Think about the concept of “pretty privilege” and how that affects the social media world:
Suddenly, I was let in, and I did nothing to earn the attention my prettiness granted me. I soon saw that people stared and smiled, offered me seats on the bus and drinks in the club, complimented me on my appearance, and held doors open. This was partly how I experienced pretty privilege — the societal advantages, often unearned, that benefit people who are perceived as pretty or considered beautiful.
Pretty privilege can give way to more popularity, higher grades, more positive work reviews, and career advancement. People who are considered pretty are more likely to be hired, have higher salaries, and are less likely to be found guilty and are sentenced less harshly. Pretty people are perceived as smarter, healthier and more competent, and people treat pretty people better. Pretty privilege is also conditional and is not often extended to women who are trans, black and brown, disabled, older, and/or fat.
Society has numerous privileges including:
- When you are born during the year (greatly effects ability to compete in sports and carries over into adulthood).
- Which year you were born in (especially impactful if your birth date puts into the job market as an adult, during an economic downturn versus a thriving economy)
- Where you were born, geographically. Even if you move elsewhere, and for unknown reasons, this affects your economic success later in life.
- Height privilege. Tall people are likely to see better job opportunities and height is frequently associated with leaders.
- The time you were born in history. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, noted the roll of luck of being born at the right time for many of the people we view as leaders in tech. They came of work age just as the burgeoning new “high tech” made possible by low cost microcomputers and software emerged. They were in the right place at the right time to take advantage of this; hence, the important role that luck plays.
- Hair color privilege. An odd study out of Australia found women with blonde hair earned an average of 7% more than women with brunette hair.
- Health privilege. Being free of disease or disabilities from injuries (visible and invisible) confers big advantages.
- Growing up in a richer family bestows advantages (like buying your way into USC, the university for spoiled children!), but also potentially access to other activities and experiences that play an important role later on in life.
- Minority status or not, and where you live. Being a minority in some areas bestows negative privilege and others may be a positive.
- Being male or female bestows privilege in differing contexts.
- The privilege of age – which varies depending on the context. An older physician may be viewed as wiser than a young physician yet an older software developer may be viewed as out of date. In the era of social media, youth means everything. About two years ago there was just one person over the age of 40 in the top 200 Youtube channels (Jonathan Schmidt of The Piano Guys.) Instagram’s top influencers are predominately attractive young women in their 20s and early 30s.
As you can see, the concept of privilege is complex. Each of the above attributes, except for hair color, is basically unchangeable and may have long term effects. The weight of each attribute also varies depending on each individual – these attributes do not have uniform impacts across the population.
What does this have to do with social media?
Plenty. First many people “came of age” at just the right time to become “social media marketing experts”.
In the example of Instagram, “pretty privilege” is enormous. Pretty people posting pictures of themselves garner far far more views and followers than non pretty people. In terms of followers, and post likes we suspect pretty people handily beat all others.
“Pretty privilege” is often ignored yet in the social media world, its impact is profound. It is clear that some social media stars are well aware their good looks have great impact on their online destiny although others seem oblivious to the role that it has played for their success and merely believe they are brilliant or special (hah hah).