Social media doesn’t have the same luster as when it was first introduced in the mid-2000s and early 2010s. We all know Twitter is often a cesspool, Facebook is fading into irrelevancy and Instagram is a constant fight with the algorithm. They’ve morphed from platforms for building community and connection into spaces used for bullying and rapid (and often vapid) consumerism.
Obviously, we’re not all abandoning social media despite these flaws, usually because some of the people on those platforms have made it worth sticking around. On Instagram, one such person is Sassy Latte* who combines glamor photography with thought-provoking questions and ideas to help jumpstart meaningful conversations in the comments section.
Sassy Latte Uses Instagram for In-Depth Conversations
When Sassy Latte first started their account in 2015 after having their youngest child, it was with the intent of following in the footsteps of other beauty bloggers, many of whom were sharing their PR packages and gifted items. They wanted to have a chance to join that community and receive those same benefits. But it didn’t work out the way they thought it would.
“It wasn’t something I felt passionate about. I wanted to be able to have more in-depth conversations,” they explained. “I wanted to get into fashion blogging but I had a lot of body image issues. So I thought, ‘This is going to be a space where I’m talking about body oppression and decolonizing about beauty standards and identity politics and also having a sense of community and accountability while I do that’. Things have just kind of blossomed from there.”
A Need to Expand the Body Positivity Conversation
As a fat, queer, Black person, Sassy Latte often points out in their posts that, although the body positivity movement is a step in the right direction, we haven’t reached the end of those conversations and need to keep exploring and expanding on what that means.
“Especially as a Black creator, I really believe that there’s just something about a Black body that is always tied to a lack of value and it’s always tied to working for free, to slavery,” Sassy said. “And I don’t think that it’s an intentional expectation, but I do see it so much. I just don’t think that people are a) that self-aware and b) that that in and of itself is also a huge part of the conversation around anti-racism and social justice and actually creating change.”
Getting Paid as a Creator While Keeping Their Space Radical
Sassy Latte sees this played out in numerous ways as a creator on both Instagram and Patreon. Trying to get partnerships to help pay for their work is a tricky thing to navigate because Sassy wants to keep their account “as politically radical” as they can because it’s what they’ve built their account around. But working with brands within a political space is often a juggling act that requires Sassy to be picky about who they work with and balance their need to keep their space radical and also put food on their table.
Sassy said that brands will state they don’t want mentions of politics or mental health in the caption: “They’re pretty explicit. For me, it’s been pretty hard to maintain those working relationships because my audience is there for those deeper conversations and ideas.”
Sassy explained that having a sponsored post often results in them over-reassuring their audience that they’re not obligated to purchase the product.
“Whereas,” they pointed out, “the average thin, white, middle-class mom blogger has the freedom to just exist and people trust them. It’s not this constant conversation. And there’s not a constant state of having to caretake the audience.”
Creating a Dialogue and Conversation
Over time, Sassy Latte’s approach to their platform has shifted from giving answers to asking their audience questions instead and creating a dialogue and conversation around important issues. When Black Lives Matter began trending online, Sassy realized that “nobody was really thinking about anything, everyone just wanted some quick answers”, which wasn’t helpful because it didn’t give people the actual tools or understanding to be making long-term change.
“This is a conversation, it’s a journey, a process, and the target will constantly move because society will continue to change, evolve, and on occasion, completely regress,” they said. “How can we treat it as though there’s an actual answer? It has to be treated as a conversation.”
Part of that conversation includes the reality that creators of color, and especially Black creators, are held to different standards for their online presence. After a year that has been full of loss, much of which they have shared on their Instagram account, Sassy is still working on their mental health and navigating single parenthood, while also grieving the loss of a best friend. They said they’ve felt the pressure to keep showing up, and showing up happy, despite the fact that they’ve shared those struggles with their audience.
“My friend Yasmine and I talk about this a lot, about how we’re not allowed to have a mental health day, how our physical health is irrelevant, how we can’t even just have fun,” they said. “It’s fascinating to me that if I were the average white person, even otherwise marginalized, but even if I was just white, that alone, people would see me as worthy of grace. They wouldn’t expect deep conversations that are mentally taxing during a time when I’m already struggling to keep myself together. They wouldn’t have that expectation but because I don’t have that privilege, when I do something, it still has to be funny or it has to be excellently executed or it has to provide some kind of value.”
A Need for Change on Instagram
That brings us back to the social media platforms that we have, how they’re used and what better platforms could look like. For Sassy Latte, that looks like a platform that “hyper-focuses on multiple marginalized people of color”. A platform that doesn’t have whiteness as the default, where creators of color have to be intentionally searched for or regularly posting in order to continue being seen and supported.
“I just sometimes wonder what Instagram, in and of itself, would be like if white people weren’t allowed to be so visible,” they mused. “If brands had to exclusively work with people of color instead of being like, ‘Our ratio is one Black person, maybe an Asian person every six months. Maybe a disabled person so long as they don’t make anyone sad.’ I really think that’s how brands do. And some of them are pretty overt where they’re like, ‘They’re just not positive.’ I would love to see a space where these brands are forced to pay these tens of thousands of dollars to the people who ultimately create the best work anyway.”
*Editor’s note: Sassy Latte is a pseudonym and the only name they go by online.
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Lead image credit: Photo courtesy of Sassy Latte.