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What Being an “Influencer” Means to Me

What Being an “Influencer” Means to Me

Update: I changed my name from “Mimi” to “Marty” and started using he/him pronouns in July 2019. This article keeps the original “Mimi” and “she/her” self-references in order to maintain a sense of timeline.

For a long time, I struggled to call myself an influencer.

Even though I had an online presence, I wasn’t sure if I liked using the word. It sounded self-absorbed, like one’s opinion mattered so much that it was literally their job title. “Hello, my name is Mimi and I’m an influencer! I whore out my life to elicit envy from random strangers online,” I imagined myself saying with a rehearsed smile. “I convert that sense of envy into massive sales by subtly hinting that you could be just as cool as me, as long as you buy the exact dress that I’m wearing in today’s Instagram photo!”

I thought that influencers were shallow, image-and-follower-count obsessed assholes who only really cared about making money and looking good online. They never got real and said what was on their mind, so what was the point of counting myself a part of them?

This was all perception — and a pretty toxic one, too. Influencers whose behavior matches what I describe above do exist, but so do influencers who don’t shy away from their opinions, influencers who use their platforms to shine a light on important issues, and influencers who take the time to form real relationships with their followers.

Someone close to me once said, “if you judge someone very harshly, it’s because you were in their place yourself.” I’ve found this to hold true in all aspects of my life, including when it came to judging other influencers.

When I was first starting out as a blogger, I had no idea what I was doing, and seeked to emulate what I thought an influencer should do. These behaviors included every single thing I listed above — being obsessed with my “public image”, only caring about follower count, not developing real rapport with people because I thought I had to be “cool” and aspirational [1]. Because I myself had been there as an influencer, I thought everybody else was like that, too.

Such BS, I know. But hey, I learn.

Once I got all of that nonsense out of my system, I was proud to call myself an influencer: not because I have X amount of followers, or because I convert envy into sales, but because I have a platform that I can use to reach others. To be an “influencer” to me means to touch people’s lives through stories, to share hard-learned lessons from my past, and, at times, to publicly admit that I’m wrong about stuff. Growing up is a never-ending process — I only learned to be vulnerable because I saw others doing it first.

“Influence” is defined as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.” To be an influencer, then, is to have an effect on others. I want my platform to be a place where people can find the courage to stop trying to look good/avoid looking bad and start being themselves. [2] I may look polished in my photos (admittedly, I like to be fake and basic in that area), but sarcastic Instagram captions aside, I promise to be raw and real with you through everything else.

In the end, you can’t take your massive following with you, nor can you take the earnings you got from brands, or the cute dresses they comped you. You can, however, touch people’s lives, and that lives on in the way they touch their people’s lives. I lived for a long time feeling like I was completely alone with no representation, and now I will foster connection and be a voice for gender nonconforming people for as long as I live.

To me, that’s what being an influencer is all about. ♚


[1] Google says that “in consumer marketing, an aspirational brand (or product) means a large segment of its exposure audience wishes to own it, but for economic reasons cannot.” Cut to scene of sophomore-in-college Mimi buying $25 Lilly Pulitzer dresses off of Ebay and illicitly bringing a tripod onto bougie Florida museum grounds to do photoshoots. Ah, those were the times …

[2] This is not encouragement to be an asshole. There is a (sometimes very fine) line between “being yourself” and “being somebody that others cannot stand to be around”, which I have personally crossed many times.

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

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