If exuberance on social media had a face to it, it would be that of Lilly Singh, Indo-Canadian comedian, influencer and TV personality. The queen of YouTube rules the platform with an iron hand of humour, which she deploys mercilessly at the dourest of her viewers; few emerge unscathed. Singh has a solution to all of life’s ills. Suppose your boyfriend’s reply to your ‘I love you’ is a dreaded ‘Thank you’. She recommends ‘bro-zoning him’; censoring the word ‘love’ every time he tries to use it; or making ‘I love you’ so common, the lucky recipients might include the local pizza delivery guy or that irritating chap who has been trying to sell you a cheap data plan. Statutory warning: Don’t watch the video while in office, or you might find yourself trying to smother a chuckle when your boss is going on about work-flow charts and quarterly reports
Many influencers would chop off their right hand and sell it on eBay to get the kind of following that Singh has. As though her charm was too potent to stay online, it spilled offline. She became the first queer woman of colour to host NBC’s Late Night show, sat on the panel of judges for Canada’s Got Talent, and became the New York Times best-selling author of How To Be A Bawse (2017) and Be A Triangle (2022).
She vanquished her detractors ruthlessly, until she became her own worst enemy. In 2018, she announced that she would be going off social media after eight years for the sake of her mental health. “I am mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted,” she said. “The thing about YouTube is, in all of its glory, it kind of is a machine and it makes creators believe that we have to pump out content consistently even at the cost of our health and our life and our mental happiness.”
The mistress of comedy had run out of laughs.
What happened to Singh is not uncommon. According to a 2020 report by inspire.me, a Norwegian influencer marketing platform, 47 per cent of the 350 global influencers surveyed admitted that their career choice had an impact on their mental health. Sixty-seven per cent felt that there was currently a negative stigma around the word ‘influencer’. Thirty-two per cent conceded that their work had a negative impact on their body image. The average age of an influencer was found to be 28 and the majority (77 per cent) were female.
“When I started out more than a decade ago, there were only bloggers and vloggers, so you were working with either text or video,” says Scherezade Shroff, a popular content creator on YouTube. “Now, everyone has to do everything—stories, reels, short videos, long videos…. You are always creating, which can definitely take a toll on your mental health. Because I am older than most content creators out there, l don’t have that urge to constantly post everything on social media.”
Shroff started modelling at 16, and has now over three lakh followers on YouTube. Her cheerful ‘Hi guys’ at the beginning of her videos can easily give you a much-appreciated dopamine spike. “Earlier, I never used to take a break,” she says. “I would create videos whether I was on a flight or was unwell. As the space grew, this became unsustainable. I realised I was putting undue pressure on myself. Now, I am comfortable taking breaks. Over time, you figure out your filters and find your balance.”
According to Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology at the SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic, NIMHANS, 5 to 6 per cent of social media users are in the addictive zone, 40 to 60 per cent are in the problematic zone and the rest are mild users with occasional excessive use which they are able to control. “Though social media addiction is not a clinical disorder yet, more research needs to be done on this,” he says. If the average consumer in the US spends 3.43 hours a day on their mobiles, the corresponding figure for a popular influencer would be 9.02 hours, states a study by eMarketer.
People are generally under the impression that an influencer’s life is enviable, with free gifts, frequent travel and ample opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities. The reality, however, is far less otherworldly. Being an influencer is a job like any other, says Malini Agarwal aka Miss Malini, a popular influencer, TV host, entrepreneur and author. “To become a successful influencer, you have to be passionate about what you do and find a gap, something that’s unique to you—content, voice or perspective—that no one else has,” she says. “And I think the strain and pressure to increase likes and followers can be overwhelming. All influencers face it, so it is important to find that work-life balance. Sometimes, it is really hard to live in the real and reel world at the same time.”
So, while she jet-sets to London to attend Elite Magazine India’s Most Influential Awards, dazzles as a panelist at Colors Infinity’s The Inventor Challenge, shakes a leg at a boat party or looks stunning in red at a princess ball, it is easy to forget that her 100-watt smile needs constant recharging. There is nothing quite as effortful as looking effortless.