Most women come into contact with social media influencers as often as they interact with their own friends.
As frequently as we see our friend's holiday snaps from Amsterdam or our sister's motivational Monday quote, we also see a bombardment of snaps featuring the women we don't really know but choose to follow based on their style, business savvy, masterful makeup skills or culinary prowess.
As influencers' numbers grow, they can use their sway to guide the buying decisions of their target audiences, as well as allowing their followers a full or partial view of their private lives.
However, Instagram pages, forums and blogs have called into question the authenticity of this 'private life,' which can sometimes be a facade perfectly fabricated by the influencer in question.
Over the weekend, one particular page popped up on Instagram which opened the floodgates on the conversation surrounding the authenticity of the images of a select few bloggers.
The page, called Bullshitcallerouter, has been hailed as the straw that broke the camel's back for bloggers, who were then perceived to band together to dub the pages and forums criticising their content as 'bullying', and by extension created a yet-to-be formulated online anti-bullying campaign.
Bullshitcallerouter, managed by an anonymous Irish woman, became an overnight sensation, gaining thousands of followers in a matter of hours as influencer fans flocked to the page to engage in a conversation criticising photoshopping in the influencer industry.
While some reflected the criticism back at the page, others delighted in the opportunity to discuss the deception they had been seeing from their favourite influencers over the past weeks, months and even years. The page featured side-by-side images, one of which would be the perfectly poised and preened snap from an influencer's page, the other a press call or candid fan picture which had never felt the forgiving touch of a blur tool, teeth whitening feature or narrowing effect.
Following the page's explosion, some of Ireland's biggest names in professional influencing responded, branding the forums and pages in general as 'haters,' and questioned what the purpose of any such page could be.
'I wanted to highlight the fact that some people, young women mostly, are trying to emulate the image portrayed by certain 'influencers,' Bullshitcallerouter, or Aoibhinn, told SHEmazing.
'I wanted to bring awareness that the image portrayed by these 'influencers" is a highly sanitised version of reality.'
In the early days of blogging, the majority of people carving out their own unique space on the internet were there for the love of it, rather than the aspirational lure of being an influencer, which is where all of Ireland's top names in the industry got their start – creating hair tutorials, makeup videos of fashion look books.
'I detest the term influencer. I appreciate the honest to god and forthright opinions of genuine bloggers/vloggers,' she said, citing the work of Lovely Girly Bits as an example
'I think the whole 'influencer' craze is just mindboggling. Here you have a select few, who have made their livings out of pedalling certain products and lifestyles on young women (mostly) in this country. Now, I have no problem with ANYONE making a living and putting food on their tables. What I (and many others it would seem!) have issues with is the whole fake lifestyle.'
'We all know people tend to photoshop images online. But to photoshop yourself so much that you almost look nothing like your real self?'
'You run a body confidence workshop, but yet you feel the need to manipulate yourself so much in your online photos… Why should people fork out their hard earned cash for a workshop in body confidence/positivity when you appear to have such a unjustly bad opinion of your real self? When you are just perfectly fabulous the way you are?'
Aoibhinn began her page after discussing the matter of influencer deception with a group of friends, who all agreed that the influencer industry needs to take on the criticism of the audiences they engage with.
Stories litter forums and online blogs detailing instances when followers have asked influencers a question in the comments section, or DMd them to take issue with a particular piece of content, only to be instantly blocked or have their comment deleted,
'I myself have asked a few 'influencers' some genuine questions over the past year or so…. only to find myself promptly blocked.'
'If you question or challenge some 'influencers' online about what products etc they are advertising/promoting etc.. you're blocked and you're labelled a 'hater'. You get the whole "if you don't like my content, don't follow me hun" type response.'
She stresses that the page was not set up with the purpose of bullying or body shaming, but was the culmination of years of unanswered criticism which had gone unaddressed by the influencers themselves.
Anyone who supports, follows, engages with accounts/ pages set up to bully and troll people should really have a look at themselves…
— Louise Cooney (@louisecooney_) January 6, 2018
'Young impressionable women (and men) follow you. Look up to you. Buy what you tell them to buy. I feel the very least these "influencers" can do is be totally upfront about the work they've had done and not put it down to "good angles/lighting/clever contouring…….." It is NOT a body shaming page. I have quickly blocked some people who have joined just so they can throw in a catty comment. That's NOT what this page is about.'
'Look, we all know photoshop exists and we've all put a filter on our Snapchat, but if you are advertising makeup or clothing and use photoshop to manipulate what you're essentially selling, or saying something is 'AMAZING' just because a company are paying you to use it, it's false advertising and you should be called out on it.'
Bullshitcallerouter also believes that while the influencers themselves are guilty, the brands who employ them to utilise their reach also have a part to play.
'I think companies who pay these "influencers" to advertise their brand or be a #BrandAmbassador should be called out too as they're enabling this and they have a responsibility to ensure all advertisement is not misleading or false.'
'I feel all "influencers" must be 100% upfront and honest in everything they do online.Their followers are essentially their customers.'
To be clear, my posts earlier weren’t about one account. They weren’t about editing photos & bloggers alone. They were about cyber bullying
— Louise Cooney (@louisecooney_) January 6, 2018
While it is true that many influencers do face abuse online from genuine trolls and begrudgers, those who labelled the forums and pages as bullying were met with a polarised response.
Fans flocked to the side of their favourite beauty guru, offering words of support, while others criticised them further for trivialising the issue of online abuse.
Big name bloggers such as Suzanne Jackson have since clarified that the aforementioned anti-bullying campaign was not in response to Bullshitcallerouter, but this has been questioned by many, who feel that while an anti-bullying campaign headed by influential members of the Irish social media hierarchy would be amazing, this was ultimately a disarming tactic to distract from the issue of photoshopping.
'You question anything any of the 'influencers' say or do, you're deemed a troll or a bully,' explained Aoibhinn. 'But for them to accuse the page of bullying? Nonsense.'
'Those "influencers" clearly missed the point in the purpose of the page. Although, I've seen a few of the "influencers" have backtracked dramatically today on what the "bullying" was about, funny that!'
'I think for them to play the bullying card in regard to the instagram page, trivialises bullying. If people are abusing you online, block them. You don't need that negativity in your life.'
'I get that "influencers" are trying to make a living. Quite a few of you have made a LOT of money from being an "influencer". More luck to ye! But if someone questions you on something, be honest.'
'Don't go all passive aggressive on SC and tell us "just unfollow me". No. We won't just unfollow you. If you're selling your brand, you need to keep grounded. You need to listen. Don't take any shit from those who are just plain nasty for the sake of it. Block those feckers. But don't block people for pulling you up on something they feel you need to be pulled up on.'
'Please don't sell yourself as something you are not. Be honest with what choice of brands you use. Give an honest representation.'
Ultimately for Bullshitcallerouter, the clue is in the name. The purpose of the page was to highlight a flaw in the way Irish influencers present themselves online, through the flatteringly filtered lens of the perfection persona some have been accused of wearing.
The Makeup Fairy, who is dominantly featured on the page, took to Instagram to discuss the pressures and hardships of living a life watched by hundreds of thousands of online eyes.
'I have binged because I was depressed I've starved myself to look smaller, I've become insecure as a result of emotional abuse in a relationship, and I've felt pressure to edit my photos over the years when I wasn't loosing weight fast enough.' (sic)
'I've battled with so many insecurities over the years, and still do. Please don't ever look at my images and think that I'm perfect.'
When a group of people point out something inherently wrong and damaging about a community and its actions, it’s crucial to listen.. and to change. Painting said criticism with a ‘bullying’ brush is an attempt to silence and distract from essential conversation.
— Lᴇᴀɴɴᴇ Wᴏᴏᴅғᴜʟʟ (@LeanneWoodfull) January 8, 2018
Other influencers have also chimed in to give their opinion on the matter.
Blogger, Leanne Wooodfull, who has been the target of online harassment for many years and has spoken openly on the subject, told her Twitter followers: 'I edit the odd spot out like anyone else, but if I asked @ruthguestphotography to edit my waistline to make it smaller, she'd tell me to F off, and rightly so."
"Let's listen to the criticism and discuss what can be done to make positive change. Plus, as someone who's been the target of online bulling over the years, it's important not to tar constructive and essential criticism with online abuse.'
'That just damages legitimate cases of it. Be wise, listen up, and lets improve our industry.'
Aoibhinn has been overwhelmed with responses to her page. As a mother and wife with a full time job, the rapid popularity of the page was difficult to deal with over the weekend as the conversation and controversy surrounding it intensified.
'I was honestly on the verge of shutting the page down yesterday. It all just became too much. But I received so many messages of thanks and support…. I decided to stick it out.'
'I'd like to take this opportunity, if I may, to genuinely thank all those who messaged me saying "thank you for bringing all of this out into the open". So many people have had the same thoughts as me with regard to this and they felt they couldn't say anything for fear of being labelled a jealous hater.'
Why can’t we band together in the Irish influencer industry to use our platforms for genuine good/ progress and listen to our audiences.. instead of labelling their constructive (and correct) criticism regarding body image/ OTT editing as ‘bullying’?
While her page has received a tidal wave of scrutiny, with accusations of body shaming and begrudgery aplenty, Aoibhinn insists that the message of Bullshitcallerouter isn't one of hatefulness or snark, but is in fact a reminder that the digital insights into their lives of influencers are often edited, enhanced and manipulated, whether it's for aesthetic or allegedly deceptive purposes.
'I want people to know, that it's OK to be size you are, it's OK for your lips and brows to look how they do, your boobs are perfect. If you want to change them… Go right ahead. But do them for YOU and no one else.'
'Don't try and look like someone online when they're trying to push their latest beauty/lifestyle "must have" on you.'
'Don't bow to some "influencers" because their latest products look amazing. Certainly support Irish businesses, by all means, but don't be misled. Follow people online who make you feel good about yourself. Warts and all.'
While the majority of online creators out there create for the love of it, and enjoy communicating with their audiences, the conversation surrounding the industry has proven that while it may not be intentional, many of the biggest influencers' audience members feel misled by the women they look up to – and perhaps with the current conversation and the intention to combat online harassment, that will soon change.
'To all "Influencers" – use your "influence combined" to do something worthy and altruistic with your "influencer" platform,' Aoibhinn finished.
'Do something for the genuine benefit of others and don't Snapchat about it. It's not all about the almighty buck.'
'Don't alienate your followers with fake examples of so called perfection.'