<- Internet Studio

@plantbasedfoodgal: A Study of Identity and Beliefs by Ivy Lam

@plantbasedfoodgal is my Instagram based project constructed from my interests in how people interact in the online space. As the class continued to explore the power of anonymity and how many Internet users feel a sense of freedom on the we (as shown by the various 4chan /b/ examples in Jamie Bartlett’s The Dark Net), I decided to launch an experiment that would span across these various themes. When deciding on the topic and medium, I opted for a subject and channel that were both interests in my life: veganism and Instagram. I’ve never tried a solely “plant based” diet before, but was always very curious about the lifestyle and discovered that there was a strong online community and stigma around it. I then decided to use the popular social media platform, Instagram (and a bit of YouTube), to explore online policing and bullying in this community, as well as any sub-communities relating to it, such as pro-ana forums and other eating disorder sites.

In order to explore these online interactions in an organic way, I decided to become a (temporary) part of this community by becoming vegan for two to three months, in which I documented my progress on my Instagram account @plantbasedfoodgal and maintained a personal diary throughout the process. I started off by posting very tame and typical images you would typically find on the thousands of other vegan social media accounts out there, in the hopes of garnering some following. After a few weeks of this, I proceeded to post some more controversial content that you typically wouldn’t see from a self-proclaimed healthy and vegan social media poster, such as images containing meat, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. I tried to spark engagement and conversation on my account in this way, as well as in the comments section of various popular vegan YouTube channels.

A component of my experiment that I didn’t expect to play a big role but rapidly became one was the idea promoted by Brody Condon in his LARP project about the “Scripted Self.” Even though I wasn’t taking on some extremely different identity, for I was mostly just being myself while following a plant-based diet and occasionally uploading images on social media I normally wouldn’t, I did still find it difficult and wearing to constantly post content under the façade of being a happy, healthy vegan. The most difficult part was definitely taking on the role of an aggressor when I actively tried to instigate conversation on vegan channels; even behind the cloak of anonymity, I found it uncomfortable to speak in a forceful way I typically wouldn’t in real life. Moreover, the role of technology and the actual body undeniably played big roles in my project, considering a majority of the experiment was solely based on the two. I’ve never had any art project intertwine in such a substantial way into my everyday life, but it effectively allowed me to get a better understanding of others on the online space, as well as myself.