TBH, we all have at least one.
That Gucci belt with the interlocking Gs. You know the one, we all do. It was adorning the waists of the most fashionable women on Instagram, and I wanted it. It would cinch in my dresses so beautifully! It would make a pair of jeans and a t-shirt look so fancy! But then one of my unfluencers got one, and it was all over. The worm had turned, and what was once my most coveted accessory became a piece of over-exposed designer tat.
What is an ‘unfluencer’, I hear you cry? The term was coined in a recent article by New York Magazine writer Marisa Meltzer, who uses it to describe an influencer who makes you want to do the opposite of whatever they’re doing. “Her feed is turning me off to things I once loved, like No 6 clogs and Patagonia fleeces,” she writes.
“An unfluencer has the power to mess with your head, setting you off balance and making you question what you like and don’t like, what you know to be cool and what is corny.”
I feel it’s important to say that I’m extremely open to being influenced, and have hijacked many an Instagram trend in my time. There are some people I follow who only have to look sideways at a product and I’m all over it. I’m firmly on the Glossier train. I’ve posted a photo of myself standing in front of street art laughing at something out of shot. But I can also acknowledge that my influencers may be someone else’s unfluencers, and some people would find all of the above extremely cringey and passé.
Your unfluencers, whoever they are, can rule out literally anything – entire brands, holiday destinations, food items – for you with just one post. That’s power. Maybe not the type of power you want, but power nonetheless. However, they don’t often enter your life fully formed as your barometer for what not to do. You probably started following them because you liked their style and content, then as time wore on, you began to notice that your tastes weren’t as aligned as you’d once thought. Maybe the constant chat about their still far-off wedding is starting to grate (did she really need to do a poll on which napkins to choose?). Maybe it was the umpteenth ‘candid’ shot of them in a slinky Realisation Par sundress with a bland caption about coffee. Whatever it is, once the influencer crosses the line into unfluencer, it’s hard to go back.
You could cut your losses and unfollow, but we rarely do that, do we? We hang on and see how they’re going to annoy us next. It’s not healthy, and we don’t condone it, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t do it. Recently, a UK influencer I’d previously been fine with became one of my unfluencers after posting a photo of herself on holidays in Los Angeles with the caption: “Serving you Getty Museum realness.” People bastardise the phrase ‘serving realness’ (which comes from the world of drag) every day on social media, but this misuse struck me as particularly egregious.
How was standing outside an art museum in a midi skirt ‘serving realness’? What even is ‘Getty Museum realness’?!
As a devoted fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its various offshoots, I’d used drag terminology myself, but… did it sound this dorky when I did it? Oh no. That’s it, I’m unfluenced. My deepest apologies to the drag community for even thinking someone like me, the whitest white girl of all time, could pilfer their slang and get away with it. Absolutely anything can be unfluenced if you see it from the wrong people often enough. Here, for example, are a few things I once loved or considered cool, now ruined forever by unfluencers:
When I picture my future home, I always envisage a grey corner sofa in the living room. But now that people are decorating their entire homes in slate and charcoal, so the house looks like it has a permanent greyscale filter over it, the dream may just be over. Millennial pink has absolutely nothing on what I now know as Notions Grey.
After noting that the prettiest, most successful Instagram feeds all had a sort of theme to them, I briefly thought about editing all my photos with the same filter so that I too could have a pretty and successful feed (but considering I post about once a month, Instagram success is quite far from my grasp). Then I saw five pages in a row on which every photo was run through that Adobe Lightroom preset that heightens the blues and the oranges to an unnatural level, and… that thought left me fairly quickly.
As much as I want to be that woman whose ‘capsule’ wardrobe is entirely made up of shades of oatmeal and cream and khaki and white, I am not her. I am the woman whose wardrobe is entirely made up of clashing colours and patterns that don’t go with each other. Since I cannot be this pulled-together neutral woman, I must despise anyone who can.
Sorry to Lizzo, who is an icon and a star and deserves every bit of success she gets, but she is now rivalling Drake for Instagram caption fodder. It’s not possible for everyone to be 100 percent that bitch. On careful reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m only about 45 percent that bitch. And that’s fine.
This may all seem a little bit petty, and it totally is, but the thing to remember about unfluencers is that it’s not really about them personally. They can do whatever they want. But as Marisa Meltzer so astutely observes, “the things you hate are usually the things you do yourself.” Unfluencers make you discover things that go against your idea of who you are.
I thought I would be among the fashionable women of Instagram if I got a Gucci belt, but one look at my unfluencer quickly demonstrated that nope, I’d look like a fashion victim. I thought I was hip and down with the kids dropping my drag slang, until another unfluencer showed me I really wasn’t. I could resent the unfluencers for this, or I could accept the lessons they have taught me. When you think about it, they’re actually performing a valuable service. Long live the unfluencers.