The Illusion of the Influencer Economy

Is being an influencer all that? A discussion on the economics of fashion and beauty influencing the illusion of a perfect life.

Samantha Seidu
15th March 2022
Image: Instagram @gxsia

For many of us, there has been a point in our lives when we have wished to be an influencer. From vlogging on your private story, to creating TikToks and Youtube videos and even standing in the shower pretending to do all of the above. We’ve all been there! On the surface, being an influencer does look like it’s a fun job: you get paid to create content on things you like, you get sponsorships, brand deals, freebies and lots of praise (for the most part). It’s not something you have to be qualified to do, the only qualification needed is your passion for a certain hobby. Despite the amazing camera quality, the bright smiles and a perfect life, internet influencing has now become a billion dollar industry with a lot of strings being pulled behind the camera.

On the surface, being an influencer does look like it's a fun job: you get paid to create content on things you like, you get sponsorships, brand deals, freebies

Image: Instagram @gxsia

There are two things ordinary people tend to want when they watch influencers, especially when it comes to fashion and beauty: either an element of relatability or an element of aspiration. In the last decade, since influencing became a legitimate source of income, the element of aspiration has been the most popular. Some of the most popular influencers we see today are earning millions and we see the luxury lifestyle they live: the cars, the clothes, bags and accessories. For ordinary people, who are in education or work 9-5 jobs, this is the kind of lifestyle we aspire to have and this is what many corporations have capitalised off.

A lot of us may already know that influencers don’t necessarily get all of their income from followers, views or interactions but rather, advertising. Brands often send their products to influencers who then promote said products to their followers, and this could be anything ranging from vitamins, makeup/skincare products, clothes to services and events. It goes without saying that for ordinary people and influencers alike, using certain products or wearing certain clothes, or being in a certain place, presents a certain lifestyle, one that is luxurious, carefree and glamorous. The thing is, we don’t always know whether these products are what they are advertised to be, even though influencers promote certain things, they are in no way experts. This has landed some of them in trouble.

Image: Instagram @gxsia

At the end of the day, influencer culture and social media has created this pressure to be extremely wealthy, or at least look that way. As mentioned before, influencing is a very surface level job, it’s not about how something actually is but it’s about how it looks and how it will be perceived. You could follow an Instagram model with the most amazing figure, clothes that look like they cost hundreds in front of a huge house, but maybe in reality, they are wearing a polyester dress from FashionNova and posed in front of a house or car that they rented specifically for that shoot.

Brands profit off the desire to be perceived as perfect in terms of looks, style and wealth. They will offer quick solutions to make the ordinary person look like they live a luxurious and glamorous lifestyle. Influencers are often none the wiser, they were once ordinary people and for most part, they still are. Off Instagram, off TikTok, off Twitter, they are just regular people who live their lives, perhaps working 9-5, part-time or in education like many of us. They are merely a small part of a bigger corporate plan and if the brand gets caught up in any kind of controversy, influencers face the most criticism for promoting it in the first place.

Brands profit off the desire to be perceived as perfect in terms of looks, style and wealth

Eventually, we are going to have to stray away from this pressure to live a perfect life on social media. Being an influencer is not a bad thing and it isn’t necessarily their fault when brand sponsorships go wrong. However, we all need to question whether they promote a lifestyle that is attainable or suitable for ordinary people. Naturally, we want to share our wins on social media, but we find ourselves pretending to live in a way we typically don't. The circumstances of influencers are different to us, so instead of turning to quick fixes such as fast fashion or ‘buy now pay later methods’ for expensive shoes or clothes, promote your own personal wins and lifestyle!

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