Makeup, fashion – and activism

I have a guilty pleasure: I follow blogs about beauty, fashion and makeup. But lately, some activism started appearing between the glossy pictures. Maybe this could facilitate bigger social change and development?

 

In Scandinavia blogging has become really big the last 10 years, and growing up in Norway, the appearance of the first professional ‘pink’ blogs quickly became an integrated part of the media consumption.
I still click in sometimes to unplug my brain. Empty my brain with pretty pictures from someone else’s life, their healthy food, their expensive lifestyle, superficial focus and objectification of themselves.

 

The power of (any) communication

In marketing, these reality stars of the internet are called influencers. According to the website Blogglisten, the biggest Norwegian blogs have between 50 000 and 90 000 hits every day.

The size of the audience, and the personal contact with the readers – and thus trust – make them very attractive as living advertisement (Dinesen, 2008). And very powerful.

 

Much can be criticized in this business and the impressions it leaves on the (often young) consumers: body pressure, beauty standards, lifestyle choices.

 

But in between paid branding, glossy pictures and superficialities, many Norwegian bloggers have chosen to use their influence on bigger societal problems.

 

This one,

 

…against the overconsumption and misplacement of plastic:

 

 

“I didn’t care much about the environment earlier”

 

This one,

 

…promoting a vegan lifestyle and animal protection:

 

“6 months as a vegan”

 

This one,

 

…against the fur industry:

 

 


“I am so angry”

 

This one,

 

…against animal abuse:

 

“I’m infuriated”

Influential

To achieve a better society, one needs the majority on board. That is where I see these profiles as important. However trivial it might seem, bloggers do have a big power of influence.

 

And although the blogging business is full of hypocrisy (they themselves encourage overconsumption, for instance), they might reach people who otherwise would not consider their own behaviour – for instance regarding the environment or animal welfare.

 

Other topics brought up by the above mentioned are climate change, body positivism, feminism and female empowerment, LGBT+ rights and racism.

 

The SoMe interaction is already an important part of politics and the leader’s relationship with the public (Parmelee & Bichard, 2011), and the same occurs in the commercial/entertainment sphere. It turns the effect of bloggers is noticeable – in Norway the market actors recognize the influencing effect of the bloggers, for instance when preparing for the “vegetarian wave” on the food market.

 

Filling the gap

Nobody likes to be taught how to behave. Most people change their behaviour and actions when they are inspired to do so. And here bloggers can make a difference in the long run. They can reach their followers through a channel they somehow identify with or relate to.

 

There is a reason why bloggers are used for commercial purposes. If it works for selling products, it should also work for selling information. Seen in a ComDev perspective, they could be a way to fill the gap between practitioners, academics and a more passive segment of society.

 

If social enlightenment and responsibility became an integrated part of the brands of internet “stars”, much of the real development would be easier to achieve. It is not enough to aim for the unfortunate (the poor, the suppressed, the discriminated) and strengthen them. To deal with social challenges, the whole society needs to change.

After all, maybe the inspiration to act has to come from someone who does not have an activist profile, but manages to mix online activism with food pictures on instagram, makeup tutorials and a glamorous lifestyle.

 

References

Dinesen, K. (2008). Forbrugeren i føresædet: Kommunikation og ledelse efter web 2.0. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.

Parmelee, J. H. & Bichard, S. L. (2011). Politics and the Twitter Revolution: How Tweets Influence the Relationship between Political Leaders and the Public. New York: Lexington Books.

8 Comments

  1. Alice

    Thanks for your post, Julie! At the NGO where I work, we use ‘ambassadors’ to promote campaigns. We have a campaign about food waste at the moment and we’ve got a famous baker called Tom Herbert to tell his fans about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZjC4iS33MY
    But I haven’t seen us use bloggers that much and this is a really interesting idea. As the digital space becomes the most important space for influencing, C4D approaches and strategies need to consider who has real influence rather than getting stuck in more classic notions of who has power (politicians, company heads etc).
    Stimulating thoughts!

    1. Julie

      Hi Alice,
      Interesting! You should totally consider using influencers. One of my old roomies studied business communication and wrote her thesis about the use of social media influencers, and now she is working with it – the so-called ‘gatekeepers’. Commercially it is a big hit, and bot companies and bloggers/instagrammers earn a lot. I am convinced this could also be used for development and social change – we just need to get out there and take advantage of the market structures.
      Some of the abovementioned bloggers have also collaborated with some of the bigger NGO’s (either paid campaigning or voluntarily), so I think it could be a way to reach more people than those who are naturally more activist 🙂

  2. Mariia Lypiatska

    Hi Julie! Very interesting post!
    I agree with you, that fashion bloggers can be used as alternative channel to reach different audiences, compared to, for example, a development practitioner who, I guess, would write more in-depth posts about social and development issues.. but to the audience of development practitioners 🙂
    Similar to celebrity activism, I believe all ways are good to deliver the right message to the right audience. And as you say, if the fashion bloggers are influencers then there is a high chance that this message will actually lead to some real changes.
    My questions is if you see by chance any negative sides of this?

    Cheers, Maria

    1. Julie

      Hi Mariia!
      Thank you for the feedback 🙂

      Yes, it is similar to the celebrity activism, and it does also have the same backsides, as I see it; A big risk of simplifying the problems (lack of knowledge of for instance history, politics, power structures) and thus also to maintain the problematic dichotomies such af rich/poor, civilized/savage, us/them – or the “missionary” approach of saving the unfortunate.
      And of course the obvious hypocrisy of these influencers living a life in overconsumption and wealth, which could maybe reduce the credibility of their own devotion.
      Once again this is a question of pros and cons, and because the blogs are like personal diaries, they induce a lot of trust in their readers, and the readers listen to them and engage a lot with the topics they bring up. (As usual, the commentaries are always the best part about reading blogs;) )
      I think that there are negative sides in it, especially in the development discourse they sustain. But on the other hand, it is no different than what the international NGO’s communicate, so personally I think the negative or imperialist tendencies it might have are outweighed by making such a big audience consider the topics and engage with them. Also because followers often disagree and discuss – and that is not possible when they just see a regular NGO campaign.

      /Julie

  3. Penelope

    Hi Julie,
    Thanks for your post. It has made me think a lot about whether or not I support this kind of engagement with activism or the linking of activism to a more superficial cause, if it is fair to label a fashion blog this way! As you said in your post, I totally agree that the potential to reach a large audience is huge. Just getting the issue out there and getting publicity seems to be very valuable. In a way it seems like even if the engagement with the activist topic is ‘light’ and lacking in contextual knowledge, at least the engagement is happening and it could develop and lead to a deeper connection with the issue. However My pessimistic side suspects that the majority of the engagement resulting from this kind of endorsement of a social issue by bloggers is superficial, readers aspire to the image put forward by the blog and are happy to attach themselves to social issues pushed on such a blog but do so almost selfishly, for the positive impact on their (self-) image, rather than because they care about the problem itself. As you said in an earlier comment, there is a big risk of over simplifying the problems. Also it concerns me that the issues chosen by lifestyle bloggers and the suchlike are chosen because they fit a desirable image. For example the vegetarian/vegan/no fur issues fit into a desirable image, almost like an accessory. They have a lot to do with personal identity, they are fashionable (were they fashionable before bloggers etc started to publicise them? I think so but maybe less so) I just wonder what kind of potential publicity/support bloggers could offer to less appealing issues. Thanks for giving me so much to think about, I really enjoyed your post (as a fellow guilty reader of these kind of blogs!)

    1. Julie

      Hi Penelope

      Thanks a lot for reading and for sharing your thoughts on it (and for also admitting your guilty pleasures, haha 😀 ).

      I very much agree with your thoughts on the topic. There is always the problem of a superficial approach and the benefits of this kind of branding self-promotion which are big ethical concerns.
      In general it is related to trends (for instance, most of the ones I click by somehow promote a more plant based diet because of the environment). But if I choose to be optimistic, I would say that in the cases where the bloggers really engage personally with the issue (like vegetarianism or against fur/animal abuse, as in the above mentioned examples) across time, it appears very convincing (and why shouldn’t they also mean it?). In these cases the effect might be bigger than if it is just one sponsored post or one time campaign. If you as a reader get reminded on a monthly basis, there is a chance that you start thinking about the issue yourself.

      In that sense I think the real challenge is not to worry about the effect or the “superficiality” of the bloggers’ engagement, but to make them be personally affected and inspired to deal with less appealing issues, as you say. If a blogger/influencer is enthusiastic about a more difficult topic than, let’s say, not killing animals, I am sure it could have an effect.

      The more I am thinking about it, the more I remember topics that have been brought up and the taboo has been broken when some of these bloggers have talked about it openly: Sex abuse, abortion, revenge porn, gay rights, infertility, psychiatry. And – at least in Norway – the blogs are so big platforms that the established media refer to them a lot. Debates about racism after a blogger’s music video using a dark male model reached the national public service channel the day after. And another one who is now in fertility treatment has been on tv several times trying to focus on the growing problem and the social and mental pressure of infertile women today. Of course these things are related to the blogger’s personal life, and it is hardly realistic that this kind of influence will effect international issues, but it can influence within a country or society – or language group.
      I don’t think we should rely on bloggers for the real big social change, but it is a step on the way to broader enlightenment on some topics. Things are just easier to consume when wrapped in glamorous pictures of beautiful bodies and fancy clothes ;-D

  4. Paul May

    Hi Julie, great topic and blog. I know that bloggers (and especially vloggers) are used a lot by brands, and increasingly charities, to get messages out there in the UK. These paid relationships cost a small fortune! I understand vloggers have to indicate now what is and isn’t sponsored content – which can reflect badly on the charity. Traditional celebrity endorsement just isn’t cutting through to certain demographics – including teenagers who don’t watch TV anymore. I put bloggers somewhere between ‘celebrity’ and ‘journalist’. In fact, I often include popular blogs on media lists when selling in a media story and respect them as journalists. If you can sell them the idea and they believe in it, want to report on it, then it’s so much more powerful. This is true of any celebrity endorsement – in fact, if a celebrity gets it wrong and gets involved for the wrong reasons, it can backfire on them and the charity. I think these relationships often start out a bit shaky, as the celebrity has to learn about the issue. But that’s not all bad, as we can accompany them on their learning journey – so long as the charity succeeds in building a long-term, meaningful relationship with them.

    1. Julie

      Hi Paul

      Thanks! For your record – I removed the question mark in my heading after reading your seven tips, haha:D (Sorry, I don’t think I remembered also to comment on it, but I loved the post:) )

      I like your categorization of them, and I agree. I was on a press tour this spring, and one of the journalists invited was a blogger.

      The interesting thing about the blogs I mentioned here is that these are topics they voluntarily engage with, and they are not planned campaigns (paid or not paid). It is just something they write about once in a while and have a personal opinion about – and they are aware that they have the opportunity to use their voice and ‘make a difference’.

      But yes, if we can accompany and guide them, it would be great:) The question is how to do it if it is not regular planned campaigns.

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