I have a confession; well, some of you may already know, but behind these dimples I’m a complete arsehole. I have an unhealthy pasttime where myself and a couple of friends screenshot cringeworthy posts made by bloggers, Instagrammers and ‘influencers’, and share them with each other on Whatsapp solely to take the piss. Part of this is a thrilling race to be the one to share it first and see if you can make the most cutting comment about it, and the other part fills me with guilt that I’m behaving like such a massive cow on par with highschool bullies. I know, I know, it’s not very charitable for the sisterhood, is it? But that’s a whole other blog post, so more on that later…
It doesn’t take much to make our eyes roll and blood boil. My friend, a mum, will screenshot and share images of meals other mother’s are allegedly feeding their kids and posting to Instagram – think gluten free, vegan, organic pancakes carefully crafted into teddy bear faces with soulless blueberry eyes because little Willow’s palate is too refined to eat Alphabites or chicken nuggets. I’ll screenshot and share someone’s selfie to see if anyone else agrees that it looks like she’s had her lips botoxed-to-buggery but is claiming it’s all thanks to a £47 lip scrub. Then there’s the “#ad” photos and outfit posts where one of us will admire the bloggers hairstyle and the other says “but does no one else think she looks miserable in all of her photos?!”.
* * *
A YouTuber sits in her London apartment, wiping tears from her eyes while glancing at herself in her camera viewfinder. Perhaps she thinks to herself “Sure, I’m crying but…does it look authentic enough?” and possibly “Is this Lancome mascara holding up?”
Another YouTuber makes a different kind of video to normal; forgoing her usual blooper-reel style intro, she goes for the cold open and enters the shot to sit sad-faced in front of the camera to announce that she’s “not OK”.
As I watch this video, YouTube suggests in the side bar that I watch another influencer’s video with a title along the lines of “It’s OK to not be OK” only this time, I don’t bother clicking. I’m not loyal to any particular Youtuber, but I find myself dipping in and out of a handful of high profile people’s videos, and I have started to notice that they all seem to endorse the same products at the same time, or have the same content at the same time. Some of them are all part of the same agency, and I’ve no doubt they know what content will get the most attention, or what’s ‘in’ at that present time, but their recent choice of talking about mental health has actually left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
* * *
I have mixed feelings about ‘influencers’. ‘Back in my day…’ you had to graft away for free in work experience roles at magazines or for fashion brands, hoping that all of the photocopying, kettle-boiling and garment steaming would somehow make you indispensible. Now, millions of people are setting up their own blog, having a student fashion photographer / willing boyfriend / Mum / sturdy tripod / Great Dane take their photograph against a graffiti’d wall or in the middle of a meadow, and if they’re consistent enough with nice enough images, they gain a huge following and product endorsement deals.
OK, strictly speaking, I’m not saying that it’s that easy to become a huge influencer. On the one hand, it’s so great that you’re able to forge your own career path this way – Hell, some can’t even be arsed to spell check their blog posts, but who cares! Is anyone actually reading them anyway? Not when there’s photos you can just click ‘like’ on on Instagram or a YouTube video you can simply give a ‘thumbs-up’ on. But if they can get paid to feature a book, a hand cream, a fancy watch, or a lipstick in their Instagram post, then isn’t it, admittedly, a great way to make a living?
The thing is (and yes, I know I’m a cynical old boot), you only have to look across a handful of accounts of high profile influencers to see they are all endorsing the same things at the same time, and at times I can’t help but find it a bit insulting to their audience’s intelligence that they want us to believe they genuinely like that product.
I appreciate that influencers are, in a way, the new celebrity – they’re sent items by brands in the hope they will feature in their latest ‘haul’ video, or asked to feature a product for a fee – and even told what they have to write in the caption. Some captions are so clearly a cut-and-paste job that I can’t find the blogger’s voice in it anywhere, and it makes me think of Wayne’s World product placement.
So, this current wave of influencers talking about mental health doesn’t sit well with me. What’s to say that mental health isn’t just another product they’re being asked to push? Being cynical, I just imagine their agency pitching the idea that mental health is ‘BIG’ right now, and talking to camera about feeling sad would make them so relateable to their audience, and if they could shed a tear – imagine all the new subscribers they could get!
Of course I believe we should be able to talk openly about mental health, and I understand that influential people (whether that’s a blogger or a celebrity) have a great opportunity to be heard, but I can’t help but feel that many of them, while they mean well, need to differentiate between feeling low and clinical depression, feeling anxious and worried about something and actually suffering with anxiety.
While it might be considered refreshing for us to see these people admit that life isn’t really as perfect as their filtered-photos make it out to be, I think chatting to camera about feeling blue, followed by a haul from Garnier, may give the impression that a bubble-bath followed by a foot mask cures all ills, and this is sadly not the case for many. Sure, bloggers are blighted with stress and shit days just like the rest of us, but the fact they all found the need to film in the same week that their life isn’t perfect, strikes me as a little disingenuous. For those out there who have clinical depression, it must strike them as a little unusual for these people to feel the need to hit record and film themselves just because they feel sad that day. We all have down days, but this need to cry on camera must be really insulting to those who actually suffer. The suggestion of a long hot bubble bath or a walk in the park, probably doesn’t touch the sides for someone who struggles to get out of bed most days, or is too preoccupied trying to figure out what medication works best for them to help them just to function day-to-day.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, dearest bloggers – having a shitty day isn’t anything to write home about. We all get those. Mental health isn’t a trend you need to endorse. We preferred it when you didn’t talk about it.