Opinion: Body positivity influencer and model Jessica Megan questions why influencers are so hated, and whether it's fair.
I'm an influencer and there are a lot of reasons people love to hate people in my line of work. My job is to create and post content often paid for by brands that I then post to my social media channels.
But what's the main image you have in mind when you hear the word "Influencer"? Egotistical? Vain? Narcissistic? Bratty? Reality Star? Chances are you have some reservations on what I do for a living and it's time to consider why.
The word 'Influencer' sounds incredibly self-important, I know this. But we didn’t come up with this label ourselves, yet right from the get-go, our title is one of the many reasons why its fun to hate us. Close examination of the press coverage surrounding influencers hints at why we are so despised by the general public.
When UK-based YouTube influencer Elle Darby contacted Dublin hotel The Charleville Lodge looking for free accommodation in return for free promotion to her 87,000 social media followers, the hotel owner shared his refusal to on the business's Facebook page.
Despite blacking out her name, followers soon realised who it was and began trolling her. The hotel soon after banned influencers from the business, and was widely applauded on their social media accounts.
Similar stories are only a Google search away, but what unites them seems to be the collective disdain for influencers simply trying to get some work. In many cases, the punishment doesn't seem to fit the perceived crime.
Having your account deleted is like having your shop burnt down
Stories that involve dismantling an influencer's reputation are guaranteed to go viral, because we love to see young, gorgeous and successful people fail. We love to watch a beautiful and privileged YouTube star cry to her fans because her account was inexplicably deleted. We secretly feel she deserves it and love watching her learn in real-time that even she is not unreachable by failure.
But the reality is, having your account deleted is like having your shop burnt down. It takes years of work to build an online reputation. Without our accounts, we cannot forge deals with brands, sell products or run a business.
Shopping was once a physical activity, but now, the high street is online and we are the store mannequins. Except we don't just model the clothes you wear; we also build the store, and make it pretty enough for you to want to come in, style the clothes, and sell them to you. What’s more, most of us adore our jobs and do spend a lot of time trying to create fun, exciting content for others to enjoy.
Why do we celebrate models selling products for major companies, but not others doing the same work on social media? We are often diminished for wanting attention, but attention is good for any business or brand. Surely every act on social media, no matter how small, is an attempt to attract attention? Otherwise, why bother posting anything at all?
But let's get one thing out of the way. Lots of influencers are problematic. Kim Kardashian has been criticised for advertising "weight-loss lollipops" to her fans while other celebs, whether they be influencers, ex-reality TV stars or big stars, have faced backlash for promoting the use of "detox teas".
In fact, last year, Instagram decided to introduce new parameters to its platform, ensuring that the promotion and sale of weight loss products online are better regulated. The social media giant decided to restrict people under the age of 18 from seeing posts that promote weight loss products or types of cosmetic surgery.
Some influencers co-opt important movements for virtual clout: Kris Schatzel recently came under fire for stepping into a Black Lives Matter protest and taking questionable photos against a backdrop of mask-clad protestors.
However, many influencers use their platforms to help expose social injustice and use their "influence" to help their followers feel better about themselves. It’s an extraordinarily exciting time to be on social media, watching a multi-cultural and colourful generation of public figures use their unique perspective to help others feel more seen.
Many trans, disabled and plus-sized people are finally being paid attention to thanks to social media, allowing others to feel seen and acknowledged like never before
There is a reason why there are more LGBTQIA+ people, more body-positive women and more climate change activists visible online and on social media than before, and it's because those people with platforms are speaking out about their experiences and motivating others to do the same.
Many trans, disabled and plus-sized people are finally being paid attention to thanks to social media, allowing others to feel seen and acknowledged like never before.
The assumption that influencers are all narcissistic latte drinkers who do yoga poses in front of sunsets is, to put it bluntly, lazy and sexist.
It's my opinion that hating influencers often comes down to internalised misogyny, bred from the idea that confident women should only be confident if given permission first. And these young, self-made influencers were not given the authorisation to be famous by the traditional structures that dictate stardom, so our touch reaction is to invalidate their reputation.
Female influencers make up over 77% of the industry and the majority of our followers and consumers are women. If you bring it back to economics, our industry contributes millions into Britain's GDP annually. If the industry was mostly male and the product on offer were cars, I am convinced the stigma would not be so rife.
Sorry, but it stinks of sexism.
What's even more irritating to so many is that these young women are making bank. They make huge amounts of money through social media selling clothes, beauty, sex toys and lifestyle goods. With influencer marketing set to be worth $15 billion by 2022, they are dominating the industry.
Just because you don't like what I do for a living doesn’t negate the fact that I am paid for my work, and therefore there is a demand for it
It feels good to say, "It's not a real job!" But honestly, what truly constitutes as a real job? 40 hours a week? Manual Labour? Retail? What about artists who create and design the films you love? Is it one that makes €19,000 or €35,000 a year? What about activists - those that push the rights of those in need?
You can’t set parameters for a 'real job’ because all jobs can be considered real whether they are compensated in experience or money. Just because you don’t like what I do for a living doesn’t negate the fact that I am paid for my work, and therefore there is a demand for it.
We are so much more than the spoiled brats the media so often portrays us to be. We are entrepreneurs, business people, photographers, educators, ceos and writers. I am not suggesting that all influencers are gracious people, but I do ask that you think twice before lumping us all in together.
- Written by Jessica Megan
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.