There is something that has been bothering me for a long time.
A little more than a year ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and I paused for a moment to admire an image of one of my favorite travel bloggers. As I examined it closer, I realized a theme in all of her photos — in each of the shots, either her back was to the camera or she was facing down and looking off to the side. I realized that despite the fact that I had been following her for some time, and even though at least half of her shots were images of her… I actually didn’t have a concrete idea of what she actually looked like. I could literally run into this girl on the street and I would likely have no idea who she was.
And in that moment, I realized that this was not only a recurring theme with her — this trend was rampant among a shocking majority of female Instagrammers/travel bloggers, especially those with larger followings.
“I don’t believe people have one singular life purpose. I believe we are given seasonal purpose and that our life purpose is the culmination of the work we do each season.” – Rachel Luna . #explore ↠ New on the blog: The 10 lessons I learned from working in the #beauty industry that taught me to succeed in #travel. Link in my bio.
Let me be clear here. I’m not talking about models. I’m talking about real-girl travel bloggers. You know… The girls next door that have chased their dreams to wander the globe. The fearless, adventurous, daring spirits. The ones you trust for recommendations on their favorite things to do, or clothes to buy or places to see. Why are we always facing away from the camera? And the even more worrisome question: Why don’t we have more role models who are showing their faces?
At a women’s travel conference, I listened in on a session led by a female travel influencer on how to boost your Instagram following. And I sat in horror, as she clicked through her presentation, and one of her slides was an image of herself — facing away from the camera — and she candidly commented on the fact that she intentionally framed her photos in this way, in a deliberate effort to add a level of mystique to her photos.
What the hell is going on? In a world where it feels like there are more and more voices for female empowerment and entrepreneurship, why is there a trend to hide our faces? If we want to break through the glass ceiling, shouldn’t we be embracing our individuality head-on, rather than hiding?
Imagine a digital world that cultivates empowerment and promotes action to fiercely chase your dreams. Rather than looking at an image of a woman and feeling as if you could be more like that girl (which is focused on a sense of ‘lack’), consider the potential behind celebrating diversity and determination. Including our faces in our images is a glimpse into our most raw, authentic selves — stories that should be told, and ones that will empower both the storyteller and her audience.
I’m not trying to put these women down. I am one of these women. I get it. If you’re going to build a following, it’s important to consider that there’s a certain level of aspiration involved with travel blogging. If you’re facing away from the camera, another girl can (even if only subconsciously) picture herself achieving what you are doing. If you’re looking for inspiration for your next adventure, look no further than picture-perfect Instagram. It is indeed a far cry from the typical tourist photo, shot straight on with a wide-toothed grin slapped on your face and a landmark in the background.
I’ve spent enough time mulling over this phenomenon that I’ve actually tested the theory to see if images perform better if they’re not shot straight on, and unfortunately, they usually do. I’ve built up my own following faster with more subtle shots, and the engagement is higher as well. And I’ve tested this on accounts I run for brands as well. Consistently, it’s these types of photos that we vote for through likes and double taps as more Instagram-worthy.
But we all know that Instagram isn’t reality. And it can be detrimental to compare your own life to the carefully selected and perfectly-filtered images on social media that only show one side of the story. Even scarier, it can be incredibly alienating to work in the travel industry as an aspiring entrepreneur and feel like you have no real footing or guidance for role models to look up to.
I feel very fortunate that there are so many incredible, inspiring women in my life. I am surrounded by women who are achieving the most extraordinary feats, and I am lucky there are so many women I can lean on when I need a shoulder. I want to lift these women up and celebrate them, their diversity, and their stories.
My own story is not perfect, and I am guilty of posting only carefully curated images on my feed. But I want to see a change in the way we see our role models, so I’ll start with myself.
My name is Kelley. I am a nonprofit leader, creative and entrepreneur. And this is my story, and my face, and I promise to share more of it on Instagram.