Glorious art perv Maidenfed talks the loss of her IG, and why it’s important to challenge the status quo of what is “appropriate” for women and their art, and how to share your message in the age of censor-happy digital overlords.
Instagram and I have always been strange bedfellows.
I was late to the IG game, because I figured that it was an illogical platform for my work, the majority of which contains at least some nudity or content deemed “sexual,” to varying degrees. I don’t necessarily view it that way myself, though. The imagery I’ve been drawn to — and thus was inspired by to create — does tend to be what is frequently labeled “provocative.” I think that comes more from my gravitation towards extremes (mainly through fetish and medical aesthetics) as a counterbalance to my persistent solipsism than anything else. But I also think it’s important to challenge the status quo of what is “appropriate” for women’s art to involve, and how that work can be successfully transmitted to a wide audience in this digital age, with its censor-happy overlords.
The first photo I ever posted on IG *sniffle*
When I finally bit the bullet and made an account on IG — largely in the spirit of experimentation — it was without knowledge that the app was and still is the most ubiquitous connector of those who wish to display visual content and network with similar souls. I remember thinking, “Ho hum, yes, this is certainly a great way for me to get my work out there” whilst pixelating approximately 25% of myself in any given image. As such, I continued to primarily use Tumblr, but it wasn’t long before that site’s heyday was upon us, and the traffic on my blog steadily decreased.
Skip ahead to the autumn of 2015. I was fresh out of rehab following a summer of heavy drug use, prompted by a traumatic breakup with a sociopath male model. While I completed an outpatient program, I was living with my mom in the suburbs. Feeling extremely isolated, I started to become much more active on Instagram. At this point, I had years of content to share, pixelated though it may have been. I also started using modeling images of myself in hand-made analog collages, which were sourced from a decade’s worth of magazine and book hoarding. Over the course of a year, I gained over 50,000 followers, and had the opportunity to interact and work with countless artists and designers (Tyrone Lebon, Muted Fawn, Creepyyeha, Tableaux Vivants, among many others) through the magic of IG’s ability to bridge geographical distances through a mutual appreciation of output and ensuing dialogue.
But perhaps the most meaningful — and certainly unexpected — result of my IG success was a slow but strong desire to speak about my recent experiences in treatment and the subsequent “post-rehab blues”. I shared my struggles with staying clean following several relapses through essays on Medium, as well as screenshots from Nomo, a sobriety clock app. The responses to this transparency were overwhelming. I now think of my writing and my art as inextricably linked, and my ability to present these simultaneously on IG was fundamental in keeping me connected while I stumbled through early sobriety.
The first time my IG account disappeared, it was after posts had been reported and taken down in an exponential manner over the course of months (although I truly tried my best to follow the extremely vague “Community Guidelines”). At that point, I felt stupid more than anything else for having lacked the foresight to see entire-account-removal looming on the horizon. I also had no real website at this point; but even though I do have one now, IG has still been — by far — the largest source of work, publicity, and communication for me. The website is more a safeguard than anything else (and, unsurprisingly, it gets a fraction of the traffic!).
But this time, I hadn’t gotten anything deleted off IG since that fateful, life-changing June day.
I am almost positive that the fact that an alt-right, whorephobic misogynist’s rant about me (in response to my side blog, in which I chronicle my misadventures in online dating, and my responses to the men who immediately launch into lurid sexual propositions in their initial message) went live two days before has something to do with this. The timing is just too convenient. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this schmuck spent his thrilling evening reporting everything I’ve ever posted on IG. And instead of combing through the posts to determine if this incessant stream of terms-of-use violations notifications actually had any merit, the powers that be decided to just disable my account instead. Groan.
There are fairly obvious implications here — namely, that pages featuring any sort of female sexuality or otherwise “unladylike” content (i.e. posting screenshots of the vile direct messages you receive from men) that does not fall within strict parameters of what is socially acceptable and/or generally-agreed-upon-attractive are particularly vulnerable. And that’s pretty much the entirety of my shit. The reality that any anonymous, offended person can report you — without transparency or any sort of appeals process — means that, in all likelihood, the more butthurt notifications you inspire, the more inevitable your swift evanescence.
So why even continue to bother with an app that can peremptorily erase a years-long record of interactions and work on a whim?Well, unless you’re an artist/model/meme’r/whatever who’s happy to toil in general obscurity during your lifetime like a 21st-century Henry Darger, some form of social media presence is a basic necessity for networking and money-making. Especially for those without traditional representation (i.e. a manager or agency), being active on social media — especially on IG, for those who create largely visual content — is a tactic of circumventing the methods of getting work that are becoming more and more archaic. Also, a high follower count can be a bargaining tool for negotiating paid shoots, as well as a form of instant recognition — if not of quality, then at least an indication of relevance.
Beyond the potential financial gains from networking and visibility, IG had , for the past year , been a conduit for me to reach and connect with people near and far who were similarly struggling with sobriety. As I’m coming up on a year now, I was looking forward to sharing my 365th day clean, but alas…
Anyway, I’m sure there’s a not-too-hidden message in this, if I ascribe to the “everything happens for a reason” trope. I should stop existing mainly online; I should start jogging and drinking kombucha; I should not continue to allow a platform that can arbitrarily remove any content it disagrees with (or simply doesn’t want to spend the time reviewing reports — of the bruised-male-ego variety — of) to dictate the proliferation of my content.
I think it’s perfectly reasonable to feel a sense of loss when any social media account is abruptly obliterated — as they, whether we like it or not, serve simultaneously as time capsules, advertisements, message boards, and portfolios. Nevertheless, I’m concerned I am having a histrionic reaction; it’s not as though I’m now a phantom, or never existed at all. But I do feel in a state of weird limbo, which I guess makes sense when one becomes relatively dependent on such a platform for the survival of their career, and said platform can — without warning — expunge an entire anthology of effort.
BACK FROM THE DEAD: Follow her new Instagram @maidenfedsrevenge
Maidenfed (Jackie) is a New York-dwelling 25-year-old spinster who collages because she can’t paint and writes because she can’t rap. She is in a perpetual battle against relying on social media for external validation.