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Flex Mami is the influencer we deserve

Words by Christina Karras

Doing all of the things.

A bit over a year ago, I slid into @flexmami’s DMs on Instagram. Desperate to know what highlighter she was wearing in a glowing holiday selfie, I went out on a limb and just asked.

With over 48,000 followers, I wasn’t expecting a reply. But to my surprise, she did, and we had a sweet and helpful exchange where she even went to the trouble to send me the product link, which (for the record) was not sponsored.

Flex Mami’s (aka Lillian Ahenkan) official job description is a “multidisciplinary millennial in media”.

“It just means that I get paid to be myself,” she explains.

“I didn’t want to keep adopting slashes every time I got a new interest and the slashie thing wasn’t really doing it for me. I am such a hungry person – literally and figuratively – that I might wake up tomorrow and decide I want to be a chef. I’m riding the wave. Doing all of the things.”

She laughs when she hears herself. “I sound like a non-committal fuck boy!”

But when you look at her resume, it makes sense. Her career profile shifts gears daily, ranging from beauty tutorials on Instagram, to television presenting for MTV.

In her early twenties, she traded out a gig in public relations in favour of being a DJ, despite not really knowing how to be one.

With some connections in the industry, she convinced a club to take her on and learnt on the job. After cutting her teeth as a DJ, the roles of TV presenter, influencer, author, podcast host, and YouTuber, fell in line.

Naturally.

One of the things that makes Flex seem extraordinary is that her success almost appears to be born out of pure self-belief. She explained her thought processes to ex-Channel [V] host Carissa Walford recently in an interview, saying “how does someone who’s objectively got no skill, become a touring festival DJ… Because I really believed it.”

Despite her empowering confidence and sense of conviction, she admits she’s not as resilient as she might seem.

“I think I am a bit of lucky person. I actually don’t do very well with failure or rejection.”

“But, when I noticed that people weren’t thinking about me in the way I was thinking about myself, my whole perspective changed,” Flex explains.

“After I had already been DJing for a few years, people were still going to me, ‘Oh how is PR going?’ and I was like, whoa. If these people aren’t following my wins, they definitely aren’t following my losses.”

This capacity for self-reflection is pivotal in how Flex established her personal brand, and how she navigates it now. Her grid is lit up with DM screenshots on themes from morality and fears to relationships and beauty recommendations.

Recently she’s asked people to share things like “what’s the best advice you ever received from a therapist?” or “in what ways are you difficult to date?” This desire to curate a more meaningful discourse has seen her publish a book on manifestation, a self-development card game (think Cards Against Humanity but with hard self-truths) and hosts a successful sex and lifestyle podcast alongside New York philosopher, Bobo Matjila.

Often the topics she addresses are relatable and relevant, with timely questions that have encouraged me to open these discussions IRL too. After she coined the phrase “facilitate your own nut” – a figurative and literal statement that encourages you to seek out your own pleasure and education – friends and I who listen to the Bobo and Flex podcast found ourselves talking more openly about hook up culture. When she posted about the concept of the ‘five love languages’, I convinced my boyfriend to take the quiz, and we had an insightful discussion about our needs in a relationship.

The fact that these conversations alone are mediated through social media makes her a ‘follow’ distinct from others that flood our feeds. She’s unabashedly honest, and unafraid to call out everyone (including herself) on their bullshit.

She’s also acutely aware of the fact that interactions online are often transactional, and even though her followers may think they know her, she doesn’t owe them anything.

As a follower of hers myself, I ask her if she prefers Lillian or Flex. She says she’s “indifferent.”

“The only reason I went for a moniker is because DJ Lil wasn’t cool enough. And I feel like it’s easier to be seen as a character, otherwise people might feel like they have to start treating you like a person,” she laughs. It’s funny because it’s true.

While Instagram has played a hand in shaping her career as the inimitable Flex Mami, she says social media comes second, as opposed to those who she describes as the “capital I Influencers” whose primary income is from being paid to post.

“I don’t reject the title of being an influencer, that wouldn’t be beneficial for me. But I feel like first and foremost I’m a DJ, and a presenter.”

There’s more than one difference between Flex and the brand of other influencers we’ve come to know since this arbitrary adjective became a legitimate title. Between the social commentaries, her style is incredible, her nails are unparalleled and her personality permeates her captions. They are inspiring but in a way that moves beyond the prescriptive self-help and motivational quotes like ‘live, laugh, love’.

And in a space where so many people are imitating each other hoping to fit into the neatly designed niche, Flex isn’t.

“For me to look at what other influencers were doing, and aspire to be that, it just didn’t make sense. I don’t look like them, I don’t do flat lays, I don’t post about working out.”

She casually confesses not long ago, she was losing follows for being slightly too different to the rest of Instagram’s regularly scheduled programming.

“It was when I first started posting content that wasn’t even controversial, just think pieces and stuff, people were like, ‘Ew why are you posting about the marriage plebiscite?’”

But in beginning to make this conscious effort to curate the kind of content she wanted to post, she got to be a more authentic version of herself, while also attracting an audience who actually wanted to talk entry-level philosophy.

And she doesn’t regret it. “It’s the best thing I ever did,” she says.

Being plugged in occupies such a large mental space for most of us, we might as well utilise it for what we find fulfilling and enjoyable, and Flex has some of her own recommendations for the rabbit-hole of the Internet.

“If you want to waste your time but also learn something, go on Quora,” she says, referring to the website where people pose random questions to strangers online.

“I also love Casey Frey. What a time to be alive that he’s famous. He’s like a farmer who dances?”

Like Casey Frey, she’s made waves in her career out of being funny and cool on the internet. As she said, she gets paid to be herself, and that’s what makes her great. She’s articulate, savage and smart, and – without knowing me – she’s taught me more about myself and the world than she’ll ever know. I guess that’s the beauty of the internet and the people who populate it.

The true influencers are the ones whose reach isn’t quantifiable in follows or likes.

But they’ll definitely reply to your DMs.

Follow @FlexMami on Instagram for more, and visit her website here.

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