@sourpuffgrlThe Girl Behind the Gram
14 November 2018
We sat down to talk about instagram, fashion, and being a WOC with Insta babe @surpuffgrl for this month's instalment of The Girl Behind the Gram:
Mina: My name is Mina and I’m a second generation Vietnamese-American girl studying media/communications and politics/international relations in Melbourne, Australia. I would describe my style as romantic and feminine, with heavy inspiration from Old Hollywood and French New Wave. I’m also always inspired by the runway; I love to watch collections by Luisa Becarria, Giambattista Valli, and Dior. I’m passionate about social and environmental issues, so most of the clothes I buy these days are either ethically made or secondhand vintage. Other than fashion, I love watching films, having picnics with friends, karaoke-ing to ABBA, reading, and playing with my cat. Her name is Prada.”
What was your reason for starting your Instagram?
Mina: I really only started using Instagram towards the end of 2017 and mainly because I was still fresh in Melbourne. I didn’t have too many friends at the time so I had a lot of free time to style outfits and I wanted a platform where I could chronicle them.
Who do you want to reach with your account? What kind of community do you hope to build through your followers?
Mina: I try not to think too much about Instagram. I don’t want to attach any kind of monetary meaning to it because I think doing so would affect the freedom I have currently with posting. I just post what I want to post and if people like it, then that’s cool. These days I mainly use Instagram to keep in contact with friends and occasionally for modeling stuff. Obviously I’m happy when strangers like, comment, or reply to my stories, but it’s not the be-all, end-all if they don’t. My friends are what make Instagram worthwhile for me.
Is there a message you want to spread with your Instagram presence? What do you want to communicate to your followers?
Mina: I’m passionate about social justice and environmental issues, and I feel I have an obligation to keep my Instagram as informative as it is creative. For some reason some people don’t realize I have opinions because I don’t write “activist” in my bio. Occasionally I get messages like, “I followed you because I liked your style, but I didn’t come to hear your political views.” People need to understand that the fashion industry is tied to so many ethical issues, and naturally, anyone in it has their opinions and these opinions affect the content they produce e.g. someone who really cares about the environment is going to be more selective in choosing which brands to collaborate with. What I’m trying to say is that I want to be able to express my views without people thinking that it’s contradictory to what my account is “supposed to be.” It’s 2018. People should be expecting the people they follow to be vocal about what’s going on with the world.
Who or what is your biggest Instagram inspiration and do you see yourself as an inspiration to others?
Mina: Anyone can be an inspiration to anyone regardless of how big their following is. And that’s the cool thing about Instagram. I don’t go about my life thinking I’m inspiring to anyone but I also don’t rule out the idea that it’s possible.
At the top of my head, the Instagrammers I’ve been inspired by recently are @jessicazwu, @isabelleestrin, @madewin, @wearilive, and @double3xposure. I like their styles and I like how they use their platforms.
Instagram is a big source of inspiration and can connect all different kinds of groups, but can also be dangerous: i.e. comparing yourself to other people on Instagram whose feeds may or may not depict “reality.” What are your feelings or experiences with this?
Mina: At the end of the day everyone is entitled to do what they want with their photos. The audience has its own responsibility to take what they see with a grain of salt. However I do think that in general, using Facetune and Photoshop have dangerous societal implications. Why is that we (mainly girls) feel the need to change our bodies at all? What is it about certain features that make them more desirable? What rigid beauty standard are we upholding through our editing choices? For a short period of time, I was editing my photos, meticulously and obsessively. But then I started asking myself these questions and I didn’t like the answers I was coming up with so I deleted the photos and the apps. If I have a pimple, so what?
Some Instagrammers use the platform to share their lives with others, some to share what they are working on with the world. Others use it as a diary for themselves, and yet others for clout. Some people run their accounts for fun, others view Instagram as a business tool. What are you using it for?
Mina: I use it for myself and for my friends. I’ve moved around a lot the past few years and I’ve also made a lot of friends who don’t live near me. Instagram is good for keeping up with people who you don’t have the time to talk to very often, but still want to see what they’re doing and how they’re growing. It’s also fun to see how much I’ve grown myself by going through my archives.
Social media has given a platform to women from communities who previously did not have the space to use their strong voices, such as WOC. Is this something you think about in general and for your own account?
Mina: It’s definitely something I think about. Being a Vietnamese-American woman has its own struggles, but I grew up with a lot of privilege that blinded me from realizing how deeply entrenched oppression is in our society. I was on Tumblr first and that’s really where I started reading about other people’s experiences and collecting resources. One of the issues I did have growing up was lack of representation and the desire to be white that usually accompanies that. While we have a long way to go, kids these days do see more representation than past generations because we’re finally talking about it and actually demanding it. Instagram helps too. I always get excited finding other Viet girls on there.
That’s something else I’ve realized as I get older and as we talk about it more: there’s a big divide between Vietnamese representation, Southeast Asian, and the monolithic horror called “Asian representation.” I try to keep this in mind and talk about/reference being Vietnamese on Instagram whenever I feel it’s appropriate, for myself and also for any Viet girl who follows me. But it’s still hard because I’m part of the diaspora and there’s cultural disconnects where I wish there weren’t.
Is there a specific reason you don’t have “activist” or something that signifies how important activism is to you in your bio and how do you respond to those who write you criticizing your choice to share your political views on your Instagram?
Mina: I don’t write activist in my bio because being an activist is an actual job and I haven’t done enough to have earned that title. Part of why activism is such a respectable job is because they have to regurgitate the same information over and over again. And people will expect you to do it when you claim to be an activist. I don’t mind discussing social justice issues, but the ones that affect me are emotionally tolling and I find it difficult to engage with people who fire questions with negative intent/play devil’s advocate. So, I don’t actually answer anyone who criticizes me unless it’s constructive.
Beccaria, Valli, and Dior — what inspires you the most about these designers and how do you adapt elements of their designs into your own style?
Mina: What I like about these designers is a lot of their collections have a whimsical, feminine, angelic, fairytale-esque quality about them. Obviously I can’t afford any actual pieces by them (…yet) and I don’t look for dupes of actual clothing. I just try to capture the same essence.
Buying mainly second hand and vintage garments is obviously a good way to contribute to sustainability in fashion. What made you start doing this and how did it change your personal style? Are there any other things you do to keep our planet as healthy as possible and what would be your advice for others?
Mina: I started for my own ethics. I wrote a lot of essays on the fast fashion industry over the past year for uni, and in doing so, I really educated myself on how terrible the industry is. Factory workers/textile farmers are paid unlivable wages, physically abused, sexually assaulted, and/or killed to make fast fashion. I don’t condone what these corporations do but with that said, I haven’t completely cut out fast fashion due to how accessible it is for me as a college student (I just don’t make frivolous purchases). When I make my own money, I intend to stop completely. As for my personal style – looking for durability/versatility has moved me away from trends. I mean, there are some trends from last year that I look back on and think, “Why did I buy into that?” So you know, the appeal of trends is always ephemeral and a waste of money/individuality to be honest. I also treasure my clothes more because they’re better made and one of a kind.
I’m still learning how I can reduce waste and consumption. It’s a bit of a tumultuous time in my life right now because I’m moving back to America in a month. But once I’m settled I’m definitely planning on being more involved with organizations. I recommend for people to call government officials, protest, and help out ecological organizations: ones that focus on plastic recycling, helping vulnerable communities, garment factory worker rights, wildlife/sea life preservation, etc.
As sad as it is, it’s not enough to lower our individual carbon footprints, not with corporations contributing to the majority of the world’s pollution. Veganism, riding public transport, buying secondhand are all noble and I definitely think they’re good practices, but the truth is that they’re not fully accessible options and there are more significant ways to help if you have to choose one thing to really commit your energy to.
As a Vietnamese-American girl, how do you think Instagram and social media in general can help put and end to traditional (Eurocentric) beauty standards both now and in the future?
Mina: Well, people are exposed to a diverse range of looks through social media, more so than if they only had mainstream media. However, I think it’s something to keep in mind that people choose to follow who they want to follow. If someone only follows white girls, they will only see whiteness on their Instagram. But alternatively, if a Southeast Asian girl follows many Southeast Asian girls, then that exposure would hopefully lead to positive perceptions about their own ethnic features. I don’t know if we’ll fully uproot European beauty standards in my lifetime, but I think we’re headed in the right direction. It’s a good thing that right now, representation is there if you look for it and you can create your own positive, validating community if you want to.
Privilege often keeps people from thinking about how they can help marginalized groups or prevents them from even seeing issues that affect POC (and other marginalized groups) in the first place. How can non-minority women help and empower WOC and other marginalized women?
Mina: Listen to marginalized groups, uplift their voices, read up on current events, and call out other white people. The most tiresome thing for WOC to do is having to explain why our issues matter, and phrasing it in the most palatable way to not ‘offend’ white people is demeaning to our and our ancestors’ struggles. If you’re white and you get it, then help other people get it too. I know it’s awkward to call out strangers, friends, family members… but if you’re a good ally, you’ll do it because the fact is, white people are always given more credibility, compassion, and politeness than a lot of WOC for saying the same thing.