You might know Annie Thomson (aka @a_day_in_the_life_of_annie on Instagram) for her fun and relatable beauty videos. Whether you're keen to see how that viral hair product performs IRL or sniffing out holiday gift recommendations for makeup people, you'll find it all on Thompson's page. What you might not expect to see, though, is a candid Instagram carousel about how she spent £7,000 (over $8,600) of her savings in a year, all to maintain her beauty blogging platform.
It came to a head, wrote Thompson on Instagram, when she realized just how much she had spent. "Fifty pounds [$60] here and one-hundred pounds [$120] there might not seem a lot to some," said Thompson, but it soon added up. "If a brand brought out six new lipsticks, I couldn't just be your normal consumer and choose one or two." She had to have them all. "I would take a photo for Instagram and then throw the products in my makeup [bag] — as they were old news."
For a handful of relatable micro beauty influencers like Thompson, posting on Instagram started in the pandemic. "Back in 2020, when I created my Instagram account, everyone was at home," Thompson told R29. Luckily, Thompson wasn't financially impacted by various lockdowns and found herself with some extra cash. "When you’re bored, you tend to shop online," she said. The odd product bought to review on her social platform soon propelled a small hobby into a full-blown compulsion.
It's no secret that the beauty industry thrives on consumption. A new skin-care brand, 'must-have' makeup product or buzzy beauty trend is conceived almost daily and beauty bloggers are at the center of it all, expected to bring us up to date. That's why Thompson isn't alone in spending her savings on beauty products to keep up appearances on social media.
You only have to scroll through Instagram or TikTok to realize that there's an epidemic of beauty content creators who have landed themselves in potentially dangerous money situations, including dipping into or blowing their savings and even encountering debt, while trying to make it big. "When you go broke trying to be an influencer," @christianchanel captioned a viral TikTok video with thousands of views and a handful of comments in solidarity. Similarly, TikToker @char_nella47 reports seeing popular influencers "drown in debt" to look expensive.
Some do make it big: Creators, formerly "influencers," we know and love (like Mikayla Nogueira, Abby Roberts and Amelia Olivia, for example) have millions of fans and followers, while others have exciting brand partnerships and lucrative deals. It's no wonder that plenty are keen to turn their beauty obsession into a business. Now, more than ever, the lines between regular consumer and micro blogger are blurred. Anyone can become an influencer with the right resources. In fact, it has been reported that TikTok users are 2.4 times more likely than other social media platform users to create a post and tag the brand after buying a product. But working your way towards the dream job can quickly become a burden.
"I have dipped into savings and even overspent on beauty items when I didn't have a steady monthly income," says beauty blogger Masha Solechnik, @beautefocus on Instagram. "It was a nightmare," adds Solechnik. "I would be very anxious about it, but I felt a real compulsive urge to buy things that I knew would make my Instagram more popular."
Likewise, Thompson admitted that she would needlessly buy products to gain a feeling of acceptance online. After all, getting likes, followers and engagement is rewarding. The attention that Thompson received after buying and reviewing eyeshadow palettes, lipsticks, and skin-care products gave her all the more reason to continue to create content.
The thing is, big-name beauty influencers are often gifted products from brands who want to be featured on their social channels. They are given a helping hand. It's different for many micro influencers or those wishing to establish themselves. They have to buy their own. And beauty doesn't come cheap. In the past year as costs have risen, brands such as Glossier, The Inkey List and The Ordinary have all announced price increases. Beauty products are the most expensive they've been since 2016, according to a recent report.
A former beauty blogger we spoke to who wishes to remain anonymous said that most beauty influencers she rubbed shoulders with at launch events and parties grew up with money and had the funds to spend on products to fulfill their beauty careers. For those who don't have the ready cash, beauty influencing can be a dangerous game, especially if you aren't sent free samples.
Perhaps the algorithm has a lot to answer for. Solechnik explains that beauty lovers in particular tend to feel a lot of pressure to buy 'buzzy' new products that trend well on Instagram and TikTok to prove that they are in the know. "If you want your blog to grow, you have to get popular products or the newest launches. It's encouraged, simply by how the algorithm favors this type of content," she explains. Sure enough, a quick scroll will serve up all manner of trending products, like Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Glow Flawless Filter (30 million views on TikTok), Caudalie Detox Mask (32.2 million views) and Dior Backstage Rosy Glow Blush (37 million views).
It isn't just bloggers or content creators. We're all splurging. Bloomberg reports that TikTok shopping is expected to see an increase in spending on the platform, forecasted to go from $2 billion in 2022 to a staggering $23 billion in 2023. But while we may play with products in the comfort of our own homes, content creators are expected to share their opinions. And with social media built to keep you scrolling, it's no wonder beauty enthusiasts find it difficult to distinguish between a hobby and forced pressure.
It goes deeper than what's trending, as social media can hugely impact how we evaluate ourselves, explained Robert Common, psychologist and CEO of Beekeeper House. "By its very nature," says Common, "social media is set up to encourage consumerism and a materialistic mindset." Certainly, Thompson felt that social media persuaded her that she needed to own particular things. "I was constantly buying what was popular on the 'gram and I started to gain 1,000 followers, then 2,000." Thompson said she assumed that if she had the latest products, she would continue to grow her following. This was the false confirmation she needed to keep spending.
"People receive the message that the next purchase — whether it be a new beauty product or a new item of clothing — will bring them fulfillment," Common adds. "Of course, it never does." Thompson had numerous packages arriving weekly from expensive brands that she once saw as a treat, she told R29. Previously, such purchases would have made her happy. But the more she spent, the worse the feeling in her stomach: "The only thing I could do was bury my head in the sand and carry on buying more because I had to keep up."
Counseling psychologist Dr. Rina Bajaj agrees that the premise of social media is social connection. "This can set up the human need to want to be validated, liked, and from an evolutionary perspective, to be part of the 'in group'," says Dr. Bajaj. For beauty bloggers, the 'in group' is an online community whose core mindset is 'more is more.' First of all, this is detrimental to the environment, as consumerism encourages serious waste. According to Zero Waste, more than 120 billion units of cosmetics packaging were produced globally in 2018 alone. But it's also burning a hole in people's pockets.
For many like Thompson and Solechnik, what started out as an enjoyable hobby soon became a money pit. "The more likes you get, the more gratification you receive," Thompson explains. But the cycle of spending and posting ended up putting immense pressure on her bank account, not to mention her mental health.
This is where things can escalate, say psychologists. "It can be difficult to draw the line between a hobby we enjoy investing our time and other resources in and an activity that becomes a habit or an addiction," explains Common. "When addiction is involved, there's a cycle of shame and guilt that follows, so using excuses as to why you need to spend can be a way of avoiding those feelings."
Unfortunately for many small influencers in the beauty industry, addiction has long been passed off as enthusiast behavior and even encouraged. "Constantly changing trends can keep people hooked on wanting to stay relevant," says Dr. Bajaj, "as well as unconsciously [finding] ways to feel in control or better about themselves." Dr. Bajaj explains that it's easier to be in denial about the toll that overspending on beauty might have, and reports that a lot of influencers might think: "'I'm not hurting anyone' or 'Once my Instagram takes off I'll make the money back' or 'It's an investment'."
The rise of buy now, pay later schemes isn't helping micro influencers, either. Thompson said this was a huge part of the problem when she found herself spending a significant sum of her savings on beauty products to maintain her online presence. "It didn't seem so much of a problem because I wouldn't see a great big £500 [$612] come off my card," she explains. Thompson would use varied forms of payments to make purchases appear smaller, "then £100 [$122] on PayPal credit, £100 [$122] on my [debit] card and £100 [$122] on my credit card."
The experts agree. Buy now, pay later schemes are useful because they allow people to join programs or make purchases that ordinarily would be out of reach. However, there's a significant psychological downside, said Catherine Morgan, a trauma-informed, certified financial coach. "It postpones the pain to a later date," explained Morgan. This then creates patterns of behavior where it's easy to overspend.
Though many aren't so lucky, Thompson was able to curb her spending. The first step was recognizing that there was a problem. "I got all my skincare and makeup out and looked through it all. Quite honestly, I felt sick. There was so much, and one person cannot physically use all of it." Thompson is trying not to buy beyond her means. "Those extra few likes you might get on a picture genuinely equate to nothing in real life but a hole in your bank balance that you've then got to work harder to pay back." Solechnik said she eventually had to go cold turkey and finally accept the impact that her spending on beauty products really had on her savings.
Instagram beauty blogger Jessica Wallace embraces real skin texture, skin care, and self love. She has grown a following since cutting back on spending. "I definitely approach my Instagram differently now," Wallace told R29, "and I know I don't need the latest products to fit in." Wallace always makes use of the products she already has or waits until they are empty before she goes ahead and buys more. Considering the repercussions of cosmetics waste on the environment, not to mention the mental impact of staying informed on all things shiny and new in beauty, influencers across the board could consider this approach.
Finally, it's imperative to remember that social media is a highly-curated universe and that overconsumption doesn't equal success. "I feel like a toxic trait of Instagram is this immense pressure it can give people viewing these 'perfect lives' — that you need the latest product to make your life better," says Thompson. She believes it's important to follow those you trust to give you a real, unfiltered opinion. And whether you're an influencer or consider yourself a beauty enthusiast, Wallace has the last word: "No beauty product is ever worth getting yourself in debt for."
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.