Hundreds of images fly across a student’s phone screen with the swipe of a thumb.
Many students scroll through Instagram feeds during free moments, making it a regular activity for millennials in their daily routines. During these searches, it is not uncommon to find “social media influencers.”
Social media influencers are trend-setting individuals with a prominent voice and a large audience. BYU student Monica Hobbs has 110,000 Instagram followers. She has gained attention from brands and artists and has developed friends from all over the world through the self-portraits she posts on Instagram.
Hobbs was a high schooler in early November 2010 when she first caught word of a new app called Instagram. Immediately intrigued, she downloaded it and decided it would be an outlet for her to showcase her art.
Hobbs uploaded images she took in a photography class to her Instagram account. Before she knew it, her posts made the popular page and her following grew. She felt excited to be part of this community in which she could express herself, especially because she was in a stage she characterized as “teen angst.”
Hobbs followed artists’ work and was especially interested in self-portraits.
“I don’t like expressing myself publicly; no one at my high school even knew I had Instagram,” she said. “It made it a way for me to express myself to a new group. I could relate to people, but just not people that I knew personally and interacted with. I know that just sounds creepy, but to me it seemed safer.”
Within the first year, Hobbs gained more than 60,000 followers. About two years later, her pictures made the popular page every day, and people she knew started following her. It was no longer her community of art friends from all over the world. It also included people she knew and went to school with.
This closer community made her more aware of her posts.
“If people I knew were following me, I didn’t want to be posting sad pictures,” Hobbs said. “I don’t want to say that I was only taking sad pictures, but if people are watching me, I might have an influence on these random people. So I started taking more positive pictures.”
Hobbs’ Instagram handle, @indiesunshine, came about because she was in Indiana visiting family when she downloaded Instagram.
“I didn’t even know what indie music was at the time,” she said. “Then ‘sunshine’ because I love the sun.”
Hobbs has been taking pictures for as long as she can remember. She participated in photography contests in elementary school and often did well. More than once she was the runner-up for the state title for best picture from her age group. Now Hobbs remembers the experience and laughs because almost every year she entered a similar picture of the U.S. flag.
She said she wanted her images to be authentic to herself.
“I wanted to create positive images for other people but I also wanted to create positivity in my life,” she said. “I wanted people to look at my page and see happy vibes, leave my page feeling happier.”
She said she recently has refined her posts to not include “just silly smiling photos.”
Madeline Becker, social media influencer and digital marketing director at Albion Fit, became friends with Hobbs after meeting at a social media influencer conference.
Becker believes Hobbs’ account is popular because she is true to herself.
“Her social media is a complete reflection of who she is: very creative, sweet and genuine,” Becker said. “She also has a distinct aesthetic in her feed that is very consistent and pleasing.”
Hobbs’ best friend Annika Fraga admires Hobbs for her hilarious personality and for being personable to everyone she meets. Fraga said Hobbs knows who she is. That confidence reflects itself in the people she meets.
“Monica is a very genuine person and it shows in her art. She doesn’t post to show what she has. She posts to share the beauty she sees in everyday life,” Fraga said.
Fraga said Hobbs’ kind, caring attitude toward people also shows in her work, which has influenced Fraga as well.
“Monica has always influenced me by showing me that literally anything is possible. She is a dream chaser and knows how to make things happen,” Fraga said.
Hobbs attributes many of the opportunities she has received to her social media platforms. Hobbs has always been interested in the Free People clothing company. Her social media connections led her to her dream internship at the company headquarters in Philadelphia.
“Instagram made me realize there are opportunities out there to create and have fun, live life in a beautiful way,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs never expected Instagram to change her life or for so many people to like her art. She thinks she would be studying dentistry or physiology, “not knowing how much more I was missing out on,” she said. “I wouldn’t have explored my artistic side.”
Hobbs was accepted into BYU’s advertising program last semester and is now working to learn and grow in digital marketing.
“I value education because I have a passion for learning,” she said. “I would go to school for the rest of my life if I could afford it. It is important to me because I know it will open doors to whatever I aspire to do.”
A main idea Hobbs wants to portray to her followers is to learn how to find beauty not only in the little things but also in themselves — to embrace imperfections as things that make people who they are.
“A lot of people mistake self-portraiture as vanity, but for me, it’s more learning about myself and exploring the different sides of who I am,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs said in the future she wants to travel the world, specifically India, Thailand and southern France.
“I don’t see myself settling down anytime soon in one spot,” she said.
She is also excited to be involved in creating new things that bring people together. “I see myself taking photos and finding life through my photography,” she said.