Influencers and an Age of Exploitation

Raina Carfaro, Scarlet Staff

Social media is a marketing device, plain and simple. While each program and company operates differently, profit is made by the exchange of information or the ability to advertise services, goods, or lifestyles. Social media “influencers” is an increasingly popular pursuit for young people, while even ten years ago we couldn’t have fathomed the extent to which social media would grow in power. 

Influencer, while a loose term for a person who makes their livelihood off of social media popularity, is defined uniquely by each person who takes on this coveted title. The issue is, an influencer is such a new “career” that there is very little regulation or consideration for how it should be done ethically. Offices have HR reps who discuss with individuals how they should go about their business in ways that create the most profit with the least abrasion, but all influencers have for guidance is their followers. It is an entirely public-facing job where followers are both subject to one’s influence but also pay their bills. This has led to a mass group of young, often uneducated individuals making money by any means that garner them the most attention and affluence. Young influencers especially are incredibly vulnerable and exploitative, meaning they are the perfect target for companies to use for advertising. For a flat fee per post, a company will pay a pretty girl fresh out of high school or a boy with floppy hair to promote a product that will then spread through their fan base. 

The most lucrative business on the internet and throughout history has been cosmetics specifically designed for women. Companies operating within the patriarchy profit wildly by telling women that we are not good enough as we are, and that, by engaging with their products or lifestyle, we will be better than we were before. We will be more beautiful and, therefore, more valuable in society. Growing up, we as women have been told that being pretty is what gives us the right to take up space in the world, and that men are those who can tell us how pretty is defined. Our beauty standards are set by men in power who engage in these subtle forms of subjugation to maintain the powers as they stand. Perhaps the most evident of these tactics being diet culture.

Diet culture is sold in powders, teas, and exercise programs designed to fit the ideal body shape of the time. Right now the ideal is ‘skinny thick’ –  extremely toned limbs, a slim waist, a fat a**, and massive, globular titties. Rather unattainable for every woman I would say. 

Consider the Kardashians, who have gained fame simply from their aura of unattainability. Their empire is built on social media superstardom and exploitation of impressionable women. Over the decade of their reign, their faces and figures have gradually changed, adapting to media expectations. They sell the shrinking of their waists with yoga pants, and the narrowing of their noses with a contour stick. Girls are told that these women have completely metamorphosed because of simple fixes that they could make themselves. They don’t mention the personal trainers and dieticians that scientifically design their bodies or the plastic surgeons who make slight adjustments to what can’t be changed with cardio or veganism. It is not inherently wrong to have plastic surgery or want to eat healthier. What is wrong is having a career that is selling your lifestyle yet being completely dishonest about what that lifestyle truly entails.

These influencers, whether they consciously know what they are doing and or not, profit off of insecure and impressionable women who live their whole lives being told by the mass media that they aren’t enough. Influencers and people in power have an inherent responsibility to their followers to set and maintain realistic and honest expectations for what a woman has the power to be and look like. However, companies are most responsible for creating the current market which specifically feeds off insecurities (that men made for us) that women are stereotypically supposed to feel. They make it seem like they are homogenizing us, encouraging a narrow expectation for how we look. They pretend they want us to be happy in this box, that the goal is joy and self-love. However, the reality is that they know exactly what they are doing. And what they are doing is not selling an image that they hope we will all eventually adopt, but to keep us unhappy and unsatisfied so that we will continue to pay their bills. They know we will never be able to look the way they depict us, and they are glad we never will because that will continue their cycle of exploitation.