Eat Sleep Breathe Travel

Why the Quest for Instagram Beauty is Ruining Travel

This post likely contains affiliate links. By booking through these links I may make a small commission (which I am very grateful for!) at no extra cost to you.

Beauty ruining travel

“I don’t usually share photos of myself…”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this posted underneath a photo on instagram. A photo of a woman with a smile on her face against an amazing backdrop of a cool building or beautiful scenery. She probably also mentions how she doesn’t look that good. In her caption she will blame the heat or the cold, a long hike, or the weather. Anything to explain why she doesn’t look perfect, even though she looks great. Because, somehow, in an industry where we are supposed to search for adventure, get dirty, wet, muddy, and sweaty, we are also supposed to be beautiful. And, in a way, we are punished when we are not.

Why did I have to explain my red face? Why isn't it enough to just say I climbed to the top?

Take a scroll thorough your instagram feed and focus on the accounts of the top female travellers. How many of them post photos of themselves in a flowy dress/skirt or a bikini? Check the likes on those photos and compare them to the numbers of likes on photos where women are in more ‘normal’ outfits or covered up. Notice a difference?

Or what about the accounts that showcase female travellers? The ones that every travel girl tags in her favourite ‘grams, the ones with thousands of followers. Take a look there and see how many bikini-clad or flowy-skirted women with perfect hair and flawless skin are featured. There’s a lot, aren’t there? Now look for the red-faced, sweaty ones with frizzy hair from hiking in the rain or humidity. It’s near impossible to find them, and it’s not because they don’t exist. They do, and some of their photos are incredible. But the women themselves…well they aren’t ‘pretty’ enough in these photos to make the cut.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing these accounts or the women featured in them. I follow a lot of them and am as guilty as everyone else for liking and thinking that these photos, with their perfectly posed women in wind-ruffled skirts are beautiful. But are they real? Are they real in the sense that they are showcasing what life is really like for most female travellers? Do women actually hike in long skirts? Do that many women wear makeup and straighten their hair to go to the beach? I sure don’t.

Something tells me she's not actually at the beach to swim...

While I admire these photos for their aesthetics, I can’t help but think that we have let artistry overcome reality. That these, admittedly stunning, photos buzzing around the internet have gotten out of hand and actually go against what I, and so many other bloggers and female travellers, are trying to do: encourage women to travel. We already live in a world where women doubt and dislike themselves and struggle to feel pretty and good enough in their everyday lives. By focusing so much on physical beauty, are we turning the travel industry into the next Hollywood or fashion runway?

I’m afraid that we are.

A little over a month ago I wrote about my travels in Thailand. Not what I did or saw but how I felt. Because the truth is, as a curvy girl, I was scared to visit Thailand. I was afraid that my non bikini-body wouldn’t fit in. That I would stand out too much, be teased and harassed for not looking the part. I’m thrilled to say it wasn’t the case, but I was still apprehensive about it. Why? Because when I looked into Thailand I didn’t see photos of bigger girls lying on the beach or exploring the jungles. I only saw photos of lithe, toned bodies in string bikinis and teeny shorts. Pair that with knowing that Asians are built much smaller than North Americans and, really, do you blame me for worrying?

Team Mermaid; our Open Water Dive team

The reality of girls on a beach in Thailand- just a little different than what most photos show

Since publishing that article I’ve learned I’m not the only one. Women around the world choose not to visit certain places because they don’t think they look the part. And it’s not just places like Thailand. I’ve heard countless stories of women who avoid all beaches because they ‘aren’t skinny enough’. They would rather stay inland and avoid exploring some of the most beautiful places of the world because of fear. Fear that they don’t fit in because of how they look.

That’s not right. Nor is it true. But somehow, among all the filters, poses, and prepping, we have allowed it to seem that way. Somehow the pretty girl smiling naturally on the beach in her one-piece isn’t sexy enough. The casually dressed girl walking through the cobblestone streets in Paris with the look of awe on her face isn’t wanderlust-worthy enough. It’s no longer enough to just capture happy moments. While they might be ok for your personal scrapbook those photos won’t get noticed publicly. To do that they need to look like ads for a Victoria’s Secret or a fine art composition.

My complaint with this isn’t just about making women feel unworthy and unwelcome. While I hate that so many women feel they can’t travel because of their looks, feeling out of place isn’t my only problem with this unnecessary quest for beauty. Wherever I travel it seems that vanity has somehow bested cultural appreciation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen young women visit historic churches, ancient temples and even walk down the streets of more conservative nations dressed completely inappropriately.

Jessica of How Dare She caught this girl in her teeny bikini on a non-bikini friendly beach in the very conservative Maldives.

Jessica of How Dare She caught this girl in her teeny bikini on a non-bikini friendly beach in the very conservative Maldives.

A few months ago I visited Chiang Mai’s famous mountain-top temple, Doi Suthep, to discover two girls making a scene about having to cover their bare legs and shoulders. When they (finally) covered themselves up to enter I found them quickly taking off their shawls and scarves when they thought no one was looking to take photos in front of the gilded domes. I cringed at their insensitivity and rudeness, knowing that these photos would soon be blast over their personal social media accounts. And while I hoped that these particular photos wouldn’t be shared or featured, I knew that those that did see them would see it as validation to do the same.

How did this happen? How did going on an adventure become synonymous with looking like you walked out of the pages of a magazine? How did embracing new cultures get swept aside for the sake of a ‘perfect’ photo?

It’s not just the bloggers and instagram accounts to hold at fault, although in our hunt for more followers, likes, and better numbers, we definitely play a role. But it’s also the travel companies, cruise lines, and tourism boards that run advertisements with perfect, airbrushed models. It’s the clothing lines that design the ‘perfect travel wear’, that looks like it belong in a nightclub and only runs up to a certain size. Travel is a massive industry, with multiple facets, and all are to blame.

But we can change that. Especially the bloggers, photographers, and videographers and the avid travellers who understand that travel isn’t always pretty. That it’s not even about being pretty, but about being empowered, about learning and embracing different cultures. We can help create the change needed. We can shift the focus to what really matters: the adventures, the thrills, the happiness and smiles that really are beautiful, even if they are accompanied by frizzy hair and sweaty skin. Let’s focus on what women who travel are doing and not how they look while doing it. Because that’s what is really sexy.

51 thoughts on “Why the Quest for Instagram Beauty is Ruining Travel

  1. Faith

    Beautifully written. You hit a lot of good points and explain them well. I feel much the same! (Also, hey there’s Tanja or was it Tanya? She was my dive instructor on Koh Tao too! :D) hopefully as a travel blogger as well, I can help do a thing or two to change this trend.

  2. Menorca

    Hey Hannah, I have to say in all honesty that I can relate so much to this post! I am quite self conscious when it comes to posting photographs of myself or wearing swimsuits at the beach for some of the reasons you mentioned above..(and also because I generally goof up my pictures:P ) Of my 149 IG posts, perhaps there are only 3 in which you could see my face, apart from 1 while scuba diving(in which my face is not visible) and 1 profile picture…I do love going to the beaches, as I live near rivers and mountains..but avoid wearing swimsuits thinking it will look weird on me. That doesn’t mean I never go swimming in pools..do so a lot..but when it comes to going to a beach or swimming with friends, I just am so conscious!!

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Me too… but as I travel to countries out of North America I feel like I’m being silly for being so self conscious. I’m going to try to be more body-positive.

  3. travel blogger

    I think this applies loosely to nature as well. I see so many photos that are edited to make nature look unbelievably beautiful and I think it makes people less able to appreciate real beauty. Maybe we all just need a little less screen time and a little more real life. 😉

  4. Kay Dougherty

    I never find the travelers who mostly post photos of themselves to be the interesting ones. I want to see the place and learn a little about it. When I see feeds full of preening people I move on.

  5. Naomi

    I really appreciate what you’re saying here. I do kindda hate (jealous!!) those accounts with those perfectly dressed woman wandering around like there is no efford to it at all. At the same time, I’m guilty too. I do not want to share those sweety red faced, frowning against the sun pictures from our hike to montserrat mountains. Mainly because I do not think I look good enough and do not want to look at it myself. Maybe I should share it.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      I think you should. Let’s be honest- in the whole world how many people can say they have been there? Not that many if you think of it- it’s something to be proud of so you absolutely should show it off!

  6. Kelly

    Ahh I can so relate to this! I love being comfortable when I travel, and to be honest, I don’t have the time nor desire to try to make myself look amazing when I’m supposed to be out having an adventure. When I’m at home I’m a total girly girl, and all about the flowy skirts and heels and perfect hair. But when I’m hiking, or exploring a foreign city, or going to the beach, I just care about having a blast. Plus I feel kind of foolish dressing up in third world countries, which are some of my favorite places to travel.

  7. Karisa @ Flirting with the Globe

    Great post, Hannah. Very relevant. I agree with you and have experienced some of these concerns very recently. I just posted my first pic of myself in a swimsuit on one of my social media accounts (after almost two years of having my blog)… I found myself annoyed that I didn’t “do” my hair, hadn’t “made more of an effort” or at least “sucked in.” It took me a minute to snap out of it and just press the post button, but I couldn’t help being nervous putting “so much” of myself out there, even after dismissing my other irriational thoughts. (The picture was me in a lake after mountain biking, so having my hair done would have been ridiculous). 🙂

    1. Holly

      I’ve had this very same internal argument! I actually published a blog post of me in a bikini at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and ultimately took it down because I noticed it was getting repinned on Pinterest…. and for some reason, I found that creepy! I definitely have wondered if I don’t have the appropriate body type to be publishing those types of pictures too, but sometimes I think I’m also trying to be mindful of the fact that when you put something on the internet, it stays there!

  8. Jessie

    Hm I don’t know Hannah. As a travel photographer I did not get very positive vibes from reading this. Maybe this article should highlight more ladies who are paving the way showing the nasty side of travel rather than slightly down talking other female travel creatives who want to create beautiful photos. It’s a bold statement to say their work are discouraging other female travelers. Anyways just sharing the other side of things. There’s never any good in attacking other female creatives work. Travel is beauty and it comes in many forms, let’s appreciate them all. I’m all for showing the rando selfies and imperfect day at the beach but please, don’t be so forward to say beauty or what’s considered art for us is ruining travel.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Hmm I don’t mean to attack anyone, and I’m sorry you read it that way. I think the photography artists who have a theme they are following- such as the Follow Me To account on Instagram- don’t really fall into what I’m talking about here. They are clearly artists trying to create something beautiful not trying to portray the ‘norm’. My problem is that suddenly everyone- non professional- are trying to create those types of images so it seems like that is the norm when in reality it’s not. I understand that as a photographer you need to create scenes and create the beauty but I do think we need to work on expanding the definition of beauty. To be honest I’m a little sad having read your words ‘the nasty side of travel’ in association with me encouraging women to show off their achievements of travel of climbing mountains or hiking through jungles even if they don’t look perfect at the end. Your insinuating that those women in photos these aren’t beautiful kind of makes my point that this industry really is becoming plastic.

  9. Annemarie

    Hi Hannah, such a great post! I have noticed that as well and often do not even want to take pictures of me because I look less than stellar that day and . It’s sad how we often care so much but then again so little (like you said with the cultural rudeness). Way to go creating a more realistic instagram account.

  10. Shirley alves

    Thank you so much for a very articulate overview of this issue. I have noticed so many pictures posted of women travelers that focus on how they look. Personally I am much more interested in what you are seeing and experiencing than how you look in a bikini.

  11. Pingback: TRAVEL BESTIES: the best of travel + wanderlusting this week • Take Me With You

  12. Sara Broers

    I think this goes back to authenticity. So many people in the space of social media want to be someone that they are not. I for one, do not appreciate the photos on Instagram that “look” fake or copied, actually makes me wonder what they are thinking. Now, if someone wants to work for a swimsuit company and pose on Instagram, I say, go for it! I’m sure there’s someone out there that is looking for that type of thing, but not this traveler. Thanks for sharing your insight and opening up the discussion.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      I agree- and it’s so funny sometimes. I was in Bangkok for TBEX last year and everyone was like AH YOU ARE HANNAH! YOU LOOK EXACTLY LIKE YOUR PHOTOS! I was like umm yes.. isn’t that the point? I guess not for everyone.

  13. Holly

    Hey Hannah! I had to blush at the opening of your post because I literally JUST published a photo of myself on my Instagram, and guess what the caption said. 🙂 But for me, it’s usually just because I have my face behind the camera. I’m not very skilled at photography and am very much still practicing. But, perhaps I didn’t realize until reading your post that some of my hesitation to publish my photos of myself in them is because they don’t fit with the norm on Instagram, and maybe I’ve considered them to be “not Instagram worthy.” I’m glad you’re bringing this argument to light, as I think it’s something we do all need to consider. Especially when it comes to choosing vanity over respect of others’ cultural practices like you mentioned above.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      It’s sad to me that we think things aren’t instagram worthy- wasn’t the platform created to be used by everyone who liked photos? We’re just so hard on ourselves sometimes 🙁

  14. Scott

    So glad as a male, I don’t have to deal with this. But even then, there is a subtile pressure on us as well. I just tell myself they are selling something I’m not – and that I can make it up by the excellence of my writing or photography. Most of the time, the “sexy” pics are accompanied by vapid writing – appealing to a crowd I’m not interested in any way.

    Keep believing in yourself!

  15. Charles McCool

    Of course I love to see pretty people but, truly, for travel photos I prefer to see the destinations. The beauty of travel photos is in the natural setting, historic ruins, architecture, landscape, animals, and so on.

  16. Heather

    Thanks for writing this. I often only post flattering selfies and feel self conscious on the beach. Our culture is killing us women. It’s an act of rebellion to do something despite feeling self conscious or to post an imperfect pic. It’s bloody radical really. So thank you!

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Agreed- I’m always like ugh I like this photo but I don’t look good enough to post it. Which is silly- I do some amazing things that I should be proud to share.

  17. Beth

    This is so thoughtful and eloquently written! I can completely relate – I am 40+ and hardly ever put myself in my Insta photos because I think people won’t want to see pics of someone “old”. Thanks for writing this and putting it out there! I love your attitude. I did not think you were attacking anyone or discouraging others.

  18. Amanda Zimmerman

    I agree so much with this post. I finally gave up on looking pretty when I travel. It makes my bag to heavy and wastes time. Now a tube of lipstick and some mascara is all I take with on most trips.

  19. Emilia Sánchez González

    Guilty!

    Your post is beautiful and very honest. I finally decided to start my travel blog, surrendering to not having those perfect pictures I saw on Instagram and then when I find myself planning out my pictures for the first posts I still get frustrated that I don’t feel I have enough pretty moments to prove the moments I lived when traveling where beautiful.

    It’s a struggle against yourself isn’t it? not to care too much. I’m working on it 🙂
    Thank you for the inspiration

  20. Pingback: Female Travel Trends You Should Know About in 2016 @Tourlina - Mapping Megan

  21. Pingback: From Dress to Top and Back: Diane Kroe Origami Top - Eat Sleep Breathe Travel

  22. Melanie

    Love love love this! I get so frustrated, especially with Instagram, seeing all these models and their perfect photos. It’s hard to not feel like you aren’t good enough when those are the accounts getting all the attention. I love your instagram account though!

  23. Cristina G

    Another very good article on your blog! I feel the same way! Traveling doesn’t mean that you have to look like you’re goint to a fashion show or so! Traveling is hard and it means taking busses for over 10hrs, being sweaty when carrying your bags etc. How can you look that pretty then?
    I, personally, when I’m home I wear A LOT of make up and wear fancy clothes but when I travel it is so nice to just not care, you know? No makeup, simple clothes. Of course it’s nice to dress up once in a while but def not like those girls do? Yes, their pics are very beautiful but I wonder if they’re actually traveling or just booking a super expensive room in a hotel and staying there in order to take pics of themselves.
    Love this IG account btw.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      So true! There are a lot of ‘ behind the perfect IG photo’ type posts lately that are really proving that its not so much travel but a full photoshoot. I personally don’t see the point.

  24. Nicole Kow

    You’ve literally stolen the words right out of my mouth/laptop/keyboard.

    I struggled with something similar on my last 6 month trip. Everywhere I went just didn’t seem good enough. I was visiting beautiful sights and experiencing incredible sounds, but it always felt like I wasn’t “living up to it” because social media and impeccable photos painted a completely different picture.

    Also, coming from Malaysia, I’ve witnessed very disrespectful behaviour from travellers when it comes to dress codes. While I sometimes think our local authorities ask way too much and are a little backward, that’s what learning/understanding/deep diving into local culture is all about. So, I’m really glad you brought that up too. 🙂

    Thanks for being honest and frank and please keep posting sweaty red faced pictures. We definitely need more of those on the internet. <3

  25. Lacey

    Super on point. Ive been taking to make myself save at least one photo each trip that I hate of myself, because one day I know that the memory will be more important to me than the fact I looked “fat” or “ugly”!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: