A quick scroll through the Instagram feeds of models turned business owners Steph Smith and Laura Henshaw sees a littering of big smiles, big selfies and a whole lot of time spent in active wear and bikinis.
For anyone else, active wear and bikinis signals leisure time. For these two, it’s their work, their currency and their brand. Henshaw, 24, and Smith, 23, have made the difficult but doable transition from models to business owners, launching Keep It Cleaner in 2016, a business that seeks to educate young girls on fitness and nutrition with an overarching goal of helping them feel comfortable in their own skin. A business that now has health food products stocked in Coles supermarkets right around the country.
It’s not an easy goal, that much is obvious. In a digital realm where social media heightens insecurities and encourages comparison, Smith and Henshaw have embarked on the difficult task of making the virtual world seem a little more real.
For the both of them, it’s an experience they feel they can engage with. After all, they know the sting of feeling inadequate doesn’t discriminate, saying they know – too well – the pressure of looking perfect online. And, as they tell Mamamia, that pressure has, in the past, manifested in feeling the need to Photoshop.
“I, one hundred percent, have felt [the pressure to photoshop]. Two or three years ago, I was really strict about the photos I would put up, making sure it was only ever taken from a flattering angle,” Henshaw says.
“In the past I have used apps to remove pimples or whiten my teeth. I suppose my rule now is just not to do it. I have too many young girls following me and as a model I put up enough work shots of me that have been professionally touched up so they don’t need my day to day images to be touched up as well,” she says.
“I’ve come to a point where I’m happy to share my insecurities and my off days with my followers because I want to make sure they know I’m real.”
For both girls, they know the touching up of images online, not just in magazines, is insidious.
“I think it’s crazy, because you only expect a professional modelling image to be Photoshopped. And the thing is, not everyone needs Photoshop – most people use apps like Facetune. But because these apps are so accessible on their phone, it’s so easy to edit your images,” Henshaw says.
“When you see an iPhone image, you expect it to be completely natural. Often they’re not.”
Smith tells Mamamia sometimes it’s not about trying to work out if a photo actually has been touched up. After all, sometimes it’s impossible to know.
“It has become quite common. But it’s not about looking for tell-tale signs in peoples photos… it’s just about being aware that some people do it. So don’t compare yourself to what you see on Instagram. And someone isn’t to be attacked either if they have decided to, the technology exists and it’s their own choice to do that…. it’s just about being aware that it happens.”
For both Henshaw and Smith, it can be a tough sell – the pitch to young girls about social media being a small portion of a person’s life – when both have built followings and careers from its benefits. Because of this, it can be argued, they’re passionate about making sure that although they’re themselves online, it’s not possible for it to be all of them.
“Majority of us share our most shiny moments on our feeds,” Smith says.”You rarely will see posts that are raw where someone might just be having a shitty day or week because it’s natural for everyone to want to put up their best photos right!? So you’ve just got to remind yourself of that when scrolling through and seeing other people’s amazing lives, remember that they have their own troubles, insecurities and own things bothering them in life too. Try and follow people who motivate you, not people who make you feel down about yourself.”
If anything, the duo have a consistent message, with Henshaw agreeing: unfollowing those who get you down can be key to the state of your mind.
“People post the best five per cent of their lives online,” she says. “I did a big cleanout [a few years ago].”
Henshaw was struggling with “disordered eating” and found herself following accounts that would encourage calorie counting. Her first step to good health, she says, was unfollowing.
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“They say you become the five people you spend the most time around. It’s exactly the same with social media.”
In the last few weeks, the influencer industry has been put on sharp notice from some of its own: Beauty blogger Chloe Morello blowing the lid on other bloggers buying their followers to maintain a social standing.
For Henshaw and Smith, who have built their large followings organically, it’s an interesting predicament. More interesting, perhaps, that they have varying attitudes to the process.
“In a personal sense, I don’t care. But [professionally], I care because it’s not good for the industry,” Henshaw says.
“Big brands are only just trusting social media, which is great because it brings us work, but if people are going to buy their followers, it betrays that trust. It’s a ridiculous way to start a business because it’s not real.”
Smith says she’s more interested in staying in her own lane, unfazed by the implications it has for the wider influencer industry.
“It doesn’t bother me really. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on the matter but I don’t think what anyone else is doing on their account affects me or my work. If that’s what they want to do then they can, but I don’t see the point in it.”