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Whether it was Priyanka Chopra Jonas in Ralph Lauren outfit which has been turned into a car cover, the famous Guo Pei “omelette dress” worn by Rihanna or the Kim Kardashian x dementor MET Gala look – we have often seen the quick, memeified version of runway designs breaking the internet. The word meme has been used and abused extensively throughout the globe in past few years. But what are memes, where do they come from and how they are linked to the world of fashion? 

The Runway Hilarity

The fashion industry has a long-established relationship with the new age meme culture. It began in 1927 when the fashion maverick, Elsa Schiaparelli started to make surrealism inspired outfits with irony and hilarity attached to it. Once fashion found its center stage digitally on Instagram with this innate sense of humour, the meme culture was born! Memes act as an antidote to fashion’s preconceived notion. They allow making the most monotonous styles both on and off-ramp relatable by adding a touch of humour, satire and wit to them. 

Once fashion industry tapped the right trend, it has always welcomed, celebrated and used the same in its best capacity. Lately, the viral memes showcasing renowned brands and designers for a quick laugh and a few have helped them to be on the radar. The brands are jumping on the bandwagon by creating designs, campaigns, advertisements and red carpet looks that can be tailored to the meme age. The tool of meme marketing has also helped many fashion publications, celebrities and bloggers to spread their presence in the market by creating captivating and relatable content to engage with the younger audience. 

To further add fuel to the fire, Instagram creators like @freddiemade, @siduations and many more have found employment through posting recontextualized content and collaborating with brands, making them meme-makers professionally! To convert a dull moment into a joyful one by adding a pinch of relatable humour and packaging it into a trailblazing guerrilla advertising to initiate a conversation has become part of many brand strategies. Thus, giving rise to the bizarre trend of “the meme age”.

Meet the meme

The word was coined in 1976 by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene. He took it from the Greek root “mimeme” meaning imitation. It acted as an instrument to translate the ideology of a culture or a definite mindset through an art form. Symbolic to the low-attention span for the generation of millennials, memes can be termed as a modern way of communication emphasizing a symbol or a social phenomenon. 

When the absurdity of memes infuses with an individual’s perspective to produce a reinterpreted version of thoughts and attitudes clashing with trending, popular pop cultural references it gives birth to a new, sartorial, bizarre content that is amusing in the mundane life. As Dawkins defined them as units of cultural propagation, memes hold a certain value to them behind the comic curtain – hence, making them more meaningful and relatable for an audience at large. 

To a layman, memes are a vent for a few laughs but, it allows them to express their thoughts and beliefs at the given moment. The rapidly pacing digital world has glorified the nature of memes by making them universal. It tends to bring strangers around the globe together irrespective of their language, religion, cultural and societal beliefs by the mere fact of finding and relating to something funny.

Culturally, memes have become an integral form of communication for the current generation. As our time span is relatively becoming shorten and consumption increases, our obsession to share these simple, explicit messages constantly to escape reality is thriving. The growing sense of nihilism amongst mankind is a reflection of modern society – one that values their happiness before anything else. To attain the same, they are willing to instill relatable content amongst the cybernauts, questioning the relevance of meme culture. 

Our obsession with meme culture is alarming than ever before. The unparalleled art form can mould and reveal the traits of humans for better and worse. Whether it’s funny or not, the accessibility and ability to reach the audience within microseconds has revolutionized the way we communicate. The urge to go through different chains of thoughts depicted by a picture and caption which are not even our own is evoking a deep concern as it’s turning many of us apathetic and unconscious about our behaviour, beliefs and actions.

Are memes just a product of creativity or a rhetorical medium to mock someone? Do we need a virally-transmitted symbol to express ourselves or are we losing our identities to this quick-witted satire? And perhaps most importantly of all, what sort of impact this new medium of communication will have on our relationships and coming generation?

I’m sure I can speak for us all when I say my screen time has significantly gone up throughout the pandemic. As much as I don’t like to admit it, it’s the result of mindlessly scrolling on Instagram. However, research suggests that the app may contribute to adverse psychological outcomes and poor appearance-related self-perception or as some call it ‘influencer envy’.

The rise of technology has meant the ability to manipulate the way we look has become effortless. Subsequently, new generations are exposed to much more than just airbrushed photoshoots in magazines. A few scrolls down our feed and most of us will see Instagram models, influencers and even peers who perpetuate an unattainable standard of beauty whether it’s “knowing your angles”, a face filter or smoothing out your skin. Apps such as Facetune allow physical features to be manipulated entirely with the click of a few buttons, removing imperfections to whiten teeth, slim waists and reduce sizes to be accepted as beauty ideals.

Comparison Culture

Social Comparison Theory’ suggests individuals drive to evaluate their progress and in the absence of objective standards, people compare themselves to others to know where they stand. However, on Instagram, we can compare ourselves to these edited pictures or individuals with cosmetic surgery (without realising). You may think you easily spot editing; however, only 60%- 65% of the time people recognise edited photos.

A debate has arisen about whether it should be compulsory for manipulated faces and bodies to be labelled as edited on Instagram. This has been proven somewhat controversial- what is your take? On the one hand, it creates a warped sense of beauty, especially for vulnerable women with lower self-esteem. However, is it right to police people’s bodies, especially when it may make the poster feel more confident? Researchers found that viewing an idealised image from social media had a negative influence on women’s body image, no matter if it came with a disclaimer or not. Although, disclaimers lead viewers to form a less favourable impression of the poster. This suggests it may do more harm than good as the posters emotional wellbeing may lower with no effect on the viewer.

A rise in cosmetic surgery 

Evidence suggests social media pushes us to take part in life-threatening beauty trends in the interest of acceptance and social compliance in society, affecting emotional wellbeing. WomensHealth found that those in their 20s desired the fox eye effect of having eyes stretched upwards and back (as if pulled in a secure high ponytail) more than any other age group. This leads to surgery involving implanting dissolvable threads under their skin to hoist it up or Botox to raise their eyebrows. This was most likely the result of repeated exposure to this popular beauty trend and wanting to look more like models such as Bella Hadid. It seems women persist in internalising these beauty ideals as a model for their own comparisons. Consequently, steps need to be taken to help those affected by idealised images on Instagram.

With that Being Said Positive Psychology Can Help…

Positive emotions broaden momentary ‘thought-action repertoire’ (so, like how joy sparks the urge to play), which widens an individual’s mindset. Having an open mind while scrolling down the gram means you are more receptive to different information types. Putting you in an excellent position to judge whether the image is altered and whether or not you should engage in social comparison. These actions then become internalised and lead to feelings of acceptance.

In a 2020 study, women either observed ‘Instagram vs reality’, ‘ideal’ or ‘real’ images. Viewing the ‘Instagram vs reality’ and ‘real’ images whilst identifying the ‘ideal’ images as fake, disrupted the ‘social comparison process’ and reduced body dissatisfaction. This research suggests Instagram can enhance self-esteem with the photos associated with hashtag trends such as #instagramvsreality and #nomakeup as they promote self-acceptance. 

“If positive psychology teaches us anything, it is that all of us are a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. No one has it all. No one lacks it all.”

– Christopher Peterson

Therefore, follow some ‘real’ accounts representative of yourself to minimise the risk of engaging in unhealthy social comparison. 

Here are my recommendations for excellent reality-checking and body positivity accounts: 

1.  @danaemercer

“Reminding you you’re special.”

2. @planetprudence  

“Helping you see that your thoughts aren’t alone.”

3. @celebface

“WELCOME TO REALITY.”

4. @stephanieyeboah

“Self Love Advocate”

5. @hi.ur.beautiful 

“Here to remind you that there is no bad way to have a body.”

So what’s stopping you from using Instagram as a tool to foster an appreciation for the full spectrum of beauty!

Fashion is a reflection of society and current events, and therefore fashion trends can reflect much of what is going on at the time. Our purchasing decisions can also be influenced by popular figures such as celebrities and other high-profile individuals. However, with today’s society being surrounded by social media, there is a new factor to consider when looking at what impacts fashion trends – influencers. 

The Rise of Influencer Marketing 

Research into consumer behaviour has highlighted how over the last few years, influencer marketing has become increasingly popular, and now represents a specific type of social media marketing. In one study, 92% of consumers stated that they trusted influencers more than advertisements and celebrity endorsements. Considering that the term ‘influencer marketing’ only came to exist in the last decade, it has seen quite a substantial boom. Just one reason for this is that consumers view influencers as more relatable than celebrities. When looking at the key demographic of teens, 60% said that they follow advice from influencers over celebrities, and 70% said that they also trust influencers more. Through social media, we are able to gain a glimpse into their everyday lives, and for those that consistently interact with their followers, there seems to be less of a social divide between influencer and follower.  

 

The Psychology of the Influencer Effect

This increased trust in influencers has been the subject of much psychological research. When focusing specifically on fashion influencers, Chetioui and colleagues (2020) found that the perceived credibility of an influencer was the strongest factor that affected an individual’s attitude towards them, closely followed by expertise and trust. Interestingly, this research also not only suggests that fashion influencers affect our attitudes toward a brand, but that they also create purchase intentions. Research from the visual content firm, Olapic, even found that 31% of consumers purchased a product or service based on an influencer’s post. 

So, how can we connect the prediction of the latest fashion trends with this boom in influencer marketing? Simply put, if influencers have the power to create purchase intentions, they can create the latest trend. For example, everyday leather was an unexpected 2020 fashion trend driven by influencers and was quickly made to be a part of our wardrobes. Fashion trend forecasting can be defined as the prediction of the mood, behaviour and buying habits of consumers during a particular season, and ultimately, influencers play a substantial role in all of these factors. We cannot understand trends without looking at the impact of influencers. As a result of social media, consumers are also contributors; we get to create and define our own styles, and if we have a large enough following, perhaps even define the latest trend.

The Rise of Fast Fashion

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this position of power is its impact on fast fashion. Research conducted by the Fashion Retail Academy revealed that more than half of shoppers believe that social media influencers are the cause of the rise in fast fashion. Given that sites such as Instagram are now one of the top sources of fashion inspiration, with nearly a fifth of people using it to find the latest trends, this should not be a surprise. Influencers are rarely seen sporting the same outfit and with the ease of buying through affiliate links and swiping up on stories, the fashion industry has become more fast-paced than ever.

Positive Influencer Impact 

Yet still, we shouldn’t allow our perception of influencers to be skewed. It’s not rare to see negative portrayals of influencers in the press, but research has demonstrated that they can actually have a positive impact on purchasing decisions. For example, Lim and colleagues (2017) found that compelling social media influencers have a positive impact on consumers’ purchase intentions. Although this positive impact is dependent on the influencer themselves, ultimately, they have the potential to advocate positive buying behaviour (such as sustainable fashion consumption for example). 

Overall, it is clear that social media influencers have a unique and personal connection with their audiences and that this has an impact on purchasing decisions. We can also see their role in predicting the latest fashion trends, and despite the possible negative connotations around the word ‘influencer’, there is the potential for a positive impact. It’s always important to do your due diligence and place your trust in the right people.