By Abigail Grimm
I can’t be the only person who feels like my wardrobe dwarfs in comparison to those on the internet. The life of spending hundreds of dollars on new clothes, coloring my hair and buying expensive makeup products never seemed necessary. But I’m young and spend a lot of time on the internet. It feels like every time I open Instagram an over-smiley woman is adding a “swipe up” to yet another item of clothing, another face cream, another tube of mascara that will change my life. Some of this is part of sponsored content, paid advertising influencers produce in collaboration with brands. They also offer advice on finances, relationships and even college decisions. They show off their significant others, their children, their parents. Seemingly nothing is off limits.
Where does the influencing stop?
The lifestyle difference of influencers compared that of the people who consume their content is stark. For example, seeing the sheer number of things some influencers have in their closet and their home falls short of reasonable to me. Highlighting this grandeur creates a false sense of expectations of what success should look like. Personally, seeing some of the beautiful homes and huge closets many well-known influencers boast, I feel like I’ve somehow fallen short. But why is some person on the internet, whom I’ve never met, telling me what I need in life to be happy and successful? And when did “more” become “best”? My life is so drastically different from these people, so why should I believe them when I am my own unique person on my own journey? With often hundreds of thousands of followers, many of whom are young adults and teenagers in their formative years, these people’s words matter. They are, after all, called “influencers.” It would do us all well to remember that.
This force of influence also becomes problematic when you consider the dangerous trend of overconsumption that has been growing in the last several decades.
According to the BBC, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of all global carbon emissions and 20% of wastewater production.
The supply chain and shipping, which involves sourcing materials and manufacturing the goods, is a key culprit, as is the end-of-life disposal of goods in landfills. As the BBC article details, "a single pair of jeans requires a kilogram of cotton. And because cotton tends to be grown in dry environments, producing this kilo requires about 7,500–10,000 litres of water, [about] 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person.” Each new item of clothing we buy and subsequently throw away is a drain on the environment. Current consumer norms, highlighted by the content we consume, ignore this larger issue and encourage excessive consumption of goods. When we normalize this, we normalize the overconsumption of resources this planet so desperately needs.
A shift towards positive influence
And yet, I can’t deny that I love consuming content online. YouTube and similar platforms can offer an escape, inspiration, education. But these platforms are global. They attract millions of people, and their impact is far-reaching. Imagine the power if we as a global online community reevaluated our priorities, both as content creators and consumers. In the past year, I’ve seen several influencers produce sponsored content for an online thrift store and encourage second-hand shopping.
I’ve also seen several influencers offer disclaimers, emphasizing that everyone is different and what works for them may not work for someone else.
There is a lot to be said for intentional living... something the greater online community has yet to grasp. When we take a step back from the overwhelming state we often fall into, there is a moment to breathe, to think, to consider what is important to us today and in the days to come. Consider the life you want to live and the values you want to lead with. To consumers: Is the content you're consuming and the items you’re buying supportive of that life? Who is advertising these products to you? What are you putting your energy towards? How do those actions impact the larger global community? To content creators: Do the products and brands you’re advertising have missions you support? Does the life you show on the internet reflect the life you actually live? How do your actions affect your followers and the larger global community?
As the power of influencers continues to grow, let’s reevaluate our priorities and our intention to create a supportive and inspiring online community we all want to be a part of.