the pressures of instafame: a chat with asher britton
*Trigger alert: Discussion of eating disorders and self-harm*
The idea of being an online celebrity has surely crossed the minds of many social media users during those lonely afternoons when a selfie with your dog only attracted one like – from your sister. Although it may seem glamorous to be followed by thousands upon thousands of people who idolise your every move, it comes as no shock to understand the pressures that must coincide with that kind of attention. I recently caught up with Asher Britton, a young woman from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast who has overcome those pressures in the past to reform herself as a young woman who is more than comfortable in her own skin, and she damn well doesn’t care if you like it or not. We talk about all things body image, being a social media celeb and, of course, underarm hair.
So tell me, what does Asher Britton do in her downtime?
Soon nearly all I will be doing is studying at uni. But lately I’ve just been working; I work at an Italian gelato shop. I also work with online stores and labels that find me through Instagram. In my free time I generally just hang out with my boyfriend and help him with his photography. I spend a lot of time with my mum as well as she’s my closest friend. Other than that I’m pretty normal in the sense I love to shop, watch movies, watch my favourite TV series, go out for lunches and dinner etc.
What’s the big picture plan for the future?
I really have no idea what I want to do in the future. All I really know is that I want to travel and see as much as I can before making any informed decisions about my life and career. I’m currently saving up to go to Melbourne; I’m super excited to see what it’s like as I follow so many talented people on Instagram who are from there. I’d love to be surrounded by that.
Okay, let’s get straight into it. Am I correct in saying you have personally struggled with body image issues in the past?
Yes, on the most part I have always had issues surrounding body image and mental health. For a long time I suffered from an eating disorder, as well as depression, anxiety and self-harm. I only got through it because of hard work, recognising I had a problem, seeking professional help, removing negative things and people from my life. Now, for once in my life I feel as if I have shed all of those problems. And although there are days where I have certain thoughts and memories regarding my past problems and issues, I have better ways of dealing with them.
In your opinion has Instagram or any other form of social media intensified or alternatively lessened these issues for you?
Instagram, and Tumblr in particular have definitely triggered me and intensified those issues in the past. My Tumblr, which I actually deleted a few months ago, was the main site that triggered me constantly and “fed” my depression/eating disorder/anxiety. Although I was fully aware of this, I continued to use this site and purposely look at certain blogs that would trigger me further. I found so much comfort in something that was damaging me and my health. It didn’t help that, like my current Instagram, my blog had 20,000+ followers who watched my every move, who commented anonymously on everything I did, or how my body would change, for better or worse. It took a very long time for me to work up the courage to delete my blog, and to free myself from all the problems it caused me. I know what you’re probably thinking: ‘If your blog affected your health so much, why do you still have Instagram?’ Well, I don’t know how to answer that. After deleting my blog, I felt 10 times happier after the first week without it. With that increased happiness level, and my newly found confidence, I somehow managed to keep a hold of myself – even with my Instagram account. I refused, and still refuse, to look at any accounts that could trigger me. I started faking confidence, because, for me, it was the only way to actually be confident. I realised that it is far from cool to be depressed and sick. I started taking my huge follower count as a motivation to be a happier and stronger person, to hopefully inspire others and to send a positive message, as well as generally being happy with myself.
What role does the media have in influencing young female perceptions of “beauty”?
The media plays a huge role, and I think most people realise that. It’s extremely difficult to love yourself, or even just accept yourself as you are as a human being when the media is telling you not to. When they are telling you what to change about yourself, usually so that you are more liked by others. When you’re constantly being told that “human flaws” are disgusting. The media pumps us up with fear, self-hate and self-questioning about whether or not we are good enough.
Do you feel pressured to meet these certain expectations? Why?
In the past, yes. Now, not as much, but it’s still there in the back of my mind. I have just learnt to mute it. I have learnt to do things, or not do things, for myself and myself only. I constantly feel pressured, but the fact I don’t give in is a very empowering thing. The “friends” who have pressured, questioned or argued with me, are not my friends anymore. The boys, or any gender who I am interested in, or vice versa, who have pressured me, I am no longer interested in. And so on and so forth with family, media, etc. I cannot change people’s minds, I can’t fight their opinions or force them to accept me, but I can remove them from my life. I refuse to let others control me, or tell me what to do or what not to do. As I don’t try to control anybody else. I am me; I do what makes me happy. I don’t question other people’s motives for things that aren’t any of my business.
What, to you, defines beauty?
Self-acceptance, self-love. Each person has a different view on beauty, of course, but to me there is nothing more beautiful than seeing someone who loves themselves. It’s such a shame that self-love is instantly assumed to be cocky. It’s possible to like who you are without feeling like you’re better than everyone else. It’s okay to like things about yourself; it’s okay to like how you look, and it’s more than okay to be “public” with that. If people assume you are a bad person because of that, erase them, because you don’t need people like that in your life telling you it’s not okay to be happy with who you are.
You post a lot on your Instagram about being an individual – why is this so important to you?
Regardless of who you are, I think it’s extremely important to recognise that you are an original. I’m not scared of wearing what I want, saying what I want, doing what I want with my life. I don’t care what people think because it’s not their life to think about. It’s mine only, and as long as I am not hurting anybody, I’m doing just fine. I find happiness in others not being scared of who they really are, and embracing themselves. Even if it’s something as simple as wearing an outfit they always wanted to wear but never built up the courage to.
Do you find it hard posting photos of yourself?
Not necessarily. I wouldn’t post a photo of myself if I didn’t like it in one way or another. In saying that, I don’t owe beauty to anybody. But I am fine with liking how I look, and I like posting photos of myself so I will continue to do so.
Does it bother you what people think of your posts?
I guess it used to. Not really so much anymore. I have over 30,000 people from all over the world following me. Of course there’s going to be a couple of hundred who dislike something about me, or disagree with what I do or say. I know I can’t please everyone, and I don’t aim to.
You seem pretty passionate about defying the societal expectation for women to be totally hairless. Tell me a little more about that.
Again, I hate doing things because others expect me to. I don’t like being told to feel ashamed of my own natural body. I despise feeling obligated to remove my body hair when it’s such a hassle, not to mention painful, itchy, and expensive. Really, it’s a personal choice. There is no “nice, I’m-just-curious” way to ask ‘why the fuck don’t you shave your armpits/legs/whatever?’ Because I don’t want to! I don’t ask anyone why they do shave or remove their body hair, it’s none of my business, and I simply accept that they have their reasons and it’s no big deal. I don’t push people to stop removing hair, so others shouldn’t push me to stop letting it grow naturally.
As a young woman, what do you want to see more of when it comes to female body image?
Women and girls doing what they please with their bodies because of their own reasons, and slowly removing stereotypes from their lives. You aren’t unhygienic if you leave your body hair to do its own thing, you aren’t “asking for it” if you dress a certain way, you aren’t unfeminine if you choose to wear certain pieces of clothing that are thought of as “ungirly”, you aren’t a “ditsy” girl if you choose to wear skirts and heels. You are not here to impress men, you are not here to impress other women.
You’ve attracted quite a following on Instagram, why do you think that is?
Many different reasons. I was popular on Tumblr, and a lot of people went from there to my Instagram when I transitioned. I think mostly it’s because I stir people up. I post frequently, I post a lot about myself, I talk openly about myself and who I am, I dress differently. I’m confident and I think that either excites and inspires people or intimidates them. Whatever it is, people must just find me interesting.
When did all the hype around your account begin, did you do anything to bring it about?
It’s probably kicked off in the last few months or so I think. I’ve been “known” for what seems to be such a long time though, so I’m almost used to it, and I can’t really recall when it really hit off. Honestly, I don’t do much to bring it about. I think a lot of people think I do certain things just to get more noticed, for example, grow my underarm hair and dye it pink. When really, I just really wanted to do it because I thought, “how fucking awesome would that be?!” It’s quite hard to show people I’m doing things for my own reasons instead of “for my followers” when, regardless of what I do, the followers are always there watching. If I get positive feedback from them over something, people will assume that was my goal. I get attention when I buy a new pair of shoes, of course I’m going to get attention if I do something that isn’t considered the norm.
Don’t you find it strange that 30+k people are obsessing over your life?
Yes! Only because I am a human being also and I still have bad days and I have problems to deal with too. Money issues, bad body image days, anxiety that I have to keep a lid on and constantly work at, arguments with my family and friends, and all sorts of other things. It’s definitely strange because in the end I really do feel like just a normal girl.
Do you ever read your comments?
It depends. If I see a lot of negative comments I usually just exit out of it and continue on scrolling through my news feed. I get bored, it’s usually the same comments anyway. “User tags another user ‘omg have you seen this girls armpits/shoes/dress sense?’ -vomit emoji face-” You know, it just gets old. Although, I do get a lot of awesome positive comments, which are always great to read. I think I roughly read about 60% of all my comments.
The responses to your posts are generally really positive and affirming, how does that make you feel?
Honestly, I feel flattered and I smile about it. But in the end my opinion matters most to me, so I don’t really let it get to my head or anything like that. I like who I am, I think I’m beautiful in all sorts of ways, I don’t need others to remind me. But it’s always lovely seeing people go to the trouble of saying nice things to me. I do appreciate every single one, and I hope what I said just then doesn’t convince people otherwise.
How do you deal with some of the negative or demeaning comments?
As I said just before, my opinion matters most to me. So I brush it off. I may get offended or worked up for a little while, but I soon forget about it. I just try to remember that pleasing everyone is impossible and it isn’t a goal of mine. I think I have just grown tough skin when it comes to mean comments.
Does Instagram give you a false perception of reality? You’re basically a celebrity online, but live a pretty low-key normal life offline
I guess both are a nice getaway. It’s nice to go out in public and not use my phone or not go on Instagram, and generally just enjoy being another person walking through a shopping centre or down the street. At the same time, I must admit I love coming home and checking Instagram and feeling the complete opposite. It goes hand in hand, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Although, I am starting to get recognised in public, which is funny, and sweet, and nerve racking, but it’s exciting!
What do you make of comments about girls calling you their “idol” or asking you to be their “best friend”, to “notice” them?
I don’t really think anything of it. I guess it’s flattering, but I don’t see how my attention towards somebody is that incredible. All I can think is “shrug”.
Do you rely too much on Instagram to make you feel good in terms of self -image and self worth?
Nope. I don’t think so. I’d still be the same person more or less without it. I’d dress the same, treat myself the same and take care of my body the same. I know I’m worth something, I don’t need the internet to remind me of that. Instagram is all a bit of fun really.