Why Does Your Brain Think Influencers Are Your Friends?
How social media gives us a uniquely skewed image into what’s real
As I was telling my mom that one of my friends swears by a certain face product in a bid to convince my mom to try it, I had the unusual realization that my “friend” was actually one of my favorite influencers, who had recently posted a video showcasing the product.
We all know influencer marketing is insidious, but it’s one thing to acknowledge that fact and another entirely to automatically categorize an influencer as a friend. This happens to all of us, and we don’t yet know how dangerous that can be.
Celebrities affect our body image — but not as much as our friends do
Humans are visual creatures, which is dangerous in the face of social media. We trust our eyes to tell us the truth, even when we know that people can’t really be that thin, or that pretty, or that happy. And yet we see it, so a part of us believes it.
Humans are prone to a phenomenon psychologists call “social comparison.” To improve our status in life, we look to the most successful folks we know and try to be more like them.
So what happens when you soak up pretty people all day long?
These days, those people tend to be celebrities and, increasingly, influencers. A celebrity is someone who is famous outside of social media — maybe a movie star, a TV host, a model. Influencers are those who have built a career marketing themselves solely through platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Though these two terms might seem interchangeable, they’re different both in nature and in how your brain processes your relationship to them.
As you scroll through miles of carefully curated content, you have to look pretty hard to find a celebrity or influencer who isn’t beautiful. Social media has made it easier than ever to compare ourselves to others.
So what happens when you soak up pretty people all day long? According to social comparison theory, you start thinking you should be more like them if you want to be successful. Being exposed to that kind of content fuels our drive to…