By: Sakura Koner
Editor: Cynthia Stringer
Is it just me or is anyone else exhausted by the season of following trends? Is it crucial for the presence of influencers to achieve normal functioning of our society? One can argue that social media is the platform for propagating messages and branding that can reach millions of people in a single swoop. But what are we giving up in this era of following internet celebrities? Should we resign ourselves to living in a tragic system of idolatry? In this vast world of burgeoning populations, are we succumbing to a crippling conformity? From fashion to ideologies, are we choosing to lose ourselves to fleeting trends?
The tragic story of Narcissus comes to mind. Narcissus was a vain boy in Greek mythology who withered away due to his love for and obsession with his own beauty. The modern-day tragedy is that which is replicated in each influencer who displays their entire life on social media. They entice people to the fanciful glitz and glamour of the world they have built under false pretence; an obsessive behaviour to display themselves for the world. As preposterous as it is to some of us, influencer celebrification—“the process by which Social Media Influencers (SMI) acquire celebrity capital within an interconnected advertising ecosystem”—is a real threat.
The greater tragedy is that the influencer culture is directly feeding into the growing body-image issues already prevalent in society, mainly in teenagers who are on the verge of discovering themselves. The adverse psychological effects of influencer culture can be seen through the self-reported increases in dissatisfaction with physical appearance among teenage girls. By the time they are 17 years old, 78% of girls in America report being “unhappy with their bodies,” and over a third of girls in the UK report being unhappy with the way they look—a 30% increase in the last 5 years. Studies at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts show how damaging women’s images in magazines can be to young women. Their findings reveal that 70% of college women report feeling worse about their appearance after looking through women’s magazines, during which time they are exposed to a myriad of influencer images, which have been photoshopped, filtered, and extensively altered, even more so than images found in magazines.
SMIs show only the bright side of life, giving the false impression that they are essentially immune to its tragedies and hardships.. Youth populations may then become naive about reality and seek out the unobtainable comforts enjoyed by the SMIs they follow. The line between reality and an influencer’s portrayal of their supposed life has been blurring over the past years. However, the restricted observation of only “carefully curated positive moments” in an influencer’s day has led to many consumers, especially young, impressionable consumers to question their image, worth and social standing. Studies show that a growing percentage of 18-34 year olds feel unappealing when they examine their social media feed, and disregard their own achievements in comparison to others’ posts. The constant comparison culture also contributes to the development of a multitude of mental health issues that include depression, anxiety, isolation, eating disorders and self-harm. The need for validation is within us all; however, the overwhelming effect it has on the youth, who respond to the unreal expectations set by influencers online by undervaluing themselves, is radical and disturbing. The unhealthy pursuit of fake perfection is destroying their confidence and results in issues beyond repair.
Social media influencers on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat quickly determine the value of whatever it is they are promoting as ‘flavour of the month.’ A mere reel can elevate the influence a food item, a health fad, a piece of music, or a lost film has on an entire generation of people. In ways, conforming to every trend on social media and believing every fad on the internet has led to a culture of misinformation and alienation. If a person refuses to get aboard the trend train, they are immediately shunned as being separate from the flock. As Albert Einstein once said, “In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself.”
The trends do not simply stop at influencing trite matters; they also have an effect on the political environment, scientific integrity, as well as morals and values. People talking loud on the internet can turn the entire conversation to a different direction. These deflections are especially harmful for teenagers who are developing opinions based on the media they are exposed to in their formative years. SMIs can drastically affect youths’ views on politics and current events, sometimes encouraging them to adopt controversial opinions based on SMI messages without any direct knowledge of the event.
The adoption of a more conformist idea is blatant in how fashion is being perceived amongst youth. Avant-garde styles or rebellious authenticity has been replaced by the need to signal to the peers that ‘you belong with them,’ but the message being sent to the rest of the world is that ‘you belong to the social media viral trends.’ Fashion has always been a mode of self-expression; tiny mutinies against the stringency of societal rules. But with fast fashion and micro-trends consuming the realm of fashion, not to mention social influencers promoting hackneyed ideas, people are losing the art of developing a personal identity.
As a millennial, I am equidistant from the influencer culture. I grew up in the absence of influencers and watched the influencer culture be born, grow and encompass us all. As much as I understand it, it baffles me that it is simple to convert reality into an unrealistic dream. As I watch the youth fall prey to the fantastical notions perpetuated by influencers, I wonder whether this influence is one that needs to be quelled. It is a fantasy but one with a price tag, a steep price indeed!
- Full article: Influencer Celebrification: How social media influencers … https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00913367.2021.1977737
- Get the facts: National Organization for Women (2014) National Organization for Women https://now.org/now-foundation/love-your-body/love-your-body-whats-it-all-about/get-the-facts
- Social media and how it affects our self image (no date) Florida Atlantic University. https://www.fau.edu/thrive/students/thrive-thursdays/ourselfimage/index.php
- Pellathy, A. (no date) Social media limits individuality, The Standard. https://standard.asl.org/18381/opinions/social-media-limits-individuality/
- V, K. (2023) Social Media Influencers Impact on youth and politics, Political Marketing StrategyConsultant.https://politicalmarketer.com/social-media-influencers-impact-on-youth-and-politics/
- Serah (2023) Fashion in the age of social media: Are we losing our identity?, Medium. https://medium.com/@webwonder/fashion-in-the-age-of-social-media-are-we-losing-our-identity-dc3dc2e7b134#:~:text=When%20people%20constantly%20mimic%20others,in%20rather%20than%20stand%20out.