Last week, BuzzFeed News’ David Mack achieved a feat few gay men ever thought possible: He cleared his Instagram Explore page of shirtless men.
“I sort of just opened the app the other night, went to search for something and realized that for the first time in living memory I wasn’t being confronted with a shirtless man,” Mack says. “It took me a second before I realized what I’d finally accomplished.”
What Mack achieved can feel like an extreme rarity. Hairless, buff shirtless men, often referred to as Instagays, have for years now dominated the Instagram Explore page of their fellow, less buff but extremely online gay man. Contrary to the endless discourse, there’s nothing really wrong with the individual Instagay — if you’re hot, you’re hot, congrats on having good genes and a Peloton. But the Instagram Explore page — which offers new posts on top of the content you already subscribe to on your feed — can quickly kill your self-esteem faster than Peloton instructor Cody Risgby can unjustly spit lies about Angelica from Rugrats.
Instagram Explore men are the nameless and suspiciously hairless guys hoping their six-pack abs, descending into a Patrick Church speedo, will distract from their non-sunscreened faces and grown-out high fades. The more sensitive variety can be found in the morning with bedhead, wearing gray sweatpants. Their sleepy eyes (often behind a pair of glasses, as if to prove someone this beautiful could have a physical abnormality and thus not be entirely flawless, like a Greek god) and humble smile connote softness, while their shirtlessness reminds you they, in fact, do look like Hercules.
The Barry’s version posts in hero pose on their Lululemon yoga mat and snaps a selfie in their CB2 floor-length mirror with their Monstera perfectly in frame. Sure, they’re sexy, but that’s not all they are: They practice “wellness” and shop on Bloomscape. They might have even considered therapy, but likely opted to just play “Happy & Sad” by Kacey Musgraves on their Bose speaker instead.
Again, that’s fine — these men should get to live their best hot lives. The problem is that Instagram’s algorithm feeds them to us when we haven’t asked for interaction. Worse, this is the algorithm revealing our subconscious interests: As explained by social media marketing platform Later, Instagram’s Explore page algorithm feeds you new content based on prior interactions. So when you like a post or click on the poster’s profile, Instagram is logging that information, corralling tags, captions and visual content to deliver new posts with the same digital makeup.
For many gay men, having their explore page full of ripped cis men is an admission that we might be still hung up on body image issues, even though we thought that was solved after finishing The Velvet Rage and promptly unfollowing those queer photographers who only post shots of naked, white male limbs.
Mack considers Instagram’s design to be misguided, since the Explore page algorithm only shows us posts by accounts we don’t follow that have the same visual aesthetics, hashtags or locations as the accounts we do follow, instead of exposing us to unrelated types of content. Think about Twitter’s Explore page by contrast — although it prioritizes news and viral tweets about a variety of topics over simply regurgitating the same subjects we already follow, you can still find shirtless dudes if you’re looking. “It’s not like every time I open Twitter and go to search for something, Jack Dorsey decides to whisper gravely in my ear, ‘You will never see an ab,’” Mack says.
Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to rid those dreaded six-pack abs from the Explore page — you’ve just got to befriend the “Not Interested” button. When another bland hot shows up on your feed, press down on the photo until the photo menu pops up. Click on the bright red “Not Interested” button.
Shirtless hikers on a “humbling” quarantine vacation to Phoenix’s Camelback mountain? Not interested. Coachella throwbacks in too tight rave bodysuits? Not interested. Mirror selfies asking “what y’all up to?” Not interested, and wouldn’t you like to know?
It’ll take some time — Mack says he spent a year randomly liking “every picture of a dog or an old house in Maine or a rich French person’s mansion” before his Explore page detoxed. But if you’re patient enough, the algorithm will take note and free you from the confines of yet another photo of a Brooklyn gay dressed in chic all-black workout clothes, captioned, “Hope this makes up for last night’s pizza.”