It was not so long ago that being famous was little more than a teenage dream, a fantasy supplemented by images of beautiful people and exotic places, gracing the pages of glossy magazines.
But today’s teens, and even tweens, aren’t waiting around to be plucked from oblivion by powerful industry figures, they’re taking matters – quite literally – into their own hands.
Meika Woollard is 13 years old, she’s in year 8, plays representative basketball in her home city of Melbourne and loves to draw.
She also has 335,000 Instagram followers, making her one of Australia’s most prominent teen Insta-influencers.
So how does a 13-year-old girl with a smartphone and a free app have a greater audience reach than some of Australia’s national television networks?
She has some help. Meika often has four to 20 people helping her create the perfect Instagram snap.
“It can be big shoots, small shoots, but it doesn’t really matter in the end because you still get amazing photos,” she said.
Meika has been modelling since she was two and managing how she’s perceived online comes naturally.
“You definitely do need to have two accounts, one just for your friends so they don’t have to see everything you do,” she said.
“You wouldn’t go and say [on your public account] ‘Oh my gosh I just had the worst day, I don’t want to be here today’, you wouldn’t do that.”
“You’d be like ‘There’s a time for improvement in this day and it will get better’.”
Not just teen models with dual accounts
At 17, Holly Davia’s follower count of 711 might be more modest, but she is similarly aware of her online brand and how to exploit the platform to her advantage.
“There’s actually a time everyone posts, because that’s the time everyone’s on Instagram,” she said.
Like many teens, the southern Sydney teenager manages two Instagram accounts, a public one that depicts only the best images of her life and a private one where she can be herself.
“You sort of show your life how you want everyone to see it and then your private would be like how your friends really do see it,” she said.
“I can really post anything on my private and I’ll just know that everyone will be laughing at it and having a joke about it.
“If I post on my main [account], I really do care what people think.”
It’s a trend Instagram said has been growing.
“Both locally and globally we have noticed an increasing trend among teens who are opting to have multiple accounts on the platform,” a spokesperson for Instagram said.
“Teens also use multiple accounts to share different types of content, or to dedicate one to a particular personal passion, hobby or interest, such as photography and design.”
‘They understand brand’
Joanne Orlando from the University of Western Sydney has been studying the way teenagers are using Instagram to brand manage their lives.
She said the platform was being used by teenagers in a highly strategic way.
“They understand brand, they understand that real Instagram account and you need to look perfect,” Dr Orlando said.
“They’re manipulating the social media platform in ways that actually suit them.”
Dr Orlando said teenagers were using the platform to control their digital identity, including prospective employers.
“They have grown up in a social media world and they have a very good, cluey, understanding of what that means,” she said.
But Dr Grant Blashki is concerned the reality gap is having a mental health impact on teenagers.
“As a GP I see quite a lot of teens who are coming in and they’re comparing their own lives to a really unrealistic expectation that they’re seeing on social media.
“Social media, for some, can really cause a lot of stress when they compare themselves to unrealistic expectations.”
Holly acknowledged the pressures and falsehoods tied to Instagram but she said it wouldn’t stop her using the platform.
“I’m happy with both my Instagram accounts, I sort of use it for fun.”