Camille Charrière of Camille Over the Rainbow picks up the phone, greets me with a cheery hello, then asks if I can hear her okay. She is inside of Paris’s trendy Hôtel Costes and reports that it is a sunny, gorgeous day. I picture her heading to one of the small, circular tables in a patio-like area that sits underneath a retractable glass roof, flagging down a waiter with the phone pressed ear-to-shoulder so that she can order a glass of wine, or maybe champagne.
“I’m sitting on the floor of the lobby by an outlet,” she tells me instead. “My phone was about to die so I ran in here to charge it.” And poof, the vision I created in my head is replaced with reality.
I call Camille to talk about exactly that: Is her life as perfect as it seems? She was my last interview out of a whole slew of names you’re likely familiar with: We Wore What’s Danielle Bernstein, Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, Aimee Song of Song of Style, Sea of Shoes’ Jane Aldridge, Tamu McPherson of All the Pretty Birds, Gabrielle Gregg of GabiFresh, Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl, Lainy Hedaya of Haute Inhabit and Freddie Harrel of her eponymous blog. I ask each woman what it’s really like to make a career out of a social-media presence.
They Know It Doesn’t Look Like It — That’s the Point — But It’s a Lot of Work.
Camille makes me promise not to make her sound like “a wanker,” and she doesn’t (she can’t — she’s really funny), then explains what I’ve witnessed firsthand: This industry is glamorous, yes, but it can be a strain. Travel is an amazing privilege, yet exhausting. Being your own boss means a self-managed work schedule, but one that ends up being 24/7. Photoshoots are fun, but having a camera in your face when you’re tired, stressed and trying to make a client happy is draining. It’s competitive and pressure-packed. Everyone I speak with echoes this.
They’re not, however, afraid of hard work. They’re proud of it. What bothers them is the misconception that they don’t work, or don’t really “do anything.”
“People outside of this bubble don’t consider it a job,” Freddie Harrel tells me. “They don’t see what goes into the production of the content we publish. I don’t think everyone realizes that you can make a good living doing this, either. Someone recently asked me why I call what I do work ‘since I don’t get paid.’ I was like, of course it’s work. It’s a constant hustle. You have to constantly prove what you’re worth in this business. And yes, I get paid! I make good money, too!”
Aimee Song of Song of Style says that managing people and dealing with the business side of blogging is the hardest part for her, and is rarely talked about. “Whether it’s hiring people or negotiating deals, making sure it makes sense for everyone — including myself, my team and the brand I’m working with…there are so many aspects of this job that are not documented.”
Haute Inhabit’s Lainy Hedaya agrees. “Most people don’t understand how personal a business is to its owner. It’s her child because usually, there’s an emotional catapult to the inception of the business. A lot of people think I just frolic around the world wearing cool clothes, take selfies and my work is simple, but there’s a lot behind the scenes that goes into a single Instagram post.”
“Every day of the week is scheduled top-to-bottom,” says Jane Aldridge of Sea of Shoes, who is trying to put an end to working weekends. “There’s time allotted for styling, shooting, post-processing, writing, web management, working on our food blog, correspondence, planning. It’s really a job like any other, only a bit wacky sometimes. (I change in coffee shops or gas stations way too often.) It’s a grind, and draining at times. It’s hard to not let it seep into every aspect of your life.”
As with Jane and her food blog, a lot of the women I speak with remind me that they have more than one project in the works.
“I’m an entrepreneur involved in seven different companies at the moment,” says We Wore What’s Danielle Bernstein. “I started a line of overalls this year called Second Skin Overalls, a shoe brand, The Archive Shoes, I invested in a tech company called MovieGrade, have had a company for years called Body Bauble, and am working on two new lines coming out this year. ‘Just a blogger’ my ass!”
Don’t Call Them Influencers
Gabrielle Gregg of GabiFresh doesn’t mind the word blogger. She thinks it’s easier to understand now since it’s part of our lexicon. What she has a hard time with is the word “influencer.” She and nearly everyone else I speak with agrees that it’s a bit cringeworthy.
The general consensus is: it sounds self-absorbed when used to describe yourself.
Tamu McPherson of All the Pretty Birds, one of the most lovely people in the business and a woman who has a hard time being negative (save for when she’s in an airport, she told me to tell you that), “gets” what the word has come to mean — it’s an umbrella term that encompasses the large span of careers that fall into within this category. But, as a sometimes stylist and photographer who got her start photographing others, she prefers “digital talent.”
“We are using our digital talent to realize whatever projects we are working on. My talent is photography and styling,” she says.
Camille Charrière describes herself as a filter. “There are so many visuals everywhere; no one knows where to look anymore. I filter information through a prism of what I’m seeing. In a world of too many options — like, why do we need 50 different types of yogurt? — everything is so overwhelming. So we filter things down and offer a more streamlined view through our Instagrams, our blogs. It’s much nicer than influencer.”
The Pressure of Perfection
These women may very well be filters, but theirs is a growing fight to not, in turn, become filtered, to stay relevant and to continue momentum for the sake of lucrative partnerships. If you’ve ever found yourself in an Instagram trance, scrolling Discover pages for inspiration, you know that the digital-talent market is both impressive and saturated.
“Blogging is an ultra-competitive field,” says Jane Aldridge. “Every aspect of your content output has to be perfect. When you go into a photoshoot, you want it to be on the level of a magazine shoot that used a stylist, wardrobe assistant, hair and makeup team, photographer, set designer, assistant photographer…except you don’t have any of those things. It’s just me and my fiancee, driving around location scouting with a change of outfits in the trunk.”
“There are so many beautiful accounts out there,” Tamu McPherson tells me. There were very few people doing what she is doing when she started, allowing her to develop an authentic voice and loyal followers. But now, “the standard is so high that I get frustrated when I can’t achieve the perfect feed,” she tells me.
“Even though I’m a photographer, I’m not producing the kinds of mind-blowing images that everyone on Instagram is now accustomed to seeing. I’m not throwing down like these other Instagram photographers. I just wasn’t born with their creativity and Photoshopping skills. That’s the biggest difficulty I have: You want to set a high bar for yourself, but if you’re looking around at what everyone else is doing all the time, no matter how many how many apps you download, you never get there.”
“The pressure to deliver content every day is always there,” says Arielle Charnas. “The worst part is losing creative freedom,” though that’s something she tries to avoid with the various jobs she takes on. “The most important thing to me is that whatever I promote is as organic as possible.”
“There was a time in my life where Instagram or ‘creating content’ heavily influenced my life,” says Nicole Warne. “When I had just discovered my love of travel, and my audience responded well to it too, I felt the need to be moving from country to country as fast as I could. Over time, I realized how conflicted I constantly felt. My community wanted to see the world through the Gary Pepper Girl lens, but traveling so much when I needed to be in the office with my team working with our clients was counterproductive.”
“In some ways, social media can dehumanize a person. People think what they see on my Instagram is really my life,” says Lainy Hedaya. “To some extent it might be, but I’m not going to post a picture of me on a Sunday morning with food poisoning. Relatable, sure, but not so inspiring.”
“People can be surprised when they meet me; I’m pretty weird and friendly,” she says. “It used to hurt me when people made up perceptions of me. It’s very easy to put someone in a box and make assumptions about who they are. I’ve realized recently that the only person I have to live with is myself. If I can live with the decisions I make, do right by others and be proud of myself, then everything else just becomes noise. In a way it’s kind of unapologetic, and therefore liberating.”
Nicole Warne came to a similar conclusion. “In hindsight, the lifestyle I was living when I was traveling for the sake of content wasn’t sustainable. I became more and more disconnected to the reasons I was doing it.” She eventually took a step back and spent some time at home. She says that’s helped re-balance her lifestyle and, in turn, her company. “Identifying that I needed some sort of normalcy or routine, and that it was okay to feel this way, has helped shape Gary Pepper into the brand it is today.”
Perfection isn’t the only sort of pressure that exists. Gabrielle Gregg spoke to me about the pressure she felt as a body-positive voice in the industry back when she was 23. “I changed my blog name from ‘Young, Fat and Fabulous’ to GabiFresh because I don’t want to be THE Spokesperson for the body-positivity movement. I felt like I couldn’t have my own opinions because if I said the wrong thing, I’d get criticized.”
Now that she’s a bit older, she feels more comfortable speaking her mind and understanding that she can’t please everyone. “There’s less pressure to like myself now,” she says. “You can’t have a good day everyday, right? I’m finally able to admit that I don’t always love my body. It’s a work in progress, being okay with the fact that I can’t always be the perfect body-positivity leader.”
These Women Love Their Communities and Their Careers
Each woman brings up their supportive communities: the readers, followers, supporters and commenters who encourage them to keep doing what they do.
“I never set out to be a role model and I don’t identify with that term,” says Nicole Warne, “But to hear I have contributed in the smallest positive way to influencing someone’s life is incredibly fulfilling.”
“I am making difference because people tell me I am making a difference,” says Gabrielle Gregg. “Women tell me stories about how they never thought they could wear a bikini until they saw me in one, or that I helped them with an eating disorder. When people say what we do is superficial, these kinds of things remind me it isn’t true.”
“The biggest misconception is that we’re in it for the free clothes, free travel experiences and because we want to be famous,” says Aimee Song. “Sure, that’s one way of looking at it, and with some people that might be the case, but having an online community can be a very positive and empowering thing, especially as a woman in today’s world. The best part about this journey is I get to meet so many amazing people. Being able to organize a community to help support others who are less fortunate is probably the most rewarding thing about what I do. My readers recently helped raise $80,000 to build water wells for people in developing countries. I am grateful to have this platform that allows me to share and inspire people to do positive things.”
Camille Charrière just launched a podcast called “Fashion: No Filter” that features women using their platforms for the greater good. “These platforms come with responsibility,” she says. “We can use them to do more than promote ourselves or other brands.” The podcast is her long-term plan; a way for her to continue telling stories that matter to her, especially as her interests change. “Instagram could disappear tomorrow and followers wouldn’t mean anything. You want people to remember you for the right reasons.”
“This isn’t neuroscience, but it’s a bit of a misunderstood industry,” Tamu McPherson says to me. “You don’t want people to think you’re just another pretty head on Instagram. You have to have credibility. You want people to think you’re a smart person, and you want them to know you work hard.”
“You could lose popularity tomorrow, and then what? If you’re not some great phenomenon, it has to come to end eventually. And when that time comes, you better be curious enough to figure out what comes next. Me? I want to work. I can’t sit still.”
Of course, guess what each answers when I ask if they would take it back — the career, the pressures that come with it, the public eye and the competition?
“Never.” “Nope.” “Not a second of it.”
Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.