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Have Influencers Lost the Art of Relatability?

Updated: Apr 10

In 2017, I discovered Emma Chamberlain. In a YouTube landscape polluted with curation and false realities, Emma Chamberlain was a breath of fresh air. With an emphasis placed on informal editing and a video portfolio that ranged from thrifting hauls to documentation of mental health, Chamberlain treated her viewership in the same way one would a best friend. She had stumbled, by chance, into a gold mine of human connection, amassing an audience that would follow her every move. Paving the way for the ‘age of relatable content creators’, Chamberlain was real, unfiltered, and raw. She was authentic, and most importantly in the eyes of my 17-year-old self, she was just like me.

Yet as her viewership climbed to monumental heights, amassing no less than 15 million YouTube and Instagram subscribers and followers, the essence of her relatability eroded as she excelled beyond the boundaries of ‘YouTuber’. Brands capitalised on her success, resulting in Chamberlain striking gold with endorsement deals and merchandise sales. With her beautiful L.A home photographed in Architectural Digest’ and a yearly invite to the Met Gala, her content could no longer fulfil the criteria of relatability that her audience so desperately craved. Chamberlain now had to grapple with the challenge of manufacturing the authenticity that her viewership demanded, whilst being simultaneously sponsored by Louis Vuitton.

My confusion lies in the fact that we’ve been conditioned from a young age to believe that a celebrity’s life is so otherworldly it would be a crime to compare it to ours. Yet we somehow don’t apply the same logic in regards to a content creator or influencer, when quite frankly, the only difference between the former and the latter is the size of the screen we watch them on.

“Get your f*****g a** up and work”. Who can forget those infamous and incriminating words? We immediately disregarded her comments on account of Kim Kardashian’s celebrity status and how seemingly out of touch she was with the real world. Yet influencers who preach a similar ethos are lauded, as their words somehow hold more gravitas when they wear a civilian’s disguise.

My gripe isn’t with Chamberlain herself, as she doesn’t stand alone in this endeavour, but rather with how these influencers influence. Chamberlain’s advice and philosophies are intended to be universal; yet her life, whilst shrouded beneath a guise of relatability, is just as out of reach as that of a celebrity. Thus we, as the viewer or listener, are left with the paradox the creator presents to us. How do we relate when there is nothing left to relate to? How do we measure up to the bar of happiness they have set when our lives are worlds apart?

On whom does the onus fall in order to solve this riddle? Whilst some would argue the creator, I would propose the viewer and listenership. These creators preach ‘we are one and the same’: this is what they think we want. We keep demanding that a creator be vulnerable and raw, then proceed to bemoan over the size of their Hollywood home when they do reveal their feelings of stress, boredom or discontent. Creators feel as if they cannot evolve their content beyond the authentic and relatable style that garnered their fanbase in the first place, yet surely as their world evolves, it is only fair that their content does the same. Granted, it is fair to mourn a once relatable creator, but we must stop demanding relatability when a creator is, put simply, no longer relatable.

Illustration by Olivia Little

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