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The Responsibility of Influencers

How 'real' should we keep things on Instagram?
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A few days ago, I came across this question in our Facebook group and found it so compelling that I wanted to dedicate an entire post to answering it:

Saw something interesting while scrolling through Instagram today that was an interaction between influencer and follower and I distill the debate down to this - do influencers have any “responsibility” when he or she posts about the more glamorous things and how that can make some followers feel (i.e., envious, inadequate) or does the follower just need to introspectively ask “why does this photo make me feel envious?” As with most things, I’m sure there’s an in-between position, but it is increasingly interesting how many comments I see like this. How do we check in with ourselves as we take in constant beautiful content?

Let me preface this by saying I can only answer this as it pertains to myself and not to influencers as a whole. But for me, this role comes with an enormous amount of responsibility attached to it. If you're in any position in which people, particularly young girls, and women, look up to you, it's a privilege and something that shouldn't be taken lightly. Read on to hear my thoughts on how things have changed over the past decade, my own feelings of social media envy, and the perspective shift that always helps me:

When I started my blog in 2008, the social landscape was wildly different (for one thing, Instagram wouldn't become popular for another few years). Much like magazines, I took the approach that people only wanted inspiring content, which left little room for the messy, imperfect moments. It's not that I wasn't being truthful—I was simply publishing a very curated version of my life. As the years went on, I realized the importance of opening up and sharing my struggles—from my anxiety and trouble breastfeeding, to jealousy and self-doubt. They're intimidating thoughts to share publicly, but the ones that have been most rewarding in terms of connecting with this community. It's a meaningful balance to strike—the elevated and inspirational with the flawed—and reinforces the idea that our vulnerability is what makes us the most authentic and appealing versions of ourselves.

There have always been people who appear to have it all—that's not new. Whether it's on the pages of glossy magazines or shown through the lens of TV, it's simply the form of how we consume the media that's evolved. And the people we see, lounging on yachts in tropical locales, are no longer just models and actors, but "normal girls." It's that accessibility that connects and repels us at the same time. We feel that much closer to someone who's created her own success while also often feeling jealous that it isn't us. An influencer's role, first and foremost, is to inspire. Whether it's through baking intricate desserts, traveling the world, or mothering her five children, we follow things that spark something inside of us. And at some level, we're all guilty of posting a highlight reel of our lives (no one would use Instagram if it was an endless feed of dirty, piled up dishes and toddler tantrums). But somewhere along the line, we've begun to let those perfect versions of lives negatively affect our own, which brings us back to the question: Who's responsible, the influencer or follower?

Working in this space doesn't make me immune to feelings of insecurity while scrolling through Instagram—I personally follow hundreds of accounts. In fact, because my job is so closely tied to the various mediums, that relationship is even more layered and complex. I can't simply walk away or deactivate my account if I'm struggling with imposter syndrome. Instead, it's shown me that I need to look within myself at the reasons something may be impacting me in a negative way. If I see an image of a girl in a slinky dress, whose body looks so incredible that it makes me resent my own, that's on me—she shouldn't be blamed for showcasing her figure. If I take issue with something, it's more about my own feelings of self-doubt and not anyone else's responsibility. It's taken me a long time to get to a place where instead of pointing fingers, I focus on the root of those issues. And what I've found isn't pretty. Uncovering our darkest insecurities is tough, which is why it's far more common to see people denouncing others instead of reflecting inward. I try to apply the same logic when I'm criticized since most of the time, it's not about me. It's often other people's insecurities they've projected onto a screen. 

We each have the ability to control how much we let things affect us. If someone swoops in to steal the parking space we've been waiting for, we can either let it haunt us for the rest of the day or choose to move past it immediately (easier said than done). The same goes for social media. If something is affecting you negatively, it may be time to reconsider why you're following that person. We shouldn't tolerate toxic relationships in real life, and online should be no different. It's our responsibility to manage how we consume content since everyone has a different experience and there's no right or wrong answer.

My goal is to inspire others, have meaningful conversations, and to be a part of a like-minded community. But it's not lost on me that my images have the potential to make others feel less-than, and that's never my intention. It's part of my job to make things look pretty and effortless, but keep in mind that those photographs are rarely just snapped haphazardly. The bikini posts of me on the beach in Hawaii? G took approximately 45 pictures in order to find one I approved of. The sweet shot of Sloan and me cuddling was most likely interrupted moments later with a tantrum. My point is this: What you see on social media is only a glimpse into someone's life, with a filter or two applied on top. And as long as we continue to have honest discussions about its impact, as well as our relationship both with the content and ourselves, we'll be better equipped to handle it in a healthy way.

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