Updated: Jan 1
Tali is a mom blogger.
She entertains her audience by chronicling the daily details of her regular family life on social media.
Sometimes she takes her viewers with her on errands. Sometimes, they watch her trying out a new recipe for dinner, and sometimes they explore the options of her wardrobe for an evening out.
She doesn’t have a particular area of focus for her videos, other than her engaging personality. She’s not into the “picture perfect” trend; she’s part of the newer movement: the “hot mess mama real deal” phenomenon of curated imperfection, openly sharing her struggles, with both laughter and tears- sometimes both at once. She even keeps her tens of thousands of followers posted on how her weekly therapy sessions are going.
She began doing all this mostly for the trendy fun of it, but once it became clear she had a flair for it, sponsorships and brand endorsement opportunities began to present themselves. She found herself contacted by vendors for all sorts of products and services promotions- some related to her content, and others not as much. At first, she was overwhelmed, but once she got the hang of how to structure these collaborations, she began to enjoy the much-needed extra income.
Tali’s following is a mostly loyal, feel-good bunch. When she mentions a headache, the “feel better!” messages pour in by the dozen. Every carefully snapped and edited photo of her “#momlife” is flooded with hearts and emojis. Some even private message her asking for advice, somehow interpreting her popularity as expertise, which she finds both flattering and confusing.
Her virtual status has also opened social doors for her; she’s become associated and connected with other bloggers, moms like her, but also some in other areas like, food, fashion, and inspiration.
Something Tali’s noticed over the past couple of years as her accounts grow, is a certain level of performance anxiety that seems to be growing right along with her reputation.
“It’s like, I definitely had my nervous moments and insecurities from before. But it feels like the more people know, recognize, and engage with me online, the more self-conscious I become about the minutia of my life. A pimple, a pile of laundry in the background, wondering why one post seemed to flop, when others just like it were so well-received. The pressure to keep my messaging real and relatable, while also being able to generate income with my advertisers. Wanting to share my challenges honestly, but also keep some parts of my life private. How many messages, comments, and reciprocal “likes” do I need to exchange so my people will feel appreciated? How much of my kids’ experience is for public consumption? It’s just… I feel like I’m living my life onstage, and sometimes, I don’t know if or how I can get off and exhale.
“And then, every now and then the mean comments? They wound me. I know the things I’m supposed to tell myself: ‘it’s not me, it’s them. Everyone gets trolls, it’s just part of the gig.’ I know all that intellectually, but it still hurts and it’s so public. Do I ignore? Delete? Argue? It’s exhausting, but at the same time, it’s both a privilege and a source of income, which I value.
“I guess because my experiences are viewed by such a wide following, it just makes my life feel magnified for me emotionally. Like this stuff is bigger than just me now- it takes on a life of its own, and then so do my thoughts and feelings about it. It affects people, and that affects me.”
Tali is what is known as an “influencer,” an individual who, by virtue of how many eyeballs land on her videos, now has the ability to influence others widely. It’s a sort of status, and comes with its own level of stress, competition, feelings, and fatigue. Influencers, particularly lifestyle bloggers, for whom their personal life is what is public about them, often describe their experiences as: living in a fish bowl, under a microscope, or on a reality TV show. This often renders them susceptible to heightened levels of sensitivity and emotional flooding from even quotidian stressors.
Even non-influencers on social media get to feeling like this. Somehow the public image we have feels like a responsibility. Each one of us is part of the statistics, the bell-curve ripple effect that others use to fabricate perceived “norms” that become arbitrary standards, barometers for what is expected, mostly of ourselves.
“This level of elegance is ‘#blessed,’ beyond that is showy. This amount of sharing personal troubles is ‘authentic’ but beyond that is ‘attention seeking.’ This quote is ‘inspiring’ that one is ‘preachy.’” It’s so hard to keep track and stay on that wiggly, often arbitrary line of propriety.
There’s the pressure to stay on brand or risk being “canceled”- even for those who aren’t well known, because after all- everyone has a persona, an image that we project outward.
“I’m a parent; I don’t want my kids to see me fall apart.”
“I’m an educator; I can’t believe I had a spelling error in that blog post.”
“I’m a religious mentor; people will lose faith because I used a swear word.”
“I’m a therapist; what if people can see my own anxiety?”
“I’m a fashion person, what if people think I’m too shallow to talk about spirituality?”
“I said something that could be construed as political; now half the country hates me.”
“I can become so preoccupied with dodging the bullets of other people’s judgement, that I don’t even always remember who I am , or what I believe.”
The two core fears that most humans share at the bottom of all our emotional baggage are inadequacy and unlovability: I’m not enough by my own standards, and/ or I’m not enough for other(s) to love me.
Now, it’s like we’ve created some sort of global stage fright; we’re all in some sort of virtual performance.
The larger your audience, the larger the stakes, the greater the anxiety about it.
But deep down, the most dangerous cancellation we can incur- both for verified, professional influencers and lay folks, is the rejection of self, that comes from letting our identity be forged on the basis of others’ approval (such as likes, follows, comments) or disapproval.
Life was never meant to be lived as a popularity contest. Ironically, it’s lonelier that way.
But it’s not all grim.
The solution is not to go live in a secluded cabin on a lake in the middle of nowhere and unplug from the world. (Unless that happens to be your particular jam. If it is, please invite me for a weekend sometime.)
It does seem to be possible to walk that line between offering value to your audience without selling out to public opinion. To find that sweet spot along the stability spectrum between celebrity narcissism and famous fragility.
Primarily by not letting it define you. By prioritizing, figuring out who we want to be, and what we stand for. Those who don’t allow their psychological (or financial) well-being to be exclusively determined by a commercial persona, but invest in that privately, off camera, are more likely to survive the gauntlet of the spotlight.
And even for the not-famous among us, this fundamental idea holds true:
We need to have healthy, strong, underground roots, that are stronger than the swaying, changing branches. Branches are actually meant to sprout different buds, leaves, flowers, and fruits over times and seasons. But the roots are what keep us vibrant, stable, and nourished.
The vicissitudes and fickle thought trends are less likely to uproot us, if we self-define based on our own integrity, taking care of our personal wellness, those closest to us in real life, and balance our external identity against internal anchoring. We need to be who we need to be; not what others prescribe for us to be. This is much easier said than done, but works well as a compass.
Returning to our friend Tali, the mom blogger, as a concrete example: For now, this is an income stream. But on a personal level, if she can set herself up in such a way that if her internet presence disappeared tomorrow, she would still have meaningful relationships and balanced quality of life, then she is most likely to thrive and weather the intense pressures of being in the public eye.
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