Reaction to: Instagram's "Self-Care" Scams
Instagram aesthetic is the overall "feel" of a user's Instagram channel. It's the selective facade the user puts forth into the public sphere. But more importantly, it's the cohesiveness of the content that determines how strong the aesthetic is.
Instagram started as a social app meant to promote in-the-moment photography with the ability to add filters on the fly to enhance the shot. Although other, quite popular, services allowed for the editing and posting of pictures already existed, Instagram's unbloated approach set them apart from the rest. To the average user, that seems to still be its main utility.
Over the years, Instagram has faced a few changes: it now allows videos uploads, tagging, stories, as well as other small features. The most dramatic changes, though, happened when Facebook acquired the company. What was once a community of photography enthusiasts is now a goldmine for the monolith. For example, injecting advertisements into users' feeds provided a (kind of) whole new audience to which companies could advertise. Furthermore, the switch from a chronological feed to a somewhat-curated one allowed for Facebook/Instagram to steer what you see, and when you see it.
All of these factors coalesce to form the perfect storm: the ability to sell an image. It doesn't matter if it matched its real-life counter part. What matters is user acquisition, engagement, and retention. Having online clout makes you attractive to advertisers. If a user sees an image or two that someone posts, and chooses to follow them, the channel's overall aesthetic acts as a predictability indicator for future posts.
As Rachael Krishna pointed out, everything that was once good is now bad due to its intrinsic link to capitalism. Users now have the opportunity to advertise to the fanbase they've amassed by having sponsors. This tends to encourage money-making posts over regular ones. That applies to anything they're selling -- including what Ryan referred to as "the commodification of mental health."
EXAMPLE: Let's say you work your crappy 9-5 job (but from 8-7 because Capitalism). You come home stressed out and never have time to "treat yourself." You stumble across a chic Instagram channel; transparently curated to make it seem that the channel's owner is living the dream. They tell you "you can be like me if you get this stuff that I happen to use! I SWEAR BY IT!" Sick of living vicariously through the lenses of others, you think it's time to spend a little time and money on yourself. Step one: get what they have. Your attempt is in vain, though. You still have a crappy job, and your situation has not improved at all, but hey -- at least now you have a thing. Maybe if you get more of the stuff they have, you too can live that life.
This is what the advertisers bank on. I don't fully agree with the journalists that this trend comes from a distrust of authority. Talk shows and commentators based around "doctors" still have influence on television and radio. So, maybe it's not a full distrust of authority. However, I do believe it is founded on that principle. If it weren't, there'd be no need for the convoluted path from advertiser to viewer. The idea of adding unnecessary middle-persons is, again, Capitalism in its purest form.