#VisaBae, Image Gang, and Why I might delete YouTube

Does anyone else remember when every young black girl wanted to be a model? I blame Tyra Banks, because those were the days when America’s Next Top Model was still popping. Can you believe that show is still on air? What are they on now? Cycle 427? I digress…

In those days we all, no matter if we were apple shaped or five foot nothing, thought we could make money by posing for the camera. It seems this desire for easy money is stronger than ever, but now the game has changed. Now the goal is no longer to just be an Insta Model, but to achieve the grand status of a social media “Influencer”, which I guess is a combination of being an Insta Model and a YouTuber, with enough clout to make your followers part with their money.

But perhaps now the pond has become too small. Not everybody can become a millionaire through social media; just ask Visa Bae aka Rutendo Tichiwangani. I hadn’t heard of her until I watched this Channel 5 news clip a couple of weeks ago, and I was somewhat surprised to discover that she has upwards of 70k followers on Instagram. Often pictured adorned with expensive looking weaves and designer hand bags draped across her arms, it came as a surprise to many that Rutendo was seeking donations to cover the cost of her application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

There are already enough opinion pieces out there as to whether or not Rutendo should have planned ahead, borrowed from friends, or sold expensive bags to raise the money for her application, so I won’t be going into all of that. Besides, she reached her Go Fund Me target and then some, so the lesson there may well be; in life, as long as you know how to dress well and apply makeup you’ll do just fine. What really troubled me though, was the fact that Rutendo left school/college with the ambition of being a social media influencer. Since when has being an Insta Baby Girl become an ambition? Since when???

Now, I don’t have an Instagram account, for many reasons, including some that will be discussed below, but I do enjoy watching YouTube and have done so for many years. Amongst the beauty and lifestyle vloggers, there appears to be only a very small number of young Black and British YouTubers who have managed to make YouTube a full time job, and are living comfortably from its profits. What can sometimes be forgotten is that when these YouTubers were just starting out they had day jobs, and did YouTube on the side as a creative outlet, a hobby almost, before their popularity and platform grew to a lucrative size. These days however, people are not interested in working a 9 to 5 to make a living. They want the job title of “Influencer” before they’ve even reached a position of influence. They want YouTube to pay them, before they’ve paid their dues and sponsorship based off of a few hundred “views”.

Rutendo’s case also highlights the circularity that comes with this materialistic pursuit. Herself and others “stunt for the Gram” in expensive clothes they can’t afford, hoping to attract collaborations from luxury brands that will eventually help them move from just posing, to actually owning these labels. Meanwhile, hapless followers witness this portrayal of bougie living, feel insecure about not having designer items, and put themselves into debt in order to “keep up”. It’s one of the reasons why I hate Instagram, and why I’m slowly falling out of love with YouTube too.

Both platforms have been so overtaken by big brands it seems that now the only function they serve is to encourage users to spend, spend, spend. Why else has the term “Influencer” been created? What is it that YouTubers want to influence you to do? Part with your coins, that’s what. It’s gotten so bad, that I’m now seeing many lesser known YouTubers posting videos all about how they make money from YouTube, how much they charge brands, and how to maximise revenue. Call me old fashioned, but it’s just so distasteful. Just come out and tell us, why don’t you, that you’re just doing YouTube for the money!

I wonder whether or not some of these young black Influencers have paused to think what all this consumerism is doing for the black community? We seem to consume all day, but what are we producing? I say it’s time to forget about our “image” on social media and make sure we’re building, saving and investing in our futures.

Facebook Has Taken More Than Just Your Data

Last week I waved goodbye my Facebook account. It wasn’t for the first time; anyone else who has deactivated only to end up coming back, knows how easy it is to return. Facebook keeps everything just as you left it so you can just pick up where you left off.

Deleting Facebook

But this time it feels different. I use Facebook a lot less, and it’s easy to see why.  Firstly, the platform itself has changed; the News Feed seems to show only a small selection of the almost 700 friends I’ve collected over the years; whereas before, a notification meant that someone had actually interacted with you in some way, now I can be notified just because someone has uploaded a photo or updated their status. The feeling that Facebook is trying to manipulate me into interacting with people is off putting.

Secondly, I have changed. I no longer think it’s appropriate to share my innermost feelings, or personal experiences with virtual strangers. And yes, I consider the majority of people on my “friends” list to be strangers, added during the “friend grab” phase of my early twenties when meeting someone for the first time was a good enough reason to “friend” them on Facebook.

That’s why for me, the best thing about the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, is that is finally pushed me from contentedly finding Facebook boring and bizarre, to completely being over it. However, before news of the scandal even broke, I had been conducting my own mental analysis of the social networking site.

If we didn’t already, we now all know the extent to which our Facebook data is shared with third parties. I shudder to think just how much of my data has been gathered over the 12 year period that I used the site. But Facebook has taken so much more than just your data. It has taken your time, your development of social skills, the importance you attach to privacy and so much more. I now consider it completely insane that people are willing to share the most personal details of their lives with virtual strangers. Though only a handful people will actually respond to something we have posted, we forgot about the hundreds of others lurking silently in the shadows, watching our private lives play out in the open, and witnessing our triumphs and tribulations. And the only effort they’ve had to make for this open access to our lives, is to sign in. It is one of sadder consequences of Facebook, that people are less willing to reach out to people by actually picking up the phone to call them, or even more revolutionary, meeting up with them in person (*shock horror*).

Still, there was something else about Facebook that began to sit uncomfortably with me, after a lightbulb moment occurred a few months ago. A “friend suggestion” appeared and it was someone I had known many years ago. What was so remarkable about this moment, was that until I saw the “friend suggestion” I had completely forgotten that this person even existed. And so I should, because that’s what’s supposed to happen as you pass through various stages in life. You do forget people from your past. Or at list you did before Facebook was invented. Now, even that person you met one time at a party is forever with you because you “friended” her, and 10 years on you know every country she’s ever visited, “met” each successive boyfriend, and know what the inside of her fridge looks like.

Facebook has taken away that experience of bumping into an old face, taking a few seconds to piece together where you know them from, and sharing in a brief moment of nostalgia as you realise how much you’ve both changed. Now when I bump into an “old face”, there is no surprise, only a feeling of awkwardness as you know you can’t even pretend not to recognise him because he commented on your post the other day, and you already know the names of his three children and respective baby mothers. The taking away of the ability to forget certain people, should not be overlooked.

Since leaving Facebook this time around, I’ve not looked back at all. A final reminder as to its oddness came as I was taking the final steps to deactivate. “How will you keep in touch with your friends?” Facebook asked me, as a desperate attempt to try to manipulate me into staying. That won’t be a problem Facebook; I’ll call them.

 

 

 

International Women’s Day – What are We Celebrating?

It seems apt that today on International Women’s Day, I break my spell of writer’s block and write my first piece in 2016.

It was Twitter that brought my attention to the occasion that is being commemorated today. It was also Twitter that drew my attention to yet another social media storm surrounding, arguably one of the most famous women on the planet; Kim Kardashian. It seemed to me a twisted irony that Kim K’s name was trending on two separate topics at the same time as #InternationalWomensDay.

In 2016 it feels as though there is not much to celebrate about being woman. The job that I do means that I constantly come into contact with women who are victims of domestic abuse. Some figures show that globally, 1 in 3 women will experience violence at the hands of a male partner but I have a strong suspicion that if all cases were actually reported, the figures would be far higher. Other uplifting statistics show that there continues to be an increase in sexual crime against women.

It is becoming apparent that the women that are celebrated the most are the women who consistently appear in public without clothes. I may have burying my head in the sand, but I am at a loss to explain how this has happened.  Could Western Feminism be to blame? The type of feminism that I describe as “Western” defends the right of women to do whatever they want with their bodies, including exhibiting its naked form whenever and however they choose. It was out of Western Feminism the ridiculously absurd “Free the Nipple” campaign was birthed. I can think of no finer example of what can happen in a society to rich with privilege and comfort that a woman’s chief concern is about cultivating the right to be indecently exposed.

One of the problems with this new wave of “we have the right to wear what we want or wear nothing at all” type feminism is that it ignores the question; “why?” After all, such behaviour goes against our natural instinct to preserve our modesty. To illustrate my point, if you were out in public somewhere and experienced a wardrobe malfunction that meant you behind was exposed, would you just carry on as normal, or try and find something to cover yourself until you got home? To those that do not appear to have this instinct, we should be addressing the question, “why do want your naked body to be seen by everybody?” Do you just want attention? Are you insecure?

But that’s the trouble with Western Feminism; it asks no questions, and it ignores all consequences. Is it a coincidence that in a day an age where images of the naked female body are displayed at every opportunity and saturate  media and advertising to an inescapable degree, there is an increase in sexual violence towards women? I was horrified to read a piece by Lucy Managan in the Stylist, describing how a man on the tube was staring at her creepily and then staring at his phone, only for her to discover that he was watching pornography on his phone, openly on the tube. This is the world we now live in.

There may have been a time when feminism was all about ensuring that women were treated fairly, and afforded the same rights and opportunities as men, but now I can’t help but think Western Feminism is only adding to the problems that women face today. That’s why I believe we must stop the practice of accusing people of “slut shaming” simply for pointing  out that the absence of clothes on prominent females does nothing to raise the esteem of women who are made to feel their own bodies are inadequate. It does nothing to highlight important inner qualities and capabilities of women or recongise their achievements. And it certainly does nothing to bring an end to the objectification and subjugation of women all around the world.

Book Review: A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta

I read about this book in a Newspaper and the way in which it was described drew me in. I recall, it was said to be a book about exploring the differences in culture between the Nigerian protagonist and those she comes into contact with within her Western environment. I bought the book with an expectation of something Americanah-ish. I think part of my problem is that I have been spoilt by Chimananda, and now expect all African writers to sound like her.

Well, Atta does not sound anything like Adichie, and that in and of itself is not a criticism of Atta. I’ll start with some positives.  I like that the main character’s name is not introduced until she is addressed by another character and we learn her name is Deola. Up until that point she is only referred to as “she”.

Deola is in her late 30s, single. This information is provided to the reader, but other aspects of her character, who she really is, remained somewhat of a mystery. She works for an international charity in London, but visits “home” which is Lagos for her late father’s memorial. Some of her thoughts and dilemmas seem more typically associated with an adolescent. I can understand this is some way, because in some West African cultures, a woman has not truly become a woman until she is married with children. Yet I found it hard to connect her thoughts and feelings to that of a woman of her age and stage in life. Deola clearly has dissatisfaction with her life in London, but the reason for this is not made entirely clear.

What is clear is Deola’s love hate relationship with religion, and Christianity in particular. Now this touched a nerve with me because of the sweeping generalisations made about the Faith. Again though, I have understanding as to why “African Christianity” is criticised because I know from experience how distorted it is from the Christianity of the bible. Religion is certainly a theme in this novel, but I was not expecting it to be tackled in a way that could be seen scornful and disrespectful.

In terms of some of the other themes explored, I found myself asking at one point, is this a book about HIV and Aids? A bit like the MTV series “Shuga” based in Nigeria, (where almost every character either had HIV, or was about to catch it), was the thinking that, seeing as this is going to have a mostly African audience, I’d better do my best to educate them about the importance of being tested for HIV, seeing as most Africans are dying of Aids?

Perhaps, and this is not the biggest let down, another thing I found disappointing was that I could in no way relate to Deola and her privileged background. I had waited to find a novel that was based between Nigeria and London, and having finally found it, I couldn’t connect with Deola as I shared very few of her experiences. I did not go to an expensive fee paying boarding school and I do not have any friends who were educated at Harrow, for a start.

Fatally, the book included too many scenes that did not move the story forward, and an ending that leaves the reader hanging. Not hanging from a cliff as such, as that would suggest an exciting ending. More like hanging from a set of monkey bars.  I kept returning to the blurb to remind myself of what the story was supposed to be about. A love story? Deola’s love interest, hotel owner Wale, does not feature enough for it to be described as a love story.

With no lucid understanding of where the story is going, what is driving the main character, and what message the writer is trying to give, a Bit of Difference, was a bit of a flop for me.

2014: The Year Of…?

As 2013 drew to a close it was time to reflect and look to the year ahead. 2013 was like a flash in the pan. I can’t believe it’s nearly over! As is the case every year, I have much to be thankful for.

 

When the year started out I did not know what would be in store. I did not know that I would start writing a blog for instance. I had wanted to start one for a very long time, but then I just decided to stop stalling, and just do it. The response has been interesting and at times surprising. For example, my most popular post by far has been my post giving tips on transitioning to natural hair. I have written about political issues (a little more than I expected to!), as well as diet and nutrition, but it seems that most people are particularly concerned about… hair. Well I am adamant that I will not turn into a natural hair blogger, but if it’s helping people, then hey I may as well add some more posts about hair this year.

 

2013 also turned out to be the year I learned how to ride a bike. Yes aged 26, with the help of my partner, I learned how to ride a bike. I can’t explain the mixed feelings I had when the bike finally stopped wobbling, and I was able make some distance. I felt happy to have conquered, but sad that I had missed out on such an exhilarating activity for so many years of my life. This year, I hope to become more confident on a bike, and I may even try to learn how to swim too while I’m at it!

 

I turned 27, and it truly feels like old age beckons. I have quite a granny personality as it is, but now that I’m getting older, it seems that my energy levels are dipping, and just want to curl up in bed half the time. As a result, my body is just not what it was back in 2012. However, this presents another challenge that I am ready to take up this year; getting my body back in shape!

 

All in all, 2013 produced some good memories. Before I moved to the reformed church I now attend, the charismatic Nigerian dominated churches of my past would be coming up with themes for the New Year at this time. “2014 the year of Jubilation”, or “2014 the year of Fruitfulness” for example. I don’t know what 2014 is going to turn out to be, but there is no way I am going to stand still. I hope it’s going to be a year of moving forward. A year where I don’t make the same mistakes I made the year before, and progress in my Christian faith. A year of new things, new adventures, and new accomplishments.

 

Here’s to 2014! The year of the unknown! I hope I have fun discovering it.