In May, Krystal Aranyani shared a video on YouTube that was unlike her usual fare. The yoga teacher wore no makeup, was poorly lit, and slouched in front of tapestries and pillows, her hand propped on her face in a thoughtful gesture.
“Hello, beloveds—welcome back to my channel,” she began, her usual salutation. “You may notice I look a bit different today. The other day I was thinking how I’ve never made a video without any makeup on, which is fine because people on social media, especially ones like myself that want to help others and make a career out of it, like to present ourselves in a certain way. But I’ve been meaning to make a little bit more of a real video for you guys to remind you that it’s not always like that 24/7 and we’re really just playing out roles in our lives.”
At one time, Aranyani’s approach might have seemed bold, perhaps even risky, for tampering with the image her viewers were accustomed to. Brave as she may have been, though, Aranyani’s video was one of many, many posts across social media in 2019 that rejected what had become the accepted aesthetic of online self-presentation: airbrushed, perfectly posed, like a fairy tale come to life.
When Instagram first launched in 2010, it was akin to a digital photo album. A normal person could shoot a normal photo with a normal smartphone and—with the help of a few filters and easy-to-use editing tools—create a stunning, professional-looking image.
For eight years, social media was all about the augmented look: Facebook birth announcements, Twitter ~personal news~ posts, YouTube makeup tutorials, carefully crafted lifestyle blogs, and more.
But in 2019, something changed. It became cool to be real. Like, really real.