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.