How will the seemingly narcissistic, selfie-mad sports elite survive without Instagram 'likes'?
Instagram recently introduced measures to hide the number of likes on a post, introduced preliminarily in Canada, and correspondingly launched on Wednesday in Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.
The move is apparently a bid to promote 'digital well being', instead of obsessing over like counts which apparently inflates feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem in young people - which translates as throwing a tantrum if no one likes your photo.
One only imagines the company believes it is cutting off oxygen to the sycophantic sector of social media centered solely on skin-deep solutions and lessening teenage social pressures that include looking good or simply being liked.
But alas, while running on the ever-inclining treadmill in pursuit of the ultimate safe space, Instagram have isolated those who use actual treadmills to sculpt their bodies and then flaunt their flesh to millions of adoring fans.
The world of the elite sports star, so reliant on the approval of their followers to inspire, celebrate, and most importantly advertise, could be in grave danger. Without verification and acceptance from their partisan pockets of support, sports stars could become broken beings bereft of acceptance and love, and exposed to only nasty headlines. Here is a rundown of top sports stars most likely to be affected.
Italy - Mauro Icardi & Wanda Nara
Instagram followers - 10.6 million (combined)
Argentine power couple Mauro Icardi and Wanda Nara thrive on thrusting themselves into the spotlight - and onto one another on Instagram. One is a leading striker for Inter Milan, the other, his wife, is a former showgirl, presenter and model - who also doubles as his agent.
It's a long time since Icardi has been flavor of the month at the San Siro, being stripped of the captaincy last season following a series of purported rows with teammates stemming from problems with his wife, bemoaned as a “chronicle of a death” by the player’s sister.
Nara, is reportedly so disliked by fans that one hurled a rock at her car while leaving a game and one Italian journalist remarked “even Hitler would be scared of her”.
The 32-year-old Argentine also held a series of calamitous contract talks with Inter head honchos on her husband's bhealf, displaying extremely poor business acumen and behaving like a loose-lipped lover to the press on the subject of a new deal, leading to Icardi being further reviled by the club.
Without likes, their safe space on Instagram has now been elevated to super-sheltered, and as a side effect has killed their only refuge from mean things outside. Where will they run from name calling, the newspaper headlines, and shield themselves from rocks in the real world?
The removal of likes on raunchy semi-naked photo shoots could entirely eliminate good feedback, highlight the numerous ugly comments by enraged fans and pressure the multi-millionaire twosome into thinking no one likes them at all. How would they cope?
Canada - Eugenie Bouchard
Instagram followers - 2 million
Quebecois blonde Bouchard was the first and will perhaps be the hardest hit by Instagram’s banishment of the like system. Bouchard has seen her tennis ranking plummet due to a five year gap between winning any title at all in her sport, and has drummed up more interest in her courting, rather than on-court life.
It has contributed to the 2014 Wimbledon finalist becoming known more as a model, rather than an athlete, fueled by countless photo shoots being uploaded on her page, far outnumbering snaps from training or tournaments, which seem to have been taken a back seat.
Without her daily dose of likes, how will Bouchard be reassured she hasn't entirely slipped from public relevance? In the absence of her two million followers showing an interest in her modeling career, it looks as though Bouchard's self-esteem will shrink to such levels that she will search for a different outlet on a different social media platform.
That actually might not be a bad idea; should complete strangers online seemingly not show any interest in Bouchard's photographs, she can always accept a date from a complete stranger online to boost her confidence, as she did in 2017 when losing a bet on the NFL Super Bowl over Twitter.
Italy - Cristiano Ronaldo
Instagram followers - 176 million
The Godfather of the photogenic elite, Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo, is not only perhaps the best footballer on the planet, but the most followed human being on Instagram itself.
From advertising each and every one of his leviathan sponsors, to posting about family vacation time, Ronaldo uses his Instagram to the full.
His most-liked pictures are unsurprisingly those that show some flesh; these range from sensual snaps posing in his latest line of underwear to sullen, shirtless selfies.
Although it’s unlikely the biggest ego in world sports will be shaken by the loss of a few million likes, removing the feature altogether from Ronaldo’s account could be calamitous for his followers.
Any dedicated Ronaldo Instagram follower would ask 'without the affirmation of people I've never met, how do we know if Ronaldo's range of pants are any good?' Followed by 'do people think they’re fashionable? And 'will I really look like Cristiano if I buy them?'
Without counting likes on Ronaldo’s photos, how will I know if 176 million people like a chiseled, tanned midriff and pumped arms, or do I construct my exercise routine and diet around the reinforced messages of ‘body positivity’ in mainstream media?
Do we go for the stylish pants but ignore the toned body? Or go for the body and ignore the need for pants?
By removing likes, Instagram could open a pandora's box of problems: on the one hand alleviating stress on today's youth by eliminating the pressure to gather social approval from virtual friends, and on the other, an entire generation would lose being told what to think and do by multi-millionaire celebrities.
In turn, our nipped and tucked and retouched heroes online who have built their life on gathering a few little red hearts, could be exposed to the real world we all live in. So spare a thought for those poor souls seemingly too beautiful to give a damn who will have to do without you to feed their self-importance - your real online worth.
Danny Armstrong is a British journalist based in Moscow, Russia, who has worked for RT since 2016 as a sports writer, reporter and presenter.