As bloggers/influencers, a lot of what we talk about and share is curated and aspirational in nature. But I’m a firm believer in the fact that in addition to being fashionable and fun, we should also aspire to use our influence to make the world a better place. Part of making the world a better place is using our voice to advocate not only for others, but also for ourselves!
In case you missed it, a few months ago, the mega-brand REVOLVE took a group of top influencers on a press trip to Phuket, Thailand. As the content started to go live on their Instagram page, users couldn’t help put notice that the girls on the trip all had one very obvious thing in common—they were all white (or white passing/fair skinned). In addition to there being little to no racial diversity, there was also a noticeable lack of body diversity and users wasted no time calling it out, igniting a media firestorm and the hashtag, #RevolveSoWhite.
One of the individuals who spoke up about the lack of diversity was blogger and social justice advocate, Valerie Eguavoen (@onacurve). In doing so, she received a response from top influencer and one of the women on the trip, Aimee Song. In her response, Aimee defended and applauded the diversity of Revolve’s team and questioned whether the absence of bloggers of color—on the trip and in campaigns, in general—was simply a result of the fact that they’re “not as known.” The tone deafness of her response was…well…deafening!
What Song’s response failed to acknowledge was just how deliberate brands are when choosing who they’d like to make “known” in the first place. It ignores systemic exclusion. It ignores the industry’s favoritism of a particular (re: lighter) type of influencer. And it ignores the fact that social media growth is equal parts beautiful content and publicity.
There’s always the question of whether the influencers who land top campaigns do so just by virtue of their massive audiences. If a brand wants the most eyes on their products and the highest conversion rates, they hire the influencer with the furthest reach. It seems it’s simple math. No racism, favoritism, or colorism involved. But the reality of social media “stardom” is that no one starts with a million followers. Many of the household names we’ve come to love and adore got that way because they were elevated by other household names. This is not at all to diminish the incredible amount of work ethic these women all possess. Being a full-time blogger is hard work and these women not only do it exceptionally well, but they make it look easy. That is no easy feat and takes a lot dedication and discipline. We could all learn from mega-influencers in that regard.
That said, regrams matter. High level visibility matters. Every time an account with 3 million followers posts an influencer to their page, you can be certain that 2 things will happen—1) more people will know who they are and 2) they will gain more followers. That, too, is simple math. So, to ignore the fact that plus-size bloggers and bloggers of color are rarely given the same stage is shortsighted and clouded by privilege.
The bottom line is even when we don’t have millions of followers, brands who truly want to embrace diversity know exactly where to find us. They prove that when their Instagram feed changes overnight. They further prove it when they they email us in mass quantity when things hit the fan. And if they wanted to place us in positions of higher visibility and make us more “known,” they could.
“Begging for Inclusion”
The other (pettier) part of the conversation is the assertion that bloggers who speak out about these issues are simply jealous. That instead of “complaining” we should either work harder or “start our own sh*t”…rather than beg for inclusion. Such a response ignores the hard work of influencers at every level, but it also places a fork in the road where one shouldn’t exist. While investing in your own community is always important, it’s also not unreasonable for marginalized communities to demand equal space in mainstream society—particularly when it’s their culture that is being exploited and used to define mainstream culture in the first place. I don’t, in any way, think it’s about “begging for inclusion.” It’s about respect—respect for the work we do as content creators and respect for us as human beings worthy of such respect! I also don’t think we have to choose between either course of action. We are allowed to create our own lanes while also holding the brands who, more often than not, use our cultural contributions for their own personal gain—while actively excluding us from their platform—accountable for their discrimination. Requesting a seat at a table we played a big part in building is not begging. It’s the very definition of investing in one’s community. It’s self-advocacy. And while none of us want to stay where we aren’t welcome, I also don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to take that table—their brand equity, reputation, and profit—with us when we leave.
However, it is also my belief that how we, as influencers, confront the “jealousy” response, is by first being very clear in our demands and then by knowing our worth when what seems like an opportunity is presented. It’s not enough to say yes to free clothes and, as I’ve said before, it’s not enough to walk through the door if you aren’t going to leave it open for others. So, when Revolve reached out to me in the height of their media firestorm, I decided to put my money where my mouth is. In my response, I welcomed the opportunity to make the conversation about more than free clothes and trips. I wanted to have a genuine conversation about diversity and map out a plan for more holistic inclusion going forward. I was less than impressed—in fact, I was furious—with Revolve’s response. As much as it’s important for men in Hollywood to talk openly about their salaries or for white actors and actresses to incorporate inclusion riders in their contracts, I feel it’s important that I use my position as an influencer to ensure brands are doing more than engaging in lip service and tokenism.
It is for that reason, I’m sharing the exchange.
The conversation began like any other brand outreach. Timing aside, it was a pretty standard email. I wanted to be fair and give them the opportunity to lay out their plans. I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t shutting down the conversation before it started. So I simply requested more details. It should be noted at this point that the “more details” I received was a 3 sentence email offer to be brand ambassador in exchange for 2 free pieces of clothing a month. To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. And I expressed as much. The response I received back nearly a week later was even more disappointing. The moment I read it I knew it was a canned copy/paste job because it didn’t address anything I said in my email, but I later confirmed that fact when another blogger sent me a screenshot of the exact same response they received. At this point, I was done. I was so disappointed with the response and exhausted with the entire “conversation” that I kind of just wanted to move on. (Hence, the 2 month delay.) But when I received the same exact outreach email again very recently (from a different account manager), I couldn’t help but feel frustrated all over. Not only was my email completely dismissed, but they couldn’t even be bothered to register what they saw as a ‘no’ and mark my name and email off the list of possibles. The conversation was that inconsequential. There was no change. No introspection. No growth. Does Revolve—and brands like it—really want to give us a seat at the table? Or do they just want to say they made the (often insulting) offer? You be the judge. But at this point, I’m done. Completely. Because sometimes you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks.