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Yana Sheptovetskaya started posting reviews of beauty products on Instagram in the spring of 2016, using the handle @Gelcream. A former fashion editor, she photographed each item with winning simplicity: a bottle of Fresh face oil or a tube of Glossier highlighter held in her outstretched hand, illuminated as though by a beam of light cutting through a dark room. Gelcream’s photo style was imitated all over the internet, and Sheptovetskaya racked up media coverage along with tens of thousands — now hundreds of thousands — of followers.
After seven months and dozens of reviews, Sheptovetskaya interrupted her usual programming with a picture of a manicured hand holding an orange vial of antidepressants.
“2016 was my year of realizing things. I found out that I am depressed. It started [a] couple years ago when I noticed that my memories are kinda faded and my mood swings a little,” she wrote in the caption. “I am writing this because I feel terrible that I lost so much time, that I thought it is normal to stop experiencing things at their fullest. I wish someone told me that the hormonal pills I take for the past 7 years to treat PCOS [polycystic ovarian syndrome] can cause depression, that it's not me, it's the chemistry. I can't explain how amazing it is to get the harmony back.”
Sheptovetskaya says she doesn’t plan her posts ahead of time, as many Instagrammers do, and recalls deciding to share the post in a fit of anger at the birth control pills that had caused her mood to crater. The response from her followers was tremendous, with DMs rolling in from people who shared her frustration. Today, the post has over 1,500 likes and more than 150 comments — about five times the response elicited by her other posts from that time.
“I realized that when I started talking, people started responding,” Sheptovetskaya says. “Everyone has some sort of a problem, and they’re just keeping it to themselves because it’s so shameful to accept that I don’t feel well or I feel sad.”
With more than 118,000 followers, Sheptovetskaya is one of many high-profile Instagrammers who have begun peppering their grids and Stories with deeply personal posts about mental health. It’s a striking turn on a platform that often feels like a highlight reel of people’s lives — a beautiful, maddening blur of beach vacations, expensive dinners out, impossibly glowing skin, and exciting career news. But occasionally, and increasingly, influencers are puncturing the idealized self-portraits that they’ve painted and letting followers in on their darker moments.
Swimsuit model Nina Agdal has opened up about her anxiety, writing that it has spiked during fashion week. Olivia Culpo, an influencer and former Miss Universe, wrote at length about her experience with depression, explaining that even during that time she was “still taking photos on social media and pretending everything was great.” Garance Doré, a longtime style blogger, rang in 2019 with a long post about finding her way through a difficult few years, after getting caught up “in this mirage of the fashion girl.” The disconnect between real life and life as portrayed on Instagram is not lost on them.
Tellingly, these posts tend to elicit strong positive reactions from followers. Sheptovetskaya, who continues to write about PCOS and mental health when she feels compelled, says the posts that get the biggest responses tend to be reviews of cheap Amazon finds and narratives about personal challenges. The reason is simple: They’re both incredibly relatable.
“I think what has contributed to influencers’ astronomical success, compared to regular celebrities or a beautiful model wearing great clothes, is the 24-hour access they give us, and the fact that they really play to our human need for connection,” says Meg Gitlin, a therapist who cites social media as a common topic among her clients. “The use of the word ‘followers’ isn’t accidental. We may be following [influencers] on Instagram or social media, but it’s not a far leap to say that we’re following their lead in terms of what’s cool, what’s relevant, and what’s worth our time and attention. When an influencer lets their guard down and expresses some sort of personal struggle that they’re going through, I think that it makes us feel less alone.”
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