A recent swathe of TV shows depict the behind-the-scenes reality of being an influencer.
Up close, their lives appear full of stress, fear, and mental health challenges.
Despite being the same age as many famous TikTokers, their life does not seem aspirational to me.
Netflix's" 'Hype House," which was released on Friday, January 7, is the latest in a wave of influencer reality shows, joining Hulu's "The D'Amelio Show" and Discovery+'s "Discovering David Dobrik."
"The D'Amelio Show," which aired in September 2021, followed the lives of Charli D'Amelio — the biggest TikToker in the world — and her family, which includes her sister, fellow TikTok star Dixie. "Hype House" stars a group of TikTokers who make up the content collective of the same name.
The Hype House members — who are in their late teens and early twenties — would show "a side of themselves (and their relationships) that we rarely see," according to a tweet by Netflix promoting the show. It struck me as ironic, considering these influencers have made a living from appearing to share their lives with millions of TikTok followers.
Nevertheless, I watched both shows. As a Gen-Zer who spends hours on TikTok, I was fueled by a desire to know if influencing truly is the dream it appears online.
Many of the influencers depicted are the same age as me, but despite leading a life of luxury, they appear to be facing constant public scrutiny, chasing after views and likes in the face of vicious hate comments — often to the detriment of their mental health.
Up close, being an influencer looks anything but aspirational.
Influencers appear held hostage by engagement numbers and fear of backlash
In 2019, a survey of 3,000 children aged eight to 12 reported that roughly one in three kids in the UK and US wanted to be vloggers or YouTubers.
In his opening interview, Alex Warren, a Hype House member with 14.7 million followers, explained that he was "living his dream childhood aged 20." Spliced with clips of helicopter rides, flashy supercars, and life in a hilltop California mansion, you wouldn't question why being an influencer is a dream for many young people.
But upon watching these reality shows I learned that despite the hours they rack up online, I'd never truly seen the real lives of these creators.
The influencers featured in both shows appear to be held hostage by engagement numbers and live under surveillance, fearing the impact of haters and cancel culture. In "Hype House," Warren — who is living his "dream" — says later in the series that he's "very depressed," while Larry Merrit, aka Larray, confessed his biggest fear is "being canceled for something I didn't do."
Thomas Petrou, a co-founder of the Hype House, muses that in chasing notoriety for the content collective, he "keeps watching friends leave" and admits he "feels like shit 24/7" and has nothing he enjoys doing anymore.
In "The D'Amelio Show," Dixie, who has over 50 million followers on TikTok, says she struggled with suicidal thoughts following negative comments on a vlog she filmed for Vogue. Her sister Charli said she feels like she gets canceled simply for being alive, and shut down production following a distressing interaction with a paparazzo. At one point, she says she's suffering from what she describes as "a constant anxiety attack for the past four years."
Influencer fame also seems a lot more volatile than traditional, A-list celebrity fame.
Petrou of "Hype House" explains he "spent his life" trying to reach this pinnacle of content creator fame and is driven by needing to "protect it at all costs," while Charli D'Amelio said she felt the need to "prove" herself to the millions of people that say she's "overhyped" or "undeserving" because she "just dances on the internet."
I wouldn't wish becoming a TikTok star on my worst enemy
As a 20-year-old myself, I'm addicted to TikTok, regularly spending upwards of three hours a day on the app. But having seen these shows, the prospect of having the level of fame of the D'Amelio sisters or the Hype House group is neither inspiring nor exciting.
Influencers' job is to make their lives look perfect and in the past I believed their carefully curated online personas, wishing my daily life could be as easy as posting nice pictures on Instagram and lip-syncing to popular audios on TikTok.
Now that I've seen the consequences of amassing such a large following, especially at such a young age, I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy.
The supercars, pool parties, and $5 million mansions cannot be worth it when it means spending unhappy and anxiety-filled years at the peak of fame in your late teens or early 20s, in constant fear that you'll end up canceled or slowly falling out favor with the audience you poured your heart into cultivating.
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