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How I left behind my life as an influencer and discovered my self-worth again

IMAGE VIA @IZZYWIGHT/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“I’d have good days, where I was beside-myself excited to hit those photos with a filter and upload them to Instagram. Unfortunately, the bad days were more frequent.”

If you’ve read any of my previous pieces here, you’ll know I have a tendency to talk about myself. It’s not necessarily something I feel I’ve carried into my real-world existence – while we’re all innately a little self-absorbed, I like to think I’m a good listener – but more of a leftover habit from years of chronicling my adolescence on the internet.

From the age of 12, I overshared in a way only a completely naive, blindly impulsive, milkfed Gen-Zer could. My blog was a diary, a safe space and a comforting consistent in my life – until I realised it had insidiously morphed into something else entirely.


Interested to hear how others navigate the world? Head to our Life section.


It was mid-school holidays when my mum announced she had started a Blogspot (now rebranded to Blogger and apparently terrible – are we surprised?). It was a way for our Texan family to feel more involved in our Queensland lives, a kind of digital newsletter they could freely dip in and out of. How wild.

My American grandma had just sent over an issue of Teen Vogue, a magical tween-orientated fashion magazine that was completely inaccessible in Australia (of course). I tore through the issue, meticulously studied each feature and started the process again, thumbing the pages until they were soft and curled up at the edges. My favourite part? A full-page spread on 2008 blogging prodigy, Tavi Gevinson.

 

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Tavi was 11 when she started her blog, Style Rookie – a whole year younger than me! With my singular Teen Vogue issue in tow and my discovery of a revered pre-pubescent style blogger, I was ready to make my internet debut. My first post was an #OOTD (this was very of the moment lingo). I had just used my $50 of Christmas money to buy a Quirky Circus dress from Myer’s Miss Shop section, which I styled with a pair of gladiator sandals and a braided Diva headband, naturally.

Views of Now was the name I gave my blog because a) like I said, I was 12 and b) this was, to my knowledge, pre the days of having a ‘brand’, when terms like ‘Instagram’ and ‘influencer’ were still years away from entering our collective vernacular. As I moved into high school, my blog kept chugging along in the background of my life.

My ‘shoots’ – outfit photos captured by my mum on a pink Fujifilm camera – became more extravagant, my posts became more frequent and I made my first slew of internet friends. The ‘bloggersphere’ – which I now realise is definitely a ‘cheugy’ term – was a place that brought me both great joy and my first-ever encounter with online bullying.

 

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Blogging, or ‘influencing’ as we now know it, was a relatively foreign concept to Australian schoolkids and believe it or not, pages of embarrassingly earnest outfit photos were the ultimate form of adolescent torment ammunition. But by this point, I didn’t even mind. I had entered a new phase of fashion blogging stardom: free stuff.

When I discovered I could receive free clothing and even money (!) for the measly task of selling an outfit on the internet, I was a woman possessed. Arbitrary posting transformed into a fully-fledged social media plan, complete with all the correct mid-noughties bells and whistles. I started a YouTube channel, I queued my Tumblr posts and I followed Bryanboy on Twitter.

Receiving packages addressed to ‘Views of Now’ sent my serotonin positively skyrocketing. My wardrobe quickly started to fill up (I know this is ethically problematic, I was a teen ok?!) and I said yes to everything. 

Mum’s photography skills were getting impressive and with the help of the newly-introduced platform Instagram, I was gaining traction, surprisingly quickly. In the years following, I joined the ranks of Supre’s relaunched ‘Girl Gang‘, I scored a two-page feature in the illustrious Dolly magazine and I started meeting readers in public, which is still a statement that blows my mind.

 

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But after four years and thousands of photos of myself, I was evidently grappling with my 16-year-old self-image. I’d have good days, where I was beside-myself excited to hit those photos with a VSCO filter and upload them to Instagram, basking in the LED glow of the complimentary, even aspirational comments; finding validation in ‘I wish I looked like you’ and ‘You’re so pretty’.

Unfortunately, the bad days were more frequent. They were the days where I’d plug in my SD card and sob, tearing at my fingernails and pulling out my hair – literally – because I didn’t even recognise myself anymore.

You know when you repeat a word and it starts to lose all meaning? That’s how I felt about myself. It was a quick-and-fast downwards spiral: I was diagnosed with anorexia, temporarily dropped out of school, got on antidepressants, found myself in the cardiac unit and subsequently, outpatient care. I posted a photo as soon as I was admitted, buying some time by captioning it ‘dedicating the next few days to rest and recovery’.

 

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Believe it or not, that wasn’t the final straw – I still had another three years of posting ahead of me. I finally graduated high school, took a stay-at-home gap year (purely because I was still so unwell that I medically wasn’t able to go anywhere) and gained enough stability to let my parents – very tentatively – send me to uni in Melbourne.

At 19, I was finally catching up on all of those quintessential adolescent experiences mental illness had robbed me of. I went to a club, got drunk for the first time with my new friends, found myself with my first-ever boyfriend and threw myself into my studies. The hair that had fallen out in clumps grew back and I got my period for the first time. As I discovered my independence, I made a full, triumphant, final recovery from my eating disorder.

 

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It’s funny – no matter how old you get, once you feel like you have to do something, it loses its appeal. While I spent my time immersing myself in my new and extensive social life, posting started to feel like a chore. Full transparency: I’d occasionally post some sponsored content when I needed the money, but the joy was gone.

I was tired, distracted and I felt like a fraud. Without a goodbye or even a ‘temporary hiatus’ announcement, I stopped it all. The blogging, the YouTube, the Tumblr and the Instagram (for a while). I’m acutely aware of the privilege that comes with gaining this kind of social media following – presumably because, above all, I fit into the societal beauty standard of a thin, White, young woman – and choosing to move away from it.

It wasn’t a groundbreaking action, nor was it even a complete exit from the internet. I kept my platforms live as a kind of personal archive and used my Instagram to start posting less frequent, less polished content, watching my followers steadily drop off and my inbox grow silent.

Post-Views of Now, I thank those years for friends I still have and skills I’ll never lose. Clearly, my love for a good outfit never left (this is Fashion Journal, after all), I’ll never be above a selfie and this is in no way an anti-influencer smear campaign. This is the story of my self-discovery and a PSA that for those who may feel similarly, there’s a whole damn world out there. Don’t let the internet rob you of anything.

Read more about fashion blogging’s mid-noughties history here.

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