Having a pop at influencers is like florals for spring – ground-breaking, right? Your face has my full permission to look exactly like the eye-roll emoji right now. So let me get my disclaimer in early – you’re not about to read a scathing attack on an entire industry, or hear me get petty ‘n’ preachy about #ads and excess packaging.
As a concept and/or a career, I really do understand the value of influencers – to brands yes, but also to followers/views/fans. I’ve watched as the industry has grown from teenage girls in their bedrooms to millionaires in their mansions. A lot of them are female business owners from pretty diverse backgrounds who’ve worked their way up, building an audience who adores and trusts them. That’s all good stuff.
So, what’s my ‘but’…? In the last year or so especially, I’ve noticed a change. A lot of it has been compounded by post-covid life for sure, but for me, the shift began even before then. Last winter, a bout of depression crept up on me and bled into all aspects of my life. One of which, weirdly, was my consumption of social media. Prior to that, I watched YouTube influencers daily, and spent far too much time scrolling Insta, where I saved pics of bodies, homes and things that I wanted to have too. Or so I thought at the time. But when you’re metaphorically on your knees (and sometimes literally if I’m honest), all that stuff suddenly becomes meaningless noise. I simply could not tolerate another influencer being on holiday for the 12th time that year. Or moving to an even more perfect house, 10 months after the last one was deemed their forever home. Sure, I knew what they shared wasn’t the full picture, that perhaps they too were struggling with something. And that almost made it worse. Because then it felt somewhat like deceit.
I was putting them between a rock and a hard place, I know. They’re under no obligation to share everything, and I imagine it’s a very difficult balance to negotiate – I certainly could not work or live in their realm. For me, the answer was simple. I came off Instagram and just stopped watching YouTube, and it helped.
As I started to feel better, I slowly returned to consuming influencer-based content again, this time making sure I only followed the stuff that didn’t affect me negatively. Rocket science, eh? You’re welcome. And yet I still think a lot of us are unconsciously drinking up that perfect-life narrative we see online.
It all began with following people that seemed like us. When beauty blogging was in its early days, it was simply ‘normal’ girls spending their hard-earned cash on make-up, and then telling us if that new £20 foundation was actually shit. It felt like hanging out with a friend. As brands picked up on the commercial potential of a trusted blogger’s opinion, the game changed – understandably.
For some followers, a glimpse into a world of luxury holidays and a house that’s #gifted from floor to ceiling is harmless escapism, even inspiring perhaps. For me, as we tread fearfully into what is likely to be the worst recession in decades, I am struggling to find purpose in it now. Here’s an example. A couple of months ago I was watching a a vlog from someone I’ve followed for a long time, who always seemed pretty relatable and conscious of the perks of being an influencer. She mentioned her new favourite moisturiser, which I think she’d been gifted but was so impressed with that she said she’d be buying again. It was £135. She acknowledged it was expensive, but I still wondered, who do you think your audience is? It probably stung more because I’d just been made redundant, but so have a lot of people.
It’s difficult to share this view without sounding like a jealous cow. Maybe I am one. But I genuinely don’t have an issue with influencers as individuals. I don’t view it as an easy job, or one without pitfalls and struggles. If money is still being made, and people are happy doing it, my opinion shouldn’t really matter to them. But I’m really intrigued to know if what I’m feeling echoes the wider mood.
Will what we currently know as influencers become another victim of 2020? As advertising budgets are slashed and travel changes beyond recognition, will there be no choice but for influencers to become more relatable again? We’ll just have to scroll and see…