The edge of influence

I post, therefore I am… like you.

By Camille Charrière
Illustration by Pierre Mornet

A letter from… London. - © System Magazine

I post, therefore I am… like you.

Do you remember your first e-mail address? Mine was a made-up word. I remember the feeling of frustration that all the teenage clangers (camillecharriere87, camizcool, sassy_camy, hottiewithabodi69…) were taken, so I settled for four random letters stitched together: I became A username that sounded like toxic waste, so no one would pinch it. It wasn’t really me; it was just my e-mail.

This was perhaps more apposite than I realized at the time. I now earn a living as an influencer and we are constantly being told we are noxious. Like being blamed for the state of the media today, even if – I need hardly remind you – we are really not lying around in our bedrooms like Dr. Evil, planning the demise of journalism. In those early internet days, going online didn’t feel real, certainly not in the way that it does today. The world wide web was a portal to escape our mundane existence rather than a way to broadcast ourselves. It was where I went to explore different versions of myself, a space I could try on different personas, take risks, make mistakes, and embarrass myself (there was a lot of that).

Back then, print media ruled and there was no real work in fashion: too many gatekeepers, too much nepotism, and very little money on offer. Then social media erupted and a whole generation started publishing its own content. Marginalized communities found a place where their voices were no longer dismissed or silenced. Early users like myself stopped trying to crash the existing spaces and just built our own. None of it was strategic, but it quickly became obvious that a
strong online presence brought valuable followers and with them, real power. I was not only earning more than my fellow law students, but, more importantly, I had found a seat at the table. I now had a voice. That’s when the questions started. Did you buy your followers? Can you really make money on Instagram? What do you do all day? Can you tag me? Can I send you this for free? Can you help me grow my business? Can you tag my wife’s cousin’s toothbrush company?

What I do know is that you in the industry need us. Our help is vital in selling your products and spreading your messages, even if you’ve turned what we do into a derogatory term. ‘Oh, she’s an influencer’ always seems to be said in an accusatory fashion, as if we are being deceitful and doing something to people despite their consent. I am not complaining about my job and I fully acknowledge how privileged I am to make money the way I do. Yet no one is simultaneously lower on the fashion food chain and so vital to the current ecosystem than the influencer. Every magazine, every platform, every brand, high and low, is trying to emulate the reach that we have accumulated across YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Clubhouse. All while blaming us for all the evil isms that plague our modern world – consumerism, individualism, capitalism, narcissism.

So you’ll forgive me for not using this space to take you through what it is that I – we – actually do, or for not being as self-deprecating as I normally am. Words matter, you see; labels matter. The world as we knew it has changed. It had already started to shift pre-pandemic, and is now unrecognizable. In this new normal, our screen time is so out of control that we have to set alarms to remind ourselves to spend more time in the real world. You can stop asking whether we are real, though. Or whether influencers are over yet. I am no more or less real than any other business owner, trying to survive these unprecedented times.

Us content creators can certainly do better by our audience, especially on topics such as promoting sustainability, healthier body image, transparency, and inclusivity. Those are all areas I’m personally working on. But we’re all moving parts of the same system. So perhaps it’s time to see us as allies rather than the reason the world is falling apart. After all, we are just holding up a mirror. Don’t shoot the messenger or @ me for that matter. I’m too busy taking that selfie you’ll
hopefully soon be liking.

Taken from System No. 17.