If you’ve ever seen a daily vlog, package unboxing, or clothes transport on YouTube, you may understand the appeal of lifestyle influencers. These neat, subtly filtered people – usually women – charm their viewers with their ring-lit videos and highly curated Instagram feeds.
Even before COVID, these types of influencers faced backlash for a number of reasons – they gave up their “real” jobs, contributed to unattainable body image ideals, and sold snake oil, among other things.
Now, almost a year after the pandemic began, there is more to be loathed than ever. I’m over lifestyle influencers and don’t know if I can ever go back.
Some Capital-i influencers have set themselves easy targets for anger, like TikToker Bryce Hall, who hosted parties of 100+ guests in the middle of the pandemic. Another, Tana Mongeau, openly said she didn’t damn well care about COVID security.
But even the influencers who took the pandemic seriously, who stayed inside and showed off their masked faces in front of the camera, go to Trader Joe’s – I’m over them too. While they continue to document their “real” life, I have become more and more disillusioned with selfie clips that have been edited along with bold music.
At the start of the pandemic, influencers had the same confusion and panic as the rest of the internet / country / world. They spent their days at home and on the empty shelves; Some cried to their DSLRs.
As someone who was equally confused and panicked at the start of this slog-at-home slog, I felt terrible watching these videos. They reflected my experiences and made me all too aware of how widespread our new reality was. So far I have viewed lifestyle vlogs as entertainment to kill time or to see if a brand is really worth trying out. When the pandemic broke out, vlogs no longer offered escape and just reminded me of our very real hell world.
As 2020 went on, my dislike for these videos grew stronger. Some vloggers took the path of toxic positivity, always trying to find the “good” in the situation. These were easy to take out of my usual rotation, but others were more devious. They were more “real” in terms of their experience – but a viewer needs to examine how real it actually is. Like any other content, footage in vlogs is handpicked, edited and filtered. If an influencer is having a bad day or sobbing in front of the camera, it’s because they wanted you to see them. It’s curated mess, curated “reality”.
When the pandemic broke out, vlogs no longer offered escape and just reminded me of our very real hell world.
In addition to toxic positivity and selective negativity, another nefarious factor played a role: the need for influencers to sell. This was true before COVID, but even in the midst of the chaos, these #ads never stopped. I’ve seen discount codes and diatribes on meal subscriptions, beauty products, clothing, website domains – everything. When the world came to a standstill, influencers and brands kept producing marketing material. Especially when millions of Americans are out of work, a millionaire influencer selling one more moisturizer I don’t need seemed numb.
Yes, I know that influencers live from sponsorships for superfluous products. However, during a global crisis, the need for this professional model seems less important than ever.
So I decided against watching them sell their wares. Surprisingly, I still watch YouTube every day. By clicking away from lifestyle influencers, I was actually able to find another genre that I find even more entertaining: comment channels.
Comment channels delve deep into current events and offer their own #takes and explore corners of the internet that are not yet mainstream. The difference is not just the content, but also the focus. Rather than dealing with the channel owner’s daily life, comment channels are about the owner’s interests, research, and opinions.
These YouTubers gave way to film critics, political commentators, and other genres that I’ve never fully explored in the “lifestyle” trenches of Starbucks, Lash Extensions, and #spon. When I go to YouTube now, I’m greeted not with the same few (often white) smiling faces, but with a variety of pop cultures and social dissections.
I’m not going to say I’ll never see a vlog or an unboxing again – I’m just human. It is also true that non-influencer channels have paid sponsorship, although they tend to put it at the end of their videos and they seem tangential to the experience.
Regardless, the past year has got me researching my YouTube habits in a way I’ve never had before. Instead of getting glimpses of an influencer’s day, I see a comment channel looking at a TikTok trend I didn’t know about or an expert researching this week’s political antics. I realized that I’d rather be on YouTube to help myself than watch someone else’s life through a selective lens.