In the last few weeks, two high profile “influencers” have faced major backlash when their personal lives have failed to match the content they put out portraying enviable family lives.
Rachel Hollis (of “Girl, Wash Your Face” fame) and Myka Stauffer, the popular YouTube family “vlogger” who just announced that her family’s adoption of a young boy from China has disrupted, have made headlines and angered fans who feel misled.
I’ve been thinking about both of these influencers, and the impact they have on those who follow them.
I think it comes down to this – you should be very wary of anyone who pretends to have all of the answers, particularly if they’re using their own family as a model of how things “should” look.
The Rachel Hollis backlash has been so severe because Rachel and her husband Dave have been profiting off of the vision that their marriage is one to emulate. The couple is publicly over-the-top gushy and affectionate; they’ve hosted a conference on relationships, done podcasts on marriage, and regularly appear together on camera seeming deeply happy and in love. This kind of public performance has continued up through the present. That is, until yesterday’s announcement that they are divorcing.
The problem (at least for the public) is not that they’re divorcing. The problem is that they’ve been lying.
People have been following this couple, and wishing that their own marriage was more like the marriage between Rachel and Dave. This kind of fictional narrative presented as reality is harmful to followers who will never feel like their own lives are good enough because they aren’t as “perfect” as what they see from influencers online.
And now that Rachel and Dave are getting a divorce, these followers are angry because they (rightfully) feel like they’ve been duped.
As for Myka Stauffer, criticisms that she and her husband have directly profited off of their child’s “adoption journey” story before making the decision to place him in a new home have infuriated many people.
One of the primary concerns is the fact that their son’s story, including his disabilities, challenges, and personal history – have all been used as “content” in a way that gives him no chance of privacy going forward.
As a social worker who spent years working with children in an adoption unit, this registers to me as a major issue. All children deserve privacy, but this becomes particularly sensitive when you’re talking about children with a history already significant for trauma, and children whose personal narrative is innately complicated by factors well out of their control.
Now that the family has decided to dissolve their adoption, fans are furious partly because of the decision to place Huxley with another family, and partly because of the fact that the family has made significant financial profit from their videos documenting the adoption story and their family at large.
There are a few different issues at hand here.
Cultivating a false image of your personal life that you then use to profit from is one. And when a child is involved, as Huxley was in the Stauffer case, privacy concerns are major. Regardless of the outcome of the adoption those concerns would still be significant, particularly due to the nature of the personal information that has been broadcast about that little boy.
Thinking through the ramifications of “influencer” culture
So many people seem genuinely shocked and distressed that apparently Rachel Hollis didn’t have a happy marriage. Why should this upset people who don’t know her?
Here’s why: Because they’ve been looking up to her.
Because they’ve been buying her books, listening to her podcasts, and perhaps even shelling out thousands of dollars to see her in person. Because she tells her followers to “wash their face” and get on with it, as though she has the answers. As though everyone just needs to try a little harder and have a great attitude.
As if she is doing it “right” and she can show you how to do your life right, too.
Because she offered a model for how other people’s marriages should look, based on a falsified version of her own.
But here’s the thing – nobody’s marriage looks like that vision! It’s a fiction. We all know that social media is a curation of what others want to show us. We know that, and yet it seems that we still have trouble isolating fact from fiction when it comes to those we follow online.
I think it’s fine to admire things you see online. But critical thinking about the content you’re consuming is a must.
Do not fall into the trap of wishing that your relationship, or your kids, were as (fill in the blank) as whoever it is you’re following online. The influencers (and I would say this applies especially to the #blessed crowd on Instagram, anyone posing their kids in descending order of height in matching outfits and holding up those cutesy little wooden signs, and many (though not all) of the “family vloggers” on YouTube) are putting on a show.
Literally, it’s a show. It’s not all that different than watching a show on Netflix. What you’re seeing was never “reality”. You like families on Netflix, too. But it’s clear to you that they aren’t real.
In the world of online influencers, where the boundary between real life and fiction is murkier, the potential for collateral damage is higher.
People believe that what they’re watching is “real” even when in large part it’s a television production.
If it looks too good to be true, it almost definitely is.
And as for the kids? As for their privacy? This is something I think a lot about as a blogger. My kids appear in some of my content. But my writing is not about my kids. It’s not a tell-all. It’s not a deep-dive into their personal lives. They are not celebrities.
Lots of parenting writers are like me in this way. We want to discuss issues relevant to other parents, and of course our children are a part of the lessons we’re learning. But (in my opinion) there should always be a line when it comes to the privacy of kids online. I do not think their personal lives should become stories for me to exploit. I don’t want to cross that line.
Either way, when it comes to the content you’re consuming, keep this in mind:
Your own life will never – could never – match the narrative you’re following on a blog, a Youtube channel, or an Instagram account.
As we’ve seen this week, even the families who are asking you to follow them are not really living that narrative that they’ve sold you.
Life is too messy for that. Buyer beware.