Molly-Mae Exposes The Problems At The Heart Of Influencer Culture

Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Pretty Little Thing.
Molly-Mae Hague is a 22-year-old influencer who already had a significant following before being launched to fame by Love Island in 2019. In subsequent years she has ballooned her reputation and reach as an influencer on Instagram as well as launching a series of enterprises (including her fake tan brand, Filter, and collections with brands like Beauty Works), most recently signing on as creative director of fast fashion brand PrettyLittleThing in a rumoured seven-figure deal. Yesterday she became the focus of Twitter when a clip from her December 2021 interview on the podcast The Diary Of A CEO sparked a flurry of quote tweets and threads. The offending words? "We all have the same 24 hours in the day."
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This is not the first time that Molly-Mae has been subject to a Twitter furore but this time it is not about her dog or the nature of her giveaway or the fact that people care deeply about when her boyfriend Tommy Fury is going to propose.
It instead speaks to the fundamental flaw at the heart of the influencer economy and the shifting ways we conceive of 'work'. 
The idea behind "we all have the same 24 hours in a day" is far from new — it has its roots in 20th century individualism and meritocracy, and the belief that the harder you work, the greater your success. I first heard the phrase some time around 2014, when it became common parlance among the aspiring girlbosses of the era. "You have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé" was the most popular iteration then.
When it comes to the fact that "we all have the same 24 hours in a day", there is a distinct difference between the quantifiable period of time and how you can spend it. Those who can afford to pay for support like childcare, cleaners and assistants are paying not only for support but for the freedom to use their time how they see fit. It’s disingenuous to argue that a 22-year-old who works two jobs to cover rent and spends her little spare time doing all the cooking, cleaning and maybe socialising has the same amount of free time to invest in her future as an influencer on a seven-figure contract. Even if those two examples work the same number of hours, the majority will earn significantly less. Wages are stagnant as we continue to deal with the fallout of the financial crisis; meanwhile the cost of living in 2022 continues to rise and house prices are reaching new highs. That’s to say nothing of how other privileges and inequalities can, in turn, help people to advance or hold them back.
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But pointing this out is hardly new either. Commentators wrote think pieces on the subject when the phrase first made its way into inspirational talks and onto mugs on Etsy. Yet it still gets airtime because people want to believe in the promise that this phrase holds.
If we all have the same amount of time and all that’s holding us back from our goals is not working hard enough, then believing in the power of the hustle to get you to your goal gives you a feeling of control. It suggests that the power to change your circumstances is in your hands and the only thing stopping you is you, as the Instagram aphorism goes.
This is at the heart of influencer culture. Since anyone can make a social media account it seems democratic — the only thing between your life now and becoming someone who is paid to look beautiful and hold products is how much effort you put into it. But the things that propel you to the heights of success are never based solely on your merits and the algorithm. Not only do beauty standards play a huge part in Instagram’s visual marketplace but the amount of money and time you can invest in creating an aspirational space can be the difference between relative obscurity and internet fame. And that’s to say nothing of who is afforded what external opportunities. You can spend years and thousands of pounds on getting the perfect look to be cast on shows like Love Island but in the end the majority of contestants, like Molly-Mae, are now asked to apply. The difference between who gets the opportunity and who doesn’t, quite often, is luck.
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Meritocracy in every arena — particularly the influencer economy —propounds the idea that anyone can reach the top but there can only ever be a few at the top of the pyramid. The law of averages dictates that most who try won’t make it. But for you to keep trying and to keep buying into the whole economy you have to believe that it’s possible. And influencers like Molly-Mae have to reinforce the idea that graft is primarily what got them there. Because if it were only luck and advantages, and no work was put in, then it would be harder to buy into the idea that the influencer is aspirational and, crucially, relatable. And without sincere influence, what are the brands paying the influencers for?
This is why working hard or, more importantly, the performance of working hard is so key. I don’t doubt that Molly-Mae does work incredibly hard by her own standards. But what constitutes 'hard work' in the life of an influencer seems, to outsiders, to be profoundly different from the hard deskwork of an average office worker, let alone the physical or front-facing work of retail workers, nurses or garment factory workers. The phrase rankles for Molly-Mae in particular. I would be remiss not to point out that her role as creative director at PrettyLittleThing, where she helps to curate collections, will pay her thousands upon thousands (her brand deal in 2019 paid $946k AUD, the renewal in 2020 paid $1.14 million and her creative director title is rumoured to pay seven figures). PrettyLittleThing, remember, is a notorious exploiter of its garment workers and has come under fire for paying workers in Leicester as little as $6.60 an hour to make the clothes she promotes. As many were quick to point out on Twitter, who’s to say who works harder?
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But it’s hardly surprising that so many, Molly-Mae included, hold that you get out of the world what you put in. As long as the influencer economy continues to propel itself forward on the fumes of individualism, criticisms of this way of thinking won’t break through beyond Twitter flurries. Surveys in the past few years have told us that ‘influencer’ is the most desired job among British children, showing that the aspirational world social media paints is as desirable as ever.
Selling yourself and your influence on social media is a relatively new industry and is, of course, its own kind of work. By championing how much you do of it, as Molly-Mae did here, you are at once reinforcing the tenets that keep the influencer economy afloat and exposing how the amount of labour you put in has little to do with what you get out — that is shaped far more by things outside of your control. For Molly-Mae to acknowledge that won’t change it either. The whole influencer system, as Symeon Brown articulates in his upcoming book Get Rich Or Lie Trying: Ambition & Deceit In The New Influencer Economy, is akin to a pyramid scheme. It will take far more than one change of heart to topple it.
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