The toxicity of influencer culture

The ‘entrepreneurial self’ peddled by influencers promises that anyone can be successful, if only we work hard enough and believe in something enough.

It makes us believe that “we all have the same 24 hours in a day”, (yes, I’m referring to the recent Molly-Mae Hague debacle) and that those who aren’t successful are stupid, or lazy. And most of all, it perpetuates the idea that if we believe in these ideals enough, we might be rewarded. It’s the epitome of hyperindividualism — wrapped up in a cute Instagram aesthetic.

It was Mark Fisher who coined the term “magical voluntarism” which he defined as “the imaginary belief that we can solve all of our own problems through acts of individual will, closing off any collective critique of the system in which we find ourselves”. (There’s an interesting article where you can read more about the concept of magical voluntarism here.)

This sums up the narrative pushed by so many influencers in a nutshell: the idea that everything is subject to individual will — and that if you don’t succeed, it’s just because you don’t want it enough. Essentially, “pay money for the things that I get for free, and one day maybe you too will be able to ascend to this level”.

It’s so powerful because it makes us feel like we have far more control over the situation than we do, while distracting us from structural causes of inequality.

Influencer culture promises that if we just buy the right stuff, we will get a certain lifestyle. If we have the right aesthetic — a pristine, white, expensive house — the right clothes, the right make-up, botox, a BBL, then we too will be able to experience the same success as those who we spend our time watching.

Of course, none of this is true. The entire thing is a sales pitch. Influencers get these things for free. In many cases, they get paid a LOT of money to promote them.

At best, the rest of us get debt. At worst, we get a botched procedure, because we can’t afford to access the same experts as those who are trying to sell us products can. As a result, we end up with our current situation: bodies are going in and out of fashion depending on what the few people at the top of our social hierarchy are getting paid to promote.

There are many reasons why we have reached this point, and one of the main ones seems to be this: we have stopped following people because we enjoy their content and resonate with them. Instead, we are following them because we want to learn how to be them and live their carefully curated life — a life that is unachievable, because it doesn’t actually exist.

And, naturally, when we treat others as goals to aspire to instead of individual people, it is hardly surprising that we get so upset when they don’t live up to our expectations (which, of course, they never will).

I publish pieces like this every Thursday in my newsletter. If you’re interested in more stuff like this, you can sign up here. :)