Ever since Khloe Kardashian persuaded thousands to buy hair-transforming gummy bears or since Cardi B claimed that her new diet tea was the secret to a ‘perfect body,’ I have become increasingly frustrated at influencers and how they use their influence. It just doesn’t seem right that such huge followings and platforms that could be used for so many great things, end up influencing people to buy, act, speak and think in a way that they never would have otherwise. So many influencers seem to think that they are living in a kind of alternate universe, only visible from ours through a screen, in which societal rules and behavioural expectations seem not to apply.
Exhibit A was just recently after the dreaded third lockdown was announced. While most of the UK accepted their fate and burrowed themselves down at home in the miserable winter, an eclectic bunch of influencers took it upon themselves to travel to sunny Dubai for what they called a ‘work holiday’. One of them, Sheridan Mordew, made the terrible mistake of flaunting this on national TV. Her interview on This Morning racked up over 150k views on YouTube, which isn’t surprising considering I spent the interview debating whether to laugh or despair. She seemed to think that her incredibly important job as a fitness guru-influencer-role model-extraordinaire justified her filming workout videos from the poolside of a 5-star Dubai hotel rather than in her perfectly adequate garage back in Sunderland. One particularly agonizing part of the interview is when Sheridan says her main reason for being in Dubai is to help her mental health because apparently her mental health has to be tippity top so that her followers can rely on her. I understand that her mental health is important but the argument that it would benefit the wellbeing of her followers is tenuous. Perhaps expressing solidarity with more relatable content rather than splashing 5-star samosas and pool-side sun all over her feed would have been a better approach.
I often wonder how these influencers really perceive their own content. Do they actually think they are making a positive impact on the world? Do they really believe that their posts bring smiles to peoples’ faces? I can confidently say, that as someone prone to aimlessly scrolling past a few boob jobs here and a few face lifts there, neither my life, happiness, nor mental health have improved as a result.
Be that as it may, the worst thing really is the what if element of it all. What if these influencers used their platform to educate their followers? What if they posted pictures but without the smooth skin, the photoshopped figure or the gleaming white teeth? And I don’t mean posting a black square or retweeting something they think makes them look good. What if they actually played a role in starting conversations about climate change, racism, politics, body confidence or feminism? What if they posted about self-love, life beyond a filter, or even just something a little bit more mentally stimulating!
Of course in reality, influencers, like everyone, should be able to say and do whatever they want within reason, but it is frustrating knowing that they could be doing so much more. I know that the sensible solution to this would be for us, the consumers, to unfollow them or just delete social media. But all this leads us to question: shouldn’t it be their responsibility to drain the toxicity from their own content?
Or ultimately, do social media influencers even have a responsibility to be a good influence?
The problem here is that the line between influencer and role model is being blurred, and so we are forced to question whether the possession of influence should directly correlate to using it in a positive way.
Maybe the best short-term approach to take would be to unfollow anything that disrupts your sense of self and self-worth and instead focus your time and scrolling energy on the Florence Givens or the Jessamyne Stanleys of the influencer world!
Cover photo from Eaters Collective on Unsplash