Fashion bloggers and Instagrammers seem to enjoy a coveted lifestyle–one replete with international jet-setting, designer-comped fetes, and countless other caption-worthy moments. Yet the attention lavished on these so-called “influencers” draws attention away from a much larger class of social media content creators: those aspiring to “make it” amid a precarious, hyper-competitive creative economy.
I tell their story in my new book (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, and I’m grateful to my publisher Yale University Press for allowing me to share the first chapter with you.
The book focuses on female content creators and draws upon in-depth interviews with bloggers, vloggers, designers, and more. I learned that, often, these young women were motivated by the wider culture’s siren call to “get paid to do what you love.” But their experiences often fell short of the promise: only a few rise above the din to achieve major success. The rest are un(der)- paid, remunerated with deferred promises of “exposure” or “visibility”–even as they work long hours to satisfy brands and project authenticity to observant audiences.
A grueling balancing act is required, one that I explore through the lens of “aspirational labor.” As both a practice and a worker ideology, aspirational labor shifts content creators’ focus from the present to the future, dangling the prospect of a career where labor and leisure coexist.
Despite the book’s emphasis on gendered work, the concept of “aspirational labor” offers a framework for understanding, critiquing, and anticipating larger transformations in the social media economy. Indeed, the book closes by exploring the striking parallels between social media aspirants’ self-branding labor and the work so many of us undertake in contemporary academe.