By Sam Bennett
The influencer phenomenon is something most of us are familiar with by now. As are the effects of influencer culture on people’s self-perception. There are many influencers who play a positive role model for their followers, speaking honestly about reality behind the lens. There is, however, an abundance of social media content that is dishonest and harmful, especially when it comes to fitness and body image.
What’s interesting is that there are similarities in the detachment of reality in the world of fitness and the world of economics.
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Platforms like Instagram and YouTube are riddled with fitness gurus and celebrities preaching their fitness journey as a model of inspiration for their followers. These influencers claim that with their program and a lot of hard work, you, ordinary people, could achieve what they have achieved. You can look the way they look as you follow their footsteps on this journey to self-improvement.
Other influencers and fitness experts such as James Linker assert that these gurus and celebrities are lying to you. Linker, a personal trainer and a YouTube influencer himself, says many bulked up, shredded influencers are hiding the fact they’re on steroids. Celebrities like Chris Hemsworth, who rapidly packed on muscle for his role in Thor, also have access to teams of elite personal trainers (and pharmacists).
Meanwhile these influencers sell fitness programs or promote their brand with false promises. It’s not that they don’t work hard for large muscle mass or that hard work in the gym won’t bring you success. It’s that the program or products they are selling will not produce the results promised. What you can achieve in the gym with massive advantages like steroids or highly paid trainers is totally different to what regular gym-goers should realistically expect.
Here we see a parallel in the politics of Capitalism and meritocracy. As wealthy influencers proscribe their own “programs” of ‘working hard’ and cutting back expenses as a means of achieving what their level of success.
Celebrities like Kirstie Allsopp have been caught up in Twitter spats over the debate on young people’s economic woes. She weighed in on the issue of owning property, claiming that ending their Netflix and gym membership would give young people a chance to save a deposit.
Allsopp had apparently bought her first home with financial support from her family, costing £122,000. The average UK house price today is around £276,000. The average wage in this period has not risen proportionately to house prices and has been eaten away by inflation.
Earlier this year, Love Island-star , Molly-Mae, made comments on poverty and inequality, stating that she’s ‘worked her arse off’ for her career and anyone can achieve whatever they want, with enough determination. Of course, some of her success can be attributed to connections from her private education and wealthy parents, opportunities many working-class people don’t have.
The problem isn’t that these influencers are wrong in principle; working hard towards your goals certainly is important in bringing about success, like such as working-out in the gym. The problem is that influencers and celebrities who have been handed down great privileges from their parents are on the equivalent of steroids. Wealthy influencers cannot reasonably proscribe their pathway to success as a solution for ordinary people. Although these privileged few may have to work hard to make the most of their advantages, be it through money, property, networking or all of the above.
Their idea of hard work and its relationship to success is not the same for everyone else. For the poorest, hard work is what you must do to get by and achieve a little luxury or modest success in a career, not a regular spot on national television or a substantial financial portfolio.
When fitness influencers create unrealistic expectations for their followers, they can potentially damage the mental health of vulnerable people. The failure of certain people to meet these expectations can lead to a sense of unworthiness and depression. When wealthy, out-of-touch influencers create unrealistic expectations of success, it creates a similar feeling of personal responsibility for failure. This, in turn, breeds a harmful kind of individualism, rooted in Thatcherite ideology.
Margaret Thatcher was repulsed by trade unions and their collective power which forced employers into giving workers high wages. She also saw state control over public services and housing as harmful to the individual’s spirit of personal success. Instead, the state and the unions hampered the individual’s ability to get on in life and work their way up the ladder of cCapitalism.
Since Thatcher’s premiership, the goals of high wages, property ownership and a generous retirement fund have become more distant with every generation. The reality of cCapitalism as a meritocratic system is that while some people are more talented, hard-working or intelligent than others, ultimately no one lives entirely as an individual. Post-war Social-Democracy such as the creation of the NHS and boost to welfare payments played a pivotal role in lifting millions of people from poverty as it recognised the success of the individual was dependent on what the community could provide.
If influencers want to help people be successful in life, they should be calling for policies that can deliver true opportunities for success: A non-punitive benefits system, a Living Wage, affordable social housing and free higher education. These policies will do more to lift up hard-working people than any lifestyle changes or vacuous platitudes ever will.
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