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Fake lives

Diane Hall


Portrait of contemporary young woman holding LIKE word and smiling at camera while filming video for beauty and lifestyle channel

To the older generation, the job title of ‘social media influencer’ either makes them cringe or makes them angry. Not being a firm user of social media, it’s difficult for older people to understand how someone can make money—in some cases, a lot of money—from making videos all day long.

The word ‘influencer’ is the most significant. These people are influencing others to follow them, probably with the intention to sell them a product or service. The lines become blurred here, though. Are they selling an end product, or are they the product?

If you wanted to sell your car, you would hardly do so without running it through the car wash and giving it the valet treatment inside. Similarly, if you were selling a certain kind of lifestyle, you would make it as shiny and as enviable as possible. Skim any influencer’s photos on Instagram and you’ll find them jet-setting around the world, eating out at the best restaurants, wearing the most expensive clothes and playing with the latest gadgets. You don’t see them after they’ve just got up, in tatty pyjamas, with bed hair and no make-up. Influencers can’t be like us—they wouldn’t be able to influence our decisions if we didn’t look up to them in some way. No, they have to portray something aspirational; they need to show us the sort of life we could enjoy, should we prove a similar ‘success’.

In more recent years, influencers’ lifestyles have come under scrutiny. A proportion of followers don’t see that the lives and experiences they covet are, in reality, heavily curated and contrived. Realising that the ‘perfect Instagram life’ is actually unattainable can have a negative impact on these people’s mental health.

Instagram logo made by thousands of colorful circles

Instagram logo made by thousands of colorful circles

There are a few content creators on social media who, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, throw light on what goes on ‘behind the curtain’. They’re honest about their use of photographic filters or photoshopping. They provide real content that they know their audience would want to see, even if it’s not glamorous.

There’s even an app, called BeReal, that’s helping to make the lives of content creators and influencers more transparent. It prompts influencers to show what they’re actually doing at a random moment depicted by the app. When prompted, the influencer has only two minutes to take a photo of where they are and what they’re doing, which inhibits them from curating the scene.

So, why would an influencer sign up to this app? If it shoots down their portrayal of the perfect life, what’s in it for them?

Nothing, probably. It’s hard to see why they’d download it.

However, all that being said, there’s a growing movement that some influencers have joined, which aims to promote honesty. Being real isn’t a negative, as these influencers are discovering; promoting values, showing transparency, and displaying YOU—warts and all—can attract followers. The app is simply a tool to help someone do this.

Classed as the antithesis to Instagram, the images on BeReal won’t win any photography awards, but they do tell the truth about what life is like as an influencer.

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