Long Reads

“I lived like an Instagram influencer for a week and this is what happened”

’Influencer’ seems to be the new ‘dream job’ for Millennials and Generation Z, but what is really like to live your life on the ‘gram’? Stylist’s Alessia Armenise tried it for a week and it wasn’t as easy as she expected it to be. 

The other weekend I was in a popular vegan restaurant in London for brunch, where they make the classic avocado toast and granola but also a succulent vegan pizza that warms up your soul. While chatting with my friend, my eyes were drawn to the table next to us. It was a party of two but the table was covered in dishes that kept on coming and going from the kitchen. Plus, neither of them were touching their food. The scene was too weird for my hungry stomach and I couldn’t help but listen to what was going on.

“Are you sure you don’t want to do this in two times? Your food is going to get cold!”, asked the concerned waiter. The couple giggled and the girl said, “We are used to it, don’t worry.”

At this point, I was even more intrigued and I tried to get a glance at the girl’s face. Once I did, I recognised her from my Instagram feed. She has more than 70 thousand followers that salivate at her posts filled with the most amazing looking vegan food that London has to offer. I, of course, am one of them.

She spent at least 45 minutes taking pictures of the food from different angles and probably less than 30 to eat what she could before packing it all up and go home to probably edit it all. My friend and I agreed that her job looks like a pain. Imagine being hungry and having to do all that before you can finally eat a now-cold meal – where is the pleasure in that?

We scroll through our Instagram feeds daily, more than we would like to admit, and we all follow some sort of ‘influencers’. Beauty, fashion, food, whatever pleases your eyes – there is definitely an ‘influencer’ for that. There is even an ‘influencer’ for people that like to clean, the famous Mrs Hinch – a fact that blew my mind when I discovered it.

Bloggers, influencers or content creators – whichever label sounds familiar to you – have been around for more than a decade now and their economic power became so important that even the snobbiest ladies of high fashion couldn’t deny them a place in the industry any longer. Last year, the queen of influencers Chiara Ferragni (more than 16 million followers on Instagram as I write this) got married to an Italian rapper, Fedez, and generated a total audience-driven Media Impact Value (MIV) of 36 million dollars across online and social for the brands that supported the event. According to data released from Launchmetrics, her wedding outperformed the brand’s ads campaigns. The girls that used to post looks on ‘blogger’ or ‘flickr’ ten years ago are now grown up women and, most of the time, CEOs. So why is this job still seen as a ‘hobby’? And what is the life of an influencer really like? But, more importantly, is this job really an easy one? I figured that the only way to know was to ask them and maybe try it out for myself.

When I first pitched this idea to my editor, I genuinely thought this was going to be a fun feature to write, nothing too head-wracking – little did I know, I was in for weeks of research, interviews and planning. I chose to try out this experiment while in Los Angeles for a week. Usually sunny and considered an ‘influencers hub’, the Californian city looked like the best option for my experiment. Also, I needed to be ‘off duty’: there is no way that you can produce the amount of content needed to keep up a thriving Instagram page while working long hours in a ‘traditional’ office job.

First, I needed to know what to do so I reached out to a few influencers to ask for some advice. “I try to post twice a day,” Megan Ellaby tells me. The Mancunian blogger has 100,000 people following her looks on Instagram so I take her word and I will try to stick to those two posts a day as much as I can. And, of course, stories are not included. For Estée Lalonde, sharing everything she does in stories is now her normality and so shall it be for me.

Preparation

If you follow even only one influencer, you may have noticed that somehow they always seem to have a good hair day, which usually also includes a good manicure and a thought through outfit. How am I going to pull this off for a week? I am not sure. I am part of the ‘sleep as much as you can and do your makeup on the bus team’ which means I am not exactly boasting a perfect blow-dry and cat-eyes every day. Somehow, I am going to have to do it so it’s time to ask for some help.

My first thought went to my wardrobe. Nobody wants to see my constant black jeans, jumper, boots combo so it was time to spice up my quite boring fashion routine. Topshop has a great and free personal shopping service so I head there for a little new season makeover. Holly, my wonderful personal shopper, has to endure an hour of rants and indecision but, in the end, she manages to put some colour in my bland black and beige wardrobe – I even got a green skirt and top ensemble: total success. 

After that, I thought if I had to dedicate so much more time to my appearance than usual, for a whole week, I might as well seek professional help to kick off this trip right. I treat myself to a blow-dry and a (very needed) cut at HK London in Notting Hill. I tell my hairdresser that I cut my own hair and he cringes – fair enough. Since my nail polish usually lasts a couple of hours maximum, I pop into STILL (a cruelty-free nail bar in East London) to get gel for the first time ever. I think I could get used to this. I feel like this article is making me sound like I am a disaster but I swear I am actually not that bad (I think). 

When my new me is sorted out, it’s time for the most dreadful of the tasks: packing.

I love travelling and I do it as much as I can but, weirdly enough, I absolutely hate packing. In a normal situation I would wait until the very last minute to do it but in this case, I am going to have to think about my outfits to be ready for the Instagram spam that is about to happen.

I have a couple of looks already sorted thanks to my personal shopping experience but I need a few more bits and pieces to have enough for a week and be prepared for whatever weather I might find there. I go for my everyday bucket bag that would go with absolutely everything I might wear and another, more colourful option. I pack a lot of shoes, probably way too many but again, I am not a professional when it comes to this so I feel that, in this case, better too many than not enough. Once the packing is done, I realise that the content of the bag is still extremely beige but I just have to accept my ‘plain Jane’ nature at this point and I hope that my ‘followers’ will still appreciate the effort (if they even realise I am making an effort). 

Last but not least, it’s time to pack beauty products and pyjamas. I have never thought I would actively have to think about what to wear to go to bed but apparently I am now that person. If you scroll on any travel blogger Instagram profile, you will see a lot of pictures of them in bed, looking glowy and graciously stretching while surrounded by food. I am highly against putting a picture of myself in pyjamas on the internet and I really hate eating breakfast in bed (crumbs, yuck) but I owe it to the world to try it and I will.

I end up packing four different sets of pyjamas, from the serious classic lady-like to the light and probably too sexy one. I will be immensely surprised if I find the courage to post this and I think everybody I know will as well.

On the beauty side, I am packing mainly sunscreen and sheet masks to hopefully get that LA glow. Who knows, I might be a completely new woman when I come back. 

The challenge

I am not sure if the leaving day should really count as the beginning of this adventure. Our flight is at 4pm which means that I go to work in the morning and I don’t really think about ‘the content’. Instead, what I think about is the content of my suitcase that is exploding with outfits and all sorts of other things.

I spent the day before packing until two in the morning to make sure I would have enough things to photograph during the week that we are now not calling a ‘holiday’ anymore but a ‘project’. A high maintenance one, I might add.

Forget about the clothes, it’s all the gear that we had to pack that I was worried about. Not being accompanied by a professional photographer but by a very patient fiancé instead, I needed to make sure that the pictures look great and as influencer-like as possible. I didn’t bring a flashlight only because Estée Lalonde told me that “natural light is best” on Instagram, but we are definitely not travelling light. We packed the two best rated camera phones of the moment, a Huawai P30 Pro and a Pixel 3 XL, and a Canon M50 with a EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lense. You can imagine how stressed I was carrying that bag on the Piccadilly line.

Arriving at the airport, I attempt to do a classic ‘Instagrammer at the airport’ pose (I even have a very photogenic Eastpak set of luggages) but I am still not used to people staring at me and I settle on a very bland pic of me looking up at a screen. I could have done better but it’s only my first day, have faith.

The first day in Los Angeles starts slowly but surely. I feel very motivated and I consequently spend two hours doing my blow dry. I know this sounds dramatic, but I have curly hair and a lot of it, which means that I actually need two hours to make it straight. Thankfully I woke up early (thank you jetlag) and I am ready to roll at 10am, motivated to make my fellow Instagrammers proud.

I wear an emerald green (yes, green) skirt and heels and we head to the amazing rooftop of the Waldorf Astoria in beverly Hills – a great spot to enjoy a drink and one of the best views of the city – to get that content. Even though my hair is already starting to get wild thanks to the Californian humidity, we manage to get quite a few good shots. Everybody there is taking pictures so I don’t feel weird posing and spending a good 40 minutes taking pictures. This influencer thing is going great. 

The first day went pretty well but, I am not going to lie, I get bored pretty quickly of being the center of attention. My fiancé, on the other hand, is loving his new role as a photographer – at least one of us is succeeding in our new careers.

When we are out and about, I find it extremely difficult to stop whatever we are doing, find a good spot, take dozens of pictures, change the pose etc. If he wasn’t enjoying it, I don’t think we would have any pictures at all. The most problematic thing for me is being photographed around people. I feel really self-conscious and I can’t get on with it – the result is a series of pictures that look like I am about to get run over, not on holiday enjoying my life. I wish I asked one of the girls I interviewed to be my counsellor for the week. 

Even through a rough patch, I didn’t lose my faith and one morning I tried to attempt the ‘I woke up like this’ picture in bed, minus the food. As suspected, it did not go well. We tried with a phone, we tried with the camera, with artificial light, natural light and no light. How do people look good in the morning? I don’t know but my picture was sad, that’s the best way to describe it. I think I am not ready for this yet – that kind of content needs more patience and more experience to look good.

After a few days of living the influencer life, I am more and more convinced that is not for me. Giving me a strong coup de grâce is the fact that my followers have not gone up at all and my pictures are actually getting less likes than usual. I blame it of the time difference but it could be that my followers just don’t like my face, who knows.

The last day of my influencer life was the best one of the week. Feeling defeated took the pressure away and I was finally able to enjoy the process. We went up to the Griffith Observatory on a very bright day, the light was absolutely perfect as was the landscape. I was wearing a very simple outfit, jeans and a linen shirt, and I felt the most comfortable because that’s what I would have worn all along if I didn’t have to think about getting my clothes to pop in pictures. We had nature all around and we found the best prop for the pictures: flowers.

This is going to sound extremely cheesy, and that’s why I ignored it when the Instagrammers I talked to before the trip said it, but the secret is just trying to keep it real. I didn’t realise it then but writing it, I just had to stop trying to emulate the big fashion influencers and just had to find my niche of content. I wish I had a big revelation to conclude this article but the reality is, trying to be an influencer felt more like a job than my real day job. I had a good run but I’ll be back at my desk if you need me. 

Pictures: Alessia Armenise

Air New Zealand flies daily from London Heathrow to LA. Return flights start from £395 in Economy, £1,219 in Premium Economy and £2,099 in Business Premier. For the most up to date fares please visit Air New Zealand.

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