Exploring the existential problem of being an influencer
Of course, there is hard work involved in being a professional lifestyle influencer, the planning, the editing, the accounting, but when you're working hard in front of a dark rectangle in a drab office, it’s easy to feel that these influencers have it easy.
By now, the idea that social media portrayals in any way accurately represent real life has been pretty universally debunked, whether by countless articles and media debates or by candid posts by influencers themselves. We’re training our inner voices to develop a counter-narrative that, on good days, can remind us that “They probably don’t have such flawless skin in real life,” or “Sure, that home looks perfect but it doesn’t mean they have idyllic lives in them too.”
Still, when the daily grind–well–grinds, the mind can wander into the clichéd territory of daydreams about escaping to some picturesque getaway of all white sands and sparkling seas. In the influencer age, these have been updated with a modern escape fantasy that not only sees you picturing yourself in glamorous swimwear in an infinity pool but being paid to be there. What if having a fabulous life was actually your job?
The idea that such trips are work seems absurd to the envious observer, but fashion influencer, former fashion editor at Grazia and author of the book Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life, Katherine Ormerod told i News recently about how one five-star influencer trip was more work than it might have appeared.
“A defining moment came during a trip to an Instagram paradise in Tulum with a bunch of seriously successful women. In between the margaritas, we were all taking calls and emails from our respective offices, not able to entirely switch off. Meanwhile, the only pictures we were posting were of designer bikinis, gorgeous hotel rooms and sunset views,” she said.
Of course, there is hard work involved in being a professional lifestyle influencer, the planning, the editing, the accounting, but when you’re working hard in front of a dark rectangle in a drab office, it’s easy to feel that these influencers have it easy. This is especially true when a procrastination scroll through Instagram shows you what you could be doing if only you’d worked out a way to turn “living your best life” into your livelihood.
But how does it feel to monetize not just your time, skills and experience, but your ‘self’–in the philosophical sense? UK-based blogger Hannah Louise Farrington (@hannahlouisef) published a blog post earlier in 2018 with the title, Social Media, Being an ‘Influencer’ and my Mental Health, in which she discussed the unique stresses she experiences.
“…what happens when you start comparing simply your own Instagram account with someone else’s, or [your] own writing with someone else’s?” she wrote. “And what happens when you are making your entire living off the representation of yourself online?”
When your very life, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the parties you attend, the people you hang out with, all become your job, the quality of your work is indistinguishable from the quality of your life.
One beauty blogger revealed something of an existential crisis in a recent vlog. In the video, The Problem With the Beauty Community, posted in August, beauty YouTuber Samantha Ravndahl revealed how being an influencer left her feeling unfulfilled. While applying make-up and name-checking the brands as she went, the vlogger explained how she wasn’t satisfied with her job.
“I don’t find that taking photos of myself and videos of myself talking to be particularly fulfilling work, but it’s hard to step away from that because I am making money I would struggle to make in other industries,” she says.
Many workers across all kinds of industries can relate to Ravndhal when she says, “I don’t find it fulfilling but I know that I can’t make this kind of money elsewhere, so I stay in this job.” It’s surprising to hear this from someone who has supposedly won the employment lottery of simply monetizing the things many of us pay to do for pleasure and leisure.
In his book Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber offers a clue that might explain the phenomenon of this kind of career ennui: “Could there be anything more demeaning than having to wake up in the morning five out of seven days of one’s adult life to perform a task that one secretly believed did not need to be performed, that was simply a waste of time or resources, or that even made the world worse? Would this not be a terrible psychic wound running across our society?” he writes.
“…there were plenty of surveys about whether her people were happy at work. There were none, as far as I knew, about whether or not they felt their jobs have any good reason to exist.”
According to Graeber, the moral and spiritual damage that comes from this scenario can be profound. It’s precisely this kind of problem that many influencers may experience as they come to understand their jobs as marketing vehicles. That their profession is so intertwined with their sense of identity can make the problem of unfulfilling work feel even bigger and more consuming than for those who are able to compartmentalize their work and private lives more easily.
For Hannah Farrington, speaking to me about fulfillment in her work as an influencer, the answer lies in how influencer careers can lack a healthy sense of challenge.
“I am and have always been guilty of coasting in life – doing the minimum work I can for the maximum result,” she says. “Sometimes that is a good thing and can be viewed as efficiency rather than coasting, but perhaps if I challenged myself more–rather than relying on others to challenge me–I wouldn’t ever feel unfulfilled.”