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Emma, 16, used to love watching lifestyle influencers as they started their mornings with fresh-squeezed green juice, in their perfectly lit houses, before heading out to their daily pilates class. The content was aspirational in nature – it felt like she was getting a glimpse into a world in which she could someday live if she worked hard enough. But that was years ago. Now, Emma doesn’t follow any of those influencers, and she’s not alone.
On TikTok, there’s a storm brewing around the all-too-curated lifestyle influencers. These creators still rake in millions of views and tons of endorsement deals, but some viewers are getting tired of the pristine representation of daily life. While we've seen a shift away from online perfection in the past, this shift seems somewhat different. It's not just unrealistic expectations of how your body or house or life in general should look that's tiring viewers, it's the money needed to fuel a life like that. Search through the comments of these influencers and you’ll see that thread pulled again and again: it's the rich getting richer, that they’re flexing their wealth amid seemingly constant layoffs and inflation that won’t give people a break, that it’s gauche to show such conspicuous consumption when it can feel like many Americans are struggling to even afford rent.
“I used to really like them,” Emma says of these influencers. “Then I realized how unrealistic it is to be able to do things like just go to the gym daily or have all these cute expensive things. I realized that most people around me … struggled with what I thought was simple.”
As the King Kylie era of influencing continues to wane, we’re firmly in the era of deinfluencing — a trend that popped up last year, urging people not to fall into the traps of, well, influencing. Diana, the 30-year-old creator behind @depressiondotgov, which has more 115,000 TikTok followers, is part of that trend. She stitches other creators while they take viewers through the ins and outs of their consumerism. “Garbage,” Diana comments, deadpan, as she watches a video of a person buying a plethora of holiday-specific decor at Target. “Just garbage. Garbage. Garbage.” In an interview with Teen Vogue, Diana said her foray into this kind of content creation began when her For You Page was flooded this holiday season with ‘come shopping with me’ videos and what she calls “countless ads.”
“The first video was my internal monologue and people really resonated with it so I decided to make more and incorporate humor,” Diana said. In her videos, Diana urges people to think about what they really need – do they want to spend money on yet another throw pillow or decorative vase? Do they need a Valentine’s Day-specific coffee mug or an intricately shaped ice mold? (Many commenters say they hear her signature refrain when they're out shopping themselves: “Garbage.”)
But even as deinfluencers like Diana rose to power, so did TikTok Shop, the product hawking arm of the app that launched last September. The ecommerce effort quickly took over For You pages, and contributed to the “TikTok made me buy it” trend, in which sometimes-niche products are pushed to viral fame. We’ve seen skin care products, cleaning solutions, leggings, and other items go from marginally popular or somewhat well known to selling out across retailers, all thanks to TikTok. Still, TechCrunch reports that TikTok Shop may have disillusioned some users, perhaps contributing to the slow in new users coming to the app.
After TikTok Shop’s launch, many did complain about what seemed like constant ads flooding the platform — something that perhaps laid the motivation behind influencing too bare. Diana says influencers no longer feel like trusted friends letting us in on their favorite items, but more like corporations pushing products.
“I think people are starting to see influencers as ‘others’ rather than as a ‘friend’ like we used to because now they are wealthy and do a lot of the conspicuous displays of overconsumption,” Diana says. “People don’t feel connected to them anymore because it isn’t relatable to your average person. My main message is just that you don’t need to buy garbage just because someone else is, and be mindful of what will make you happy long term.”
And there’s the aspect of waste. Darcy McQueeny, an influencer with 1.7 million TikTok followers, went viral this week after showing a room overflowing with boxes of PR gifts that had been awaiting her attention for months. “I have no idea what’s in any of these,” Darcy says in the video. “Two months of PR packages means four days of unboxing.” The stitches, duets, and comments that came out of this video were overwhelmingly judgmental toward either Darcy herself for having so much stuff, or the companies for sending so many gifts to one person. “Idk why they send this stuff to rich people and not people who can’t afford it and would genuinely use every bit of this stuff,” one commenter remarked while another said, “what do you do with all this stuff? It’s so much.” One user summed it up like this: “this is worth more than my tuition.” (In the PR haul videos, Darcy says she will donate most of the goodies to fans. Teen Vogue reached out to Darcy’s management for comment but hasn’t yet heard back.)
For Kyley, 27, the waste and “blatant consumerism” has become impossible to look past. She notes certain influencers she used to enjoy who seem to be outwardly awful about excessive consumption and consumerism, even posting closet clean-outs with thousands of dollars of nice clothes that aren’t that old. But she notes that our attraction to this kind of influence is like a pendulum. It’s been seen as wasteful and gauche in the past to amass so much stuff and to put only a shiny veneer online. Influencers started posting tearful photos and long, emotionally raw captions. But then things swung back, getting more curated as “hauls” became popular again. “We’re seeing the pendulum switch now where having 150 PR boxes in your house isn’t rare or even cool, it’s bad for the environment and also wasteful and impractical,” she says.
Tyler, 21, puts it in stark terms: “The world is in shambles,” she says. “Everybody’s getting laid off from their job. It’s literally like The Hunger Games, where there’s rich people in the Capitol and then everybody else struggling.” Tyler is now a creator who shares satirical videos on her own TikTok to 451,000 followers but before that, she worked in influencer marketing and would be responsible for sending things out.
Casey Lewis, the trend forecaster behind the newsletter After School, says part of that pendulum swing may be due to over saturation of content that celebrates overconsumption and materialism. “I wonder if part of it is fatigue from that kind of content,” Lewis says. “It almost seems like TikTok just puts the division of economics on display in a really intense way. And so maybe it is jarring to see someone [show] their conspicuous consumption while [many] Gen Zers are like, ‘I’m living paycheck to paycheck, hate my job, work 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, don’t have a life, will never be able to afford a house, and you’re sharing this’.”
Though Lewis predicts there will always be influencers who get millions of views on sharing hauls and shopping trips, Gen Z is looking for something different in upcoming influencers. “Gen Z, and also just many generations on the internet who consume content, crave authenticity and also candidness,” she says. “We want candid and we want real.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue