The world is still in the throes of an unprecedented pandemic. And the world—the United States in particular—is still in the midst of an historic racial reckoning centuries in the making. But on social media, it’s increasingly a different story. Each new day of July marks an incremental step towards a return to “normalcy.” Slowly but surely, Instagram users are shifting what used to be ordinary content—selfies, thirst traps, and photos of friends and food—from the “Close Friends” section of Instagram Stories back to their main feeds.
At times, the shift in content has felt tone-deaf. (Particularly when it comes to celebrities.) But somehow, that wasn’t the case when 78-year-old Martha Stewart joined the thirst trap fray on Tuesday, naturally via her beloved burner account, @marthastewart48. Personal photos and videos of herself are a staple of Stewart’s feed, just like unappetizing meal close-ups and blurry snapshots of life on the farm. Still, the dispatch she posted from her pool in East Hampton, where she was taking refuge from the 89-degree heat, stood apart.
The caption is classic Stewart, with in-depth details about her various home improvement projects. “When I built the pool thirty years ago it was designed to be as chlorine free as possible, with a natural concrete finish-no paint- and it fit in a long narrow space between the house and the property line,” Stewart wrote. “I made it extra deep for diving and with no protruding steps so we could really race the length without worrying about obstacles.” As usual, she concluded with a bevy of exclamation points: “After all these years, It is a fun place to swim!!!”
What is it, then, about this Instagram in particular? Stewart looks, well, great! She’s deftly working her angles, tilting her chin up just so. She’s showcasing a few envy-inducing details—like the fact that she’s isolating in what, after months of quarantine, looks like Eden, and that her blonde hair is miraculously devoid of roots. No wonder that, less than 24 hours later, the post has been liked more than 140,000 times.
But apart from all that, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi to Stewart’s poolside thirst trap. While often simply the backdrop to carefully posed, homogenous pool float Instagrams, swimming pool photography is a captivating genre in and unto itself. Stewart managed to fall into the latter category. Her self-portrait even calls to mind the opulent, influential oeuvre of the society photographer Slim Aarons, whose self-described preoccupation was with “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” How, exactly, did Stewart do it? Are we witnessing the birth of a new artistic period?
Perhaps not. Whatever it is, Stewart seems to have already moved on. Within minutes, she was back to posting close-ups of that evening’s meal. The response to her selfie had clearly registered, but Stewart only paid it the most modest of acknowledgments—by acting as if it was her East Hampton property that had piqued her followers’ interests, rather than her fascinating, enigmatic self.