the picture was funny and thought that other people would agree, and so, find me funny
2) I thought the photo would make me look less vain, which in itself is a type of vanity, no?
That’s all to say that even the unlikeliest photos can be a way of saying “Look at me! Praise me!”

I am often wary of coming across as “shallow” or “haughty,” so when I’m being self-indulgent it’s usually in my efforts to mitigate that impression. That said, which we consider to be our good side says a good deal about our orientation to the world. It’s a direct insight into the lifestyle or way of being that we consider aspirational. I choose modesty as one small way of shifting the definition of aspirational away from conventional markers of privilege. You likely make some choices based on who you aspire to be and how you aspire to shape the world, and I encourage you to keep doing so publicly through your Instagram account: let yourself define the term aspirational.

Creators

We’re a global creative agency with a diverse roster of influential talent. Join us today.

Apply To Join

Brands

We use proprietary technology to generate modeling packages perfectly tailored to you.

Book A Shoot

This Is How To Never Have Creative Block Again

When you are unable to find inspiration for your creations, your work suffers. You cannot get anything accomplished. You whine instead of work. You consider giving up on your art altogether. If this sounds like you, if you have not worked on your latest creation in weeks, then this is how to never have creative […]

H’s Cross-Country Tour: Chicago

Stop 1: Chicago Over the next 10 weeks, H is zeroing in on 10 major cities across the country. Each week, we’ll be deploying all resources to show one particular city some well-earned love. These cities represent large creative hubs within our overarching “H Hub,” and we are extremely excited to engage with and highlight […]

The Most Difficult Things About Having A Deeply Creative Mind

When you have a creative mind, your wheels are always turning. You never get a rest from the commotion inside of your mind. Unlike most people, who work a nine to five job, you are unable to stop thinking about work once your head hits the pillow at night. You are inspired to create at […]

#METONTHEHUB WEEKLY CONTEST 1/3/19

At H, we are celebrating 2018’s final submissions for our #MetOnTheHub competition with a grand prize. We’ve chosen 16 of our favorite images from the #MetOnTheHub tag on Instagram and compiled them here for the community to vote on. As promised, we will give the creators with the most votes $1,000 each, in cash, with […]

5 Creatives Who Are Absolutely Crushing It & OMG I Hate Them So Much

First, please forgive the Gary Vee-esque use of the phrase ‘crushing it’ in the headline. It’s very Nickelback-ish and click-baity and I apologize. But hey, it got you here so #sorrynotsorry. Also, sorry for #sorrynotsorry. Secondly, I don’t hate them. I mean I do, but only in the way that hating another person’s work is […]

10 Resolutions For Photographers In 2019

As I sit here I truly can’t believe that the New Year is already upon us. Each year I am shocked by how fast time has flown. I’ve never actually been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions because I always have a hard time following through with them. Yet, I still feel like making […]

H Collective Shoots For Playa Viva’s Regenerative Resort In Mexico

We brought 10 creators from The Hub to Playa Viva’s resort in Mexico to shoot, connect, create and grow. Playa Viva is a Regenerative Resort in Juluchuca, Mexico, featuring a Yoga Retreat Resort, Eco Luxury Boutique Hotel and Treehouse Resort. The 10 creators’ work that we brought to Playa Viva are featured below: Andrew Kearns, […]

8 Awesome Photography Mugs You Can Buy Right Now

We all know that photography or any creative career for that matter, takes a lot of energy, dedication and drive. But, do you know what the real, key ingredient is to a successful career in the visual arts? Caffeine.. and lots of it. To show your photographer friends and colleagues your unyielding support of their […]

12 Days of H-Mas is Here! Use the Hub App To Win Photo Gear

The holidays are right around the corner, and all of us at H can’t wait to share them with you! Starting this Friday, we are celebrating 12 Days of H-Mas (though we love and respect all holidays/religions). Here’s how you can immerse yourself in the H-Mas spirit and win some awesome gifts! Day One (12/14) – […]