Throughout this lockdown period I, like many others, have spent unreasonable amounts of time on social media and noticed a number of trends. People we now insist on calling ‘influencers’, having amassed huge followings, are becoming increasingly prominent on my feed. I spend every day scrolling through pictures of shiny 19-year-old millionaires living in their hyper-modern LA homes, publicly documenting a new pair of Nikes and matching tennis skirt every single day. Alternatively, you will see the modern Jane Birkin character, likely situated somewhere in mainland Europe, clad head-to-toe in “lowkey” designer, relentlessly showing us her morning, afternoon, and evening skincare routines, when at this point, I think we can just accept pore-less skin is a genetic gift some of us have not been blessed with.
Admittedly I am not an influencer and cannot pretend I understand the mental labour such a job entails; I understand spending so much time on Instagram that you start influencing people’s real lives would be quite emotionally destabilising and overwhelming. But from what I can tell, as an object of their influence, these people’s job is essentially to accumulate embarrassing amounts of material goods so that they may show us all what they look like on their sparkling marble countertops and size 4 frames. It gets to the point where they start renting out their bags and coats because they don’t use them enough.
Sometimes I try convincing myself that with the multitude of nationalities and cultures I expose myself to, they give me inspiration; that is, after all, the main positive to be taking away from the internet, the variety of perspectives we are given access to. For example, layering this blouse under this jumper makes you look like this! Voila! And you can do it too! I am newly imbued with culture daily.
Every time I stumble upon their posts though, which is now rather often, I ask myself; What benefit are they providing to the world? What exactly is their contribution? What about a “haul” is sustainable? And how is it that they have filled some hole in the job market by getting dressed eleven times a day and videoing themselves buying candles? And, here being the billion-dollar question, why do I find myself following them anyway - in spite of all these inconsistencies and issues that I seem to think are so glaringly evident?
I think I have safely come to the conclusion that they represent all the very capitalism-induced wants that plague our society and all they are compelling me to do is buy clothes. They are, to companies, an external marketing tool with all the qualities of a real person that could possibly lure you in - a personality, a sense of humour, political views, ethical values... and then BAM: here is a £750 coat from Charlotte Simone that I got for free but I really do encourage you to invest in because check out how fabulous I look in it.
We may think we follow them for their values, but for all the sustainability many of them preach, few of them seem genuinely invested. It’s pretty easy to say “shop small!” when you have gifted items arriving at your doorstep every 12 hours and are - more often than not - sponsored by brands that are benefitting from sweatshop labour and hardly sourcing fair trade cotton. Though recent headlines and the Black Friday ordeal have exposed brands like Boohoo and PLT selling tops for pennies, made of low quality material by mistreated workers, countless influencers still benefit hugely from their backing. You can sing the shop small song all the way from your bedroom to the kitchen, but I don’t see you dancing the shop small dance!
Eventually, influencers also start producing their own buyable goods. I have, for example, recently given into the hype and bought Florence Given’s Sunday Times bestseller Women Don’t Owe You Pretty - on the spectrum of influencer creations, what I would definitely categorise as something laying on the worthwhile side. Florence, unlike the aforementioned prototype, is already 20! She has written her book about codependency and healthy relationships after one (1), albeit horrible, long-term romantic endeavour with a man. There are many things I like about her - she’s leftist, she grows out her armpit hair, lives in East London, wears the same pair of 70s platform heels in back-to-back posts, and preaches loving other women.
But alas, it has taken me spending those 12 quid to find that her Instagram infographics are just about as deep as her work gets. I too am 20 and I do not find myself by any means qualified enough to write an entire book about relationships or oppression. I have enough trouble understanding it all and, with my limited life experience,