Instagram's last great hope

As the ‘Influenza’ epidemic snowballs into a consumerist nightmare, researchers argue that influencers with integrity could perhaps turn things around. To learn more about this emerging trend, Gargi Ranade spoke to a few people who’re ‘instafamous’ for all the right reasons.

Illustration by Bhargavi Rudraraju

Illustration by Bhargavi Rudraraju

Chances are, you follow someone on Instagram who has thousands of followers and lives a dreamy life in candids promoting products you didn't know you need.  The influencer culture thrives on the time spent by users which is both an outcome and a reason for more and more brands to heavily invest in them for advertising and promotions. The Influencer Industry is said to be valued at around 8 billion dollars in 2019, and only likely to expand. What began as a platform for creative expression, connecting with friends and discovering a new perspective, is now being rampantly monetized. While that isn’t inherently problematic, the lack of safety/quality checks and uncontrolled commercial manipulation of the medium is a cause for concern. However researchers studying the impact of this phenomenon have proposed a way around it - there is a small place on social media where people with influence are trying their best to inspire positive change with integrity. We spoke to a few of these people who although wary of identifying as influencers are nonetheless leading large groups of people towards a mindful lifestyle.

 

Kamana Gautam (@mycocktail_life)

“Natural Birther/Breastfeeder/BabyWearer”

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“I never monetise my feed. I only want to support ethical brands and those brands barely make any profit, if they spend on me, I don’t think I would do them justice.” 


How would you describe yourself? Does the term 'influencer' fit in with how you perceive your presence online?


I had my first child in a government hospital and realised that medical professionals were prescribing unnecessary medicines to young mothers, which is obviously very harmful. So when I had my second child, I chose to give birth with the help of a midwife, and I wanted to talk about it. I started writing about motherhood, keeping my accounts honest and first-hand. As my presence grew, brands started approaching me about their products, which seemed to have no value or worth. So I decided I would only support brands that resonate with me, which are either run by women, for example, or are ethical. Now, I guess you could call me an influencer, but that wasn’t what I had in my mind in the beginning.


When did you start practising sustainability? What changes have you made since and how do you practise sustainability? Why did you feel the need to talk about it?


Sustainability has always been a part of my life. I was born and raised middle-class. Pre-loved clothes were always encouraged, so was making full use of all products for their worth. I don’t like this wasteful trend of not repeating outfits, or not posting pictures in the same outfit more than once. Using preloved clothes is a simple and effective alternative.  For one of my kids’ parties I only accepted preloved toys as gifts, for the other one’s we decorated the house using flowers and other environment-friendly objects instead of balloons. Since my kids became old enough to have birthday parties, I thought they were also old enough to understand sustainability. 



How has social media helped your personal growth, assuming it has helped at all.


It has helped, I think. I have evolved, learned about myself through my writing. I think I have become more empathetic, understanding, more open to others’ perspectives and less judgemental. I have also made so many friends! 



Do you ever monetise your feed? If not, why? And if yes, do you ever see this interfering with the authenticity of the information you share? How do you deal with that aspect?


I never monetise my feed. I only want to support ethical brands and those brands barely make any profit, if they spend on me, I don’t think I would do them justice. I like making connections. I promote brands because I like the people who work there. And if I start monetising my feed it will go against minimalism, which I’m trying hard to practise. It would end up in me hoarding things I don’t need, which is not sustainable. Too many brands making sustainable clothing from, say, cotton is also bad for the ecology because cotton crop consumes a lot of water. And the farmer crisis isn’t getting any better. So monetising my feed seems like a pretty bad idea to me.

 

Rachita - Sanitary Panels (@sanitarypanels)

“I make comics”

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I feel like I have a certain responsibility in the way I talk about it (mental health) and I don’t want people to self-diagnose. I try to make it as relatable as possible for someone who knows what it’s like to have a mental health problem and try to de-stigmatise it by talking, joking and laughing about it, without making light of it.”



How would you describe yourself? Does the term 'influencer' fit in with how you perceive your presence online?


I’d describe myself as a web political comic artist. I don’t know how to connect with ‘influencer’. I don’t inject myself or my identity into my feed, I just put my comics there.



What has your personal journey with mental health been like? And how do you use it to inform or assist others?


I don’t go into details about my mental health journey, apart from saying that I have mental health issues and I am often in dialogue with people who have other mental health issues. I feel like I have a certain responsibility in the way I talk about it and I don’t want people to self-diagnose. I try to make it as relatable as possible for someone who knows what it’s like to have a mental health problem and try to de-stigmatise it by talking, joking and laughing about it, without making light of it.



How do you usually cope with a bad mental health day?


I don’t know. I nap, I don’t let myself feel guilty about not being productive. I shouldn’t value myself based on how much I can produce, that’s a very capitalist way of looking at it and I don’t like it, and I have made my peace with that.



Do you encounter trolls often?


I encounter trolls everyday, every time I put a comic up, especially if it’s an opinionated comic, more so if it’s anti-Modi or as I’d like to say, pro-democracy. Most often, I don’t deal with them. Sometimes I scroll through the comments and laugh. I also don’t look at my DMs when I see someone trying to rile me up. The best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them because if you respond to them, they feed on that.

Do you ever monetise your feed? If not, why? And if yes, do you ever see this interfering with the authenticity of the information you share?


I haven’t put a single penny into ads. I haven’t paid for any visibility. I get paid by organisations, like Forbes India, with whom I have a column, they pay me to make comics, or I was working with an NGO to destigmatise abortions. So they were paying me to create content but as long as the content falls within my morals, principles and values I am happy to make it. 

 


Sukhnidh Kaur (@pavemented)

“Here for the weird and wonderful”

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“Would I call myself an influencer? Lexically, that word is vague, non-descriptive, and doesn’t answer any questions – who is one influencing, what are they influencing about, and what is the outcome of it all? I think those things matter…”


How would you describe yourself? Does the term 'influencer' fit in with how you perceive your presence online?


I’ve been trying to bring congruence into my online persona and offline identity. The internet finds convenience in collectively typecasting, because it’s easier to view people and ideas as black and white. But I don’t want to be pigeonholed – I’m 20 right now, and as I grow, I change and identify with different elements of myself. I want my authenticity and nuance to be seen, without being bothered by the resulting inconsistency.

Would I call myself an influencer? Lexically, that word is vague, non-descriptive, and doesn’t answer any questions – who is one influencing, what are they influencing about, and what is the outcome of it all? I think those things matter.. I want to take ownership of this and be conscious of how my content affects those who consume it – so perhaps I’m a creator who also influences.



What has your personal journey with mental health been like? And how do you use it to inform or assist others?



Mental health has played an important role in my life – it’s been a long journey, and this journey has been quite tumultuous.  So while I may skip talking about the bad days, I try to reiterate the joy of healing, the abundance of hope, and the possibility of recovery. Connectedness, support, community, vulnerability, and kindness aid healing, and we could all do with a little bit of that – so I hope to help people take stock of the fact that no one is alone in their scary, confusing experience of the world. 


How do you usually cope with a bad mental health day?


I try to tap into what I know will lift me up instead of pushing me further down, even though it’s decidedly the tougher thing to do. I talk to friends, play the piano, read a book, draw it out, write about something that interests me – academic or personal or musical, or just head out for a walk. I go to therapy and try to engage in consistent self-care, too - the boring stuff, like boundaries and introspection and doing cognitive behavioural therapy homework and fixing my circadian rhythm by sleeping on time, drinking water, eating healthy, clearing out my email inbox, and offloading work and projects when I’m overwhelmed. 



Do you ever monetize your feed? If not, why? And if yes, do you ever see this interfering with the authenticity of the information you share? How do you deal with that aspect?


I used to monetize my social media feed every now and then, but not anymore. I can’t help but feel inauthentic when I monetize. There’s too much dissonance and inner conflict surrounding the act. I still do collaborations or the very, very rare monetized post if it’s something to do with LGBTQ awareness, a non-profit, or even a small woman-run business etc. Other than that, I stay away, and have asked on my stories for brands and third-party agencies to stop emailing me about paid promotions. I’ve spent too long fostering honesty on my platform – today, I can’t bring myself to compromise on that one sacred thing. 

 

Resh Susan (@thebooksatchel)

“Storyteller/Creator of #femmemarch”

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“I accept very few collaborations and I make an effort to see if they align with the interests of my feed and audience.” 


How would you describe yourself? Does the term 'influencer' fit in with how you perceive your presence online?

I think the term influencer would apply to me — I have heavily influenced the bookshelves of many people and I will continue to do so.



What has your personal journey with mental health been like? And how do you use it to inform or assist others?

My journey with mental health has not been great. I have had (and still have) several terrible days — unstoppable crying days, can’t get out of bed days, panicking, strong social anxiety days etc. But I think I know how to manage them better now.

I have not intentionally done anything to help those with bad mental health. Also I am a private person so I haven’t discussed my experiences online. But I have gotten messages that say nice things — there was one lady who had to take bed rest for a few weeks and she felt happy reading my captions and notes on books, I think I might have done my bit to put a smile on someone’s face. And this in turn makes me happy and feel worthwhile.


What did you have in mind when you started #femmemarch? How has that panned out?


#femmemarch was started as a hashtag to talk about women’s work in the month of March. It mostly focuses on books written by women but also spans across art, poetry by women, both famous artists as well as talented girls showcasing their own work. It has led to many interesting conversations about underrated women, hidden gems of work etc.



Do you ever monetise your feed? If not, why? And if yes, do you ever see this interfering with the authenticity of the information you share? How do you deal with that aspect?


Yes I have worked with brands on my feed and no, I have never felt that the sponsored posts interfered with the tone of my account. I accept very few collaborations and I make an effort to see if they align with the interests of my feed and audience. 



What’s the one thing that you would encourage more people to do - with respect to self-care, politics, mental health or the environment? What are some of the handles you would recommend following for wholesome or introspective content?


If you are on social media, curate your feed — follow those accounts that give you joy and do away with those that make you angry/sad/aggressive.

I enjoy far too many book, food and illustration handles to name a few. If I had to really really choose —  @looking forabura, @whatshotblog, @stefiereads for the bookish lifestyle, @helloemilie for stunning minimal pictures, @melissamale for the best café pics, @allthatishe, @kutovakika for being the most creative accounts, @monikamanchanda because she has a lovely smile and always puts up excellent food recipes and is one of the most stylish persons on the grid. I love Soup for the personal essays, The Goya Journal adds a personal story to food. 

 


Rohini Kejriwal (@woohoochild)

“I write, take photos, draw things at @ro.doodles, and curate @thealiporepost”

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“I don't want someone to pay me to do this, nor is my opinion up for sale.” 




How would you describe yourself? Does the term 'influencer' fit in with how you perceive your presence online?

I've always been skeptical about the term 'influencer'. One of the reasons is that I refuse to monetise myself, or associate myself as a brand. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and making everything transactional isn't how I've ever done or looked at things. I'm someone who is always gushing about a new artist I've discovered like I did for Inktober, or a show like Hilda by Luke Pearson that I watched and fell in love with recently. That's the basis of The Alipore Post as well, which has now become a community of people who trust my taste and ability to pair words with the right image so that it leaves an impact. I don't want someone to pay me to do this, nor is my opinion up for sale. 


What has your personal journey with mental health been like? Do you use it to inform or assist others, via your own profile or through Alipore Post?


I won't say that I prioritise self care always. Nor am I good with routines. But I was very happy to seek out a therapist when I felt it, and take stock of my life in a way that was necessary. I urge people all the time to break the stigma and seek help, especially within their own family. I consciously encourage self care, empathy, and compassion, and the people I choose to keep in my life are all reflective of this.

Regarding talking about it through my profile or The Alipore Post, it happens everyday in terms of the choice of content sub-consciously being shared. In my head, I've defined the kind of positive language or message I want to send out subliminally, or what I want to be associated with. It's a responsibility when there are people who trust your judgment.

 

What are the pitfalls of being so present online, challenging ideas and or even people? Does it take a toll and how do you cope?

It does take a toll to have people expecting you are what they think of you online. But I tell myself that I don't owe anyone anything. For instance, my friend at Champaca never imagined me to be a giggler, but now that I've come out of my shell and opened up to the team, I can be myself around them and giggle a lot. You can't hear that laugh over 'Haha' or 'Heh' typed out, and it will never compare to the real experience. So I cope by keeping it as real as I can, trying to be sincere about who I am online and off, and not giving in to what people expect you to be because that inevitably leads to disappointment.

 

 What’s the one thing that you would encourage more people to do - with respect to self-care, politics, mental health or the environment? What are some of the handles you would recommend following for wholesome or introspective content?

Please keep it real. Persevere to understand yourself better, and be true to that. Look for synergy in the company you keep, and aspire to be a better version of yourself. We are all ridden with flaws, but life doesn't have to be about defining ourselves with negativity or what happens to us. It's about what you want to go and do. Also, happiness isn't as difficult to achieve as people think. Find balance, identify your sources of joy, use your hands and make things, find order in the chaos, and just learn to live simple, authentic, meaningful lives. 

 Some accounts I like:

Poorly Drawn Lines, Nial Breen Comics, Jamie Squire and False Knees (their comics cheer me up every time)

Leafiness (Rina Kushnir's meditative practice of painting on leaves)

Cwote (constantly reminder to stay strong)

Austin Kleon, Brain Pickings, Swiss Miss (my heroes!)

The Daily Blip (yummy art shared by my dearest friend) 

Soup (Such great, fresh reads!)

Nitch, The Talks Our Social Club (much inspiration)

Animals Doing Things& Animal Fanimals(animal humour)

Jan Erichsen (I want to buy this guy lots of coffee/drinks)

Jay Shetty (He talks a lot of sense!) 

 


Namrata Menon (@radxbone)


“Feminist. Explaining myself to myself/She-Her. Minimalist/Low-waster.”

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“I think if the ‘influencer industry’ was a bit more of an organised sector then it wouldn’t be so chaotic in its authenticity.”

 

When did you start practising sustainability? What changes have you made since; how do you practise sustainability? Why did you feel the need to talk about it?

 

Most of it came from an internship I did learning how ads online are targeted to set audiences. So I wanted to break free from that and I started with Minimalism and buying only what I needed, and then it shifted to Sustainable Minimalism. I have perfected my personal and menstrual hygiene to be waste free. But I have a long way to go in a lot of other ways. I feel like it’s difficult to practise it perfectly, as the system is rigged against sustainability and that’s why everyone should do as much as they can. 

 

  What made you sensitive to the environment? 

             

 I think accountability of sorts. I hate being called a hypocrite and I realised my ideals in life have to match my actions. The true story is that I am very anxious about garbage. I cannot stand wet waste and damp areas. I had to do something about it. And more than questioning why nobody is solving the problem of garbage outside, I had to question myself first. What’s going out of my house. That’s the first place to start. I’ve reached a point where even the person who comes for collection of our waste has been surprised at how small our garbage bags are on most of the days. 

 

 Do you ever monetise your feed? If not, why? And if yes, do you ever see this interfering with the authenticity of the information you share? How do you deal with that aspect?

 As of now I haven’t monetised anything online, haven’t reached that point yet. It does interfere with authenticity because it is marketing afterall. I think if the ‘influencer industry’ was a bit more of an organised sector then it wouldn’t be so chaotic in its authenticity. There’s still a long way for that. 

 

What’s the one thing that you would encourage more people to do - with respect to self-care, politics, mental health or the environment? What are some of the handles you would recommend following for wholesome or introspective content?

I would really want people to involve sustainable options in their daily lifestyle choices, if they’re able to do so. And they should do so keeping in mind that it doesn’t affect their physical or mental health. 

Some handles I’m hooked onto currently:

@tealalita  (for zero waste solutions and on ground information) 

@aliceaedy (eco anxiety and hypocrisy/using your privilege)

 



Aishwarya Subramanyam (@otherwarya)

“I hate everybody”

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“How about Instaventer? Influventer?”


How would you describe yourself? Does the term 'influencer' fit in with how you perceive your presence online?

I’m not a fan of the term influencer, but that’s just me being an asshole. I think I’m just placed in the unique position of being semi-known in a tiny industry, being able to say what I really think about stuff and vent to my heart’s content. How about Instaventer? Influventer?



How has social media helped your personal growth, assuming it has helped at all.

I think everything helps personal growth if you’ll let it. Social media has helped bring me clarity; breaking down sometimes-incoherent rage, as well as complex Thoughts and Feelings into bite-sized morsels for public consumption will do that. It has helped me express myself better. I’ve also learnt a lot from other people who have engaged with me through social media, offering deeper insights or perspectives I hadn’t considered, for which I’m always grateful. 


What are the pitfalls of being so present online, challenging ideas and or even people? Does it take a toll and how do you cope?

You lose a lot of fracquaintances, maybe even some friends. You will probably lose work. You won’t be welcome in certain social situations. People will think of you as a troublemaker and you will be bitched about. Other people will expect you to weigh in on everything that’s happening in the world. Yes, it takes a toll. I cope by going off social media when the noise becomes too much, and by doing beauty reviews. 



Do you ever monetise your feed? If not, why? And if yes, do you ever see this interfering with the authenticity of the information you share? How do you deal with that aspect?

I don’t, and I’d like not to. I think money always muddles things, no matter how much you try not to let it. But also, I might desperately need a Dyson product in my life at some point, so who knows. 



What’s the one thing that you would encourage more people to do - with respect to self-care, politics, mental health or the environment? What are some of the handles you would recommend following for wholesome or introspective content?


Get therapy. It could take a while to find a therapist who’s right for you, but when you do - not to be dramatic or anything - it will change your life. Fuck wholesome content, follow people on Twitter who make silly/bad jokes all day long with an edge of despair/insanity. Or okay, cat accounts on Instagram. 


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