Under the Influence: Take Back Your Mind, Your Goals, Your Life.

 
jennifer hulley food photographer food writer hamilton ontario
 

Influence: the process of producing effects on the actions, behaviours, opinions of others.

Under The Influence: unable to be in charge of one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. 

I stood in the most romantic place on earth when the sledgehammer of reality hit me: I didn’t want to be here anymore. Hang on, wait…hasn't this happened before? Oh, right it has.

I left for Europe with a goal. Armed with a bag full of camera gear, three heavily dog-eared books about writing, a list of blog posts to be developed, a massive shot list to tackle, I set out to "get great content."

And then I landed in Paris.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I stopped frozen, mouth agape, in awe. This has happened before, Paris has that effect on me. However, this time it wasn't from a sense of wonder, awe, and love. It was from a horrifying level of shock, disgust, and rejection.

I frequently revamp my ideas about what I want to create, what my next business goal is, what my current pursuit of happiness will look like. I do some work in the food industry creating visual and written content for companies, as well as teaching them how to create their own work. I've recently taken on some sponsored posts here and there, a paid blog article, some purchased images.  Naturally what came next was the idea of expanding this to include travel. I consume a ton of gorgeous feeds on Instagram. People who seem to be killing it at life, living their best life, "quitting their 9 to 5," traveling, shooting, writing, sharing, inspiring. I remember one day as I was stuck in an infinite scroll, I paused over one highly popular account and thought "I can do that." My images were as good, my writing was better (not to be arrogant, but it was), and I have a job that allows me to travel frequently. This was a no-brainer.

I revamped my Instagram profile, changed up my bio, started curating purposefully chosen images to "sell my service." I consumed endless webinars about how to get sponsored posts, how to position yourself as an influencer and start killing it. I felt prepared, motivated and filled with a new sense of purpose and energy to tackle this "next big thing" on my forever expanding life bucket list.

 
jennifer hulley food and travel photographer
jennifer hulley food and travel photographer
 

Your Fifteen Minutes Are Up

That all changed in an instant.

I was surrounded by influencers, bloggers, wannabe bloggers, fashion icons, nomads. The sheer volume was astounding. The scenes that unfolded around me were jaw-dropping, heartbreaking and soul-crushing. No longer can a regular person snap a simple photo in front of a landmark, or a doorway or a scene that catches their eye. No, she must be wearing a perfectly coordinated outfit, with a black Chanel purse in one hand, its matching Chanel shopping bag in the other, both positioned perfectly outward so that the labels and logos are visible,  and her neck outstretched into the infinite beyond to create an image of inspirational wonder and awe. 

There are women walking whimsically through a scene, with one arm reaching out behind them, their floor-length pink skirt billowing in the wind. The boyfriends take their phones. Snapping for 2-3 minutes. Different angles. Different heights. Different vantage points. The same damn photo again and again and again. She reviews the images and after a few frustrated words she takes her next pose and the process starts all over again. A bag full of discarded clothes lies outside of the frame and after a quick costume change and the entire process starts again.

I watched three separate women get changed in front of the Eiffel Tower.  One brought a mini pop up changing tent. The others just slipped outfits underneath and pulled off the old ones. No one seemed to bat an eye. There were fake picnics set up in the park. A perfectly coordinated scene: cozy blanket set out with matching plates, an abundant spread of food, bottles of bubbly and other products, labels turned outward so that it was crystal clear what was being consumed. These picnics were attended by groups of seamlessly styled women who were having a grand time: laughing together and infinitely cheers-ing tall glasses of bubbly but never drinking. That's right: never drinking.  Never. They did not take one sip or one small bite of this "impromptu sunset picnic with my best girls" that they were so clearly enjoying. I stood and watched this in horror as the fake scene unfolded until I became concerned not that I would be caught out but that I was horribly wasting my time.

I gathered up my stuff and started walking. Minutes later a group of women passed by me with linked arms, "walking" together smiling, laughing and throwing their heads back in sheer joy.  Why "walking" and not just walking? Well because they weren't walking at all, but when the image hits social media you will think that they were.

I wish the list ended there. But it doesn't. It followed me from scene to scene, to different cities and another country. I think the hardest one to witness was a mother and a friend (maybe?) dressed in similar outfits - bright blue dresses, oversized white handbags, straw hats, each leaning against opposite sides of a mammoth doorway while a young girl about 10 stood and took their photo over and over and over again. Frustrated with how she looked in the photos she would throw her arms up, exasperated and declare, "I'm too fat in that one, jeez - take it again but don't shoot upwards this time!" (Never mind that she was 10, and literally had no choice but to shoot upwards when photographing two women in heels.) It broke my heart to watch this unfold, wondering what images of beauty and expectations of how one should document and celebrate their life were being transmitted into this girl's rapidly growing brain and schema of thought. 

 
 One of my favourite ways to view the Eiffel Tower: as a backdrop to Parisian life.

One of my favourite ways to view the Eiffel Tower: as a backdrop to Parisian life.

 

I took photos of many of these women as I saw what was happening. I ended up deleting them. I couldn't in good conscience include them because it doesn’t sit well with my beliefs, my values, and goals. I strive for blatant honesty and real moments, but I also believe strongly in empowering women, and with that comes a dedication to never tearing each other down. My thoughts aren't about them specifically, they are about where we’ve come to exist as a society. What we value, produce and consume. What we strive to be, how we want to live and what we measure our self worth and success against.

Maybe the reason I needed to come back here was to realize I want nothing to do with that. The Influence. The following. The fame. The constant shovelling of fake realities down your audience's throat. I used to think I wanted to. So much of my "content" and creativity in recent years has been channeled into the purpose of providing for an audience. Thinking about what they want to see, what they need to learn, what they want. Except when you are working in any industry as an "influencer" it's never just what your audience wants. It's what the companies, products and brands want your audience to want. 

Take Back Your Mind, Take Back Your Life

Influence insinuates control. I don’t want to control your mind. I don’t want to influence you to buy things or tell you what's right for you to want, to desire and to strive for.  I do, however, still want to make things. I still want to bake and write and shoot and create and share my ideas and projects. I want real life. Slow life. Not rushing around to tick boxes on an endless list of must see/do things I've absorbed via osmosis, society and social media. Several posts back when I started the "Eat Your Feelings"  blog category I said, "I want readers to feel something, and then eat something". This still stands true. Feelings are personal and they are yours. Not anyone else's. Your thoughts, your ideas, your values and your hopes and dreams are not owned by a company, a product or an influencer. They are yours. If I have any effect on your life, I want it to be that I made you think and that you then chose how to interpret, reflect and act on those thoughts. So the next time you scroll past someone's post and think how fab that girls' drinks in the park must have been, also stop and think about how long it might have taken before they actually experienced the moment, if they even did. Isn't it time we all sober up and stop posing, stop pretending and simply start living?

Signed, the "anti-influencer," who it seems may be on the brink of a "slow living" journey.

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