In light of Instagram star Essena O’Neill quitting social media after declaring that the platforms only show a filtered version of life, U.K.-based model Stina Sanders took on a challenge to post unfiltered – and sometimes unflattering – photos on her Instagram account for a week.
“I wanted to see what would actually happen if I stopped posting glamorous photos, and shared stuff that you wouldn’t normally even share with your friends, stuff that is taboo, stuff that was quite crude, all that kind of stuff,” Sanders, 24, tells PEOPLE. “Personally I think Instagram is so fake – the amount of filters, the airbrushing – so I thought it would be interesting.”
Sanders posted photos documenting her weekly hair removal routine, a colonic to help her IBS, a trip to her psychotherapist, a chipped pedicure and "ugly" selfies from unflattering angles. The pictures were quite a departure from Sanders’ usual posts of bikini shots, vacation pictures, glammed-up selfies and modeling photos.
“Normally I would use a filter or an airbrushing app, so I made sure I really didn’t do that,” she says. “Most of them I didn’t have on any makeup or my hair was disheveled, and no filters were used at all.”
The blogger was surprised by the reactions her realistic photos elicited.
“I thought that my followers would remain the same but I would get no likes, but the total opposite happened,” she said. “I had an influx of likes, but I had a massive decrease of followers.”
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Sanders dropped from more than 13,000 followers to less than 10,000 (she is now back up to 12,100), but some of her photos received hundreds of additional likes. She also got more comments from women than ever before.
“Women were commenting because they could relate,” she says. “For example, on the hair removal cream photo of mine, one girl said, ‘I do my morning maintenance every Monday too.’ People were pleased that they could actually see it’s okay to be normal.”
She also got a lot of social media support for an Instagram showing her leaving a psychotherapy session to help treat her anxiety.
“It’s not talked about it enough,” Sanders says of why she chose to be candid about her mental health issues. “I didn’t think I would get a positive response, but I think that had the most likes out of all of them.”
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Sanders says she will continue to show a more realistic portrayal of her life on her Instagram page.
“When I did take those ‘ugly’ selfies, it was actually quite empowering,” she says. “Who cares about how your hair’s looking? Just be happy in yourself and be confident when you look in the mirror. It’s so important to just be real.”