The Rise of ‘Relatability’ On The Internet: Are We Really On The Same Boat?

Picture of By Duru Alp

By Duru Alp

In recent years, communication between celebrities and their fans has become easier and much more widespread with the rise of social media. This has brought about a new trend — a trend of “relatability.” Celebrities and influencers alike post their daily lives, the food they eat, the shopping they do, their natural no-makeup looks, the things that piss them off, in a way that seems to resonate with the lives of their audiences. While the birth of the relatable celebrity might seem minor and natural in the stream of cultural change, it has consequences that might backfire for both sides.  

Why Is This Trend So Popular?

The reasons behind the use of this technique might be diverse. Some approach it as a marketing technique — tricking people into thinking you’re leading the same lives as them helps you gain sympathy and ergo, clicks and money. Moreover, the media tend to give particular spotlight to celebrities who display these “relatable,” “down-to-earth” characteristics, though some might be genuine in their efforts. Some newer influencers begin climbing the steps to fame because of their average lives and relatable personas, Emma Chamberlin perhaps being the best example.

Especially if these celebrities and influencers have had humble beginnings, even if their lifestyles change drastically as a result of fame, they might be holding onto pieces of their old lives and see themselves in their audiences.

Consequences For the Audience: Unattainable Standards

As mentioned before, this does not come without its consequences. When audiences fall for the “relatability” and believe that these insanely affluent celebrities and influencers are “just like them”, this creates unattainable standards that regular people start holding themselves to. If celebrities struggle with the same things we do, why are they able to keep going and post 5 stories of themselves laughing the next day? Or if they loveeee” food just like us, why are they able to keep their size 0 bodies while we can’t?

The answer is simple – because beneath the “relatable” façade, there are about a hundred things these celebrities have access to that the regular person rarely does. That one celebrity with the cheeseburger obsession? She has multiple personal trainers, easy access to healthy food and way more time than you to spend working on her body! Or that actor who shared that lengthy post about struggling through the pandemic talking about how we’re all in this together, that we’re all on the same boat? He’s able to carry on the next day as normal because he’s experiencing the pandemic a lot differently than most people — he most probably has fewer health-related worries because he has access to the best healthcare possible, and his house is probably so big he can spend days discovering new rooms! All the while their audiences are stuck in their one-bedroom apartments, worrying about losing their jobs and having to pay for insurance.

Consequences For the Celebrity: What Happens When We See Right Through It?

The relatability strategy can also backfire on the celebrity or influences employing it by creating a culture of lying that audiences can see right through. When celebrities post on Instagram about how lockdowns are affecting their mental health negatively, and then are seen on vacation on a tropical island a month later or they share their affiliate links of affordable clothes but all they’re wearing are high-end brands more expensive than most of our monthly salaries; more and more people start realizing that they might not be as similar to us than we initially thought.

With the newer trend of “influencers” and social media stars, the “lying” takes a new form. While these new-age celebrities might start out as regular people just like us, as they get more sponsorships and ad-deals, they too, start living lives filled with luxury. When that happens, but they try to preserve their “relatable” online personas by posting content about how they’re “broke,” it becomes obvious that they produce their content with nothing but clicks and profit in mind which erases any form of sincerity from the content and the influencer-fan relationship.

How can we be on the same boat if one boat is  (literally) a yacht currently cruising the Maldives while the other is small and wooden, simply trying to cross a river without going overboard?

These actions rightfully make audiences angry and start alienating the celebrities from them, the complete opposite of the initial goal. After all, how can we be on the same boat if one boat is (literally) a yacht currently cruising the Maldives while the other is small and wooden, simply trying to cross a river without going overboard?

The Middle Ground

Obviously, having more money or opportunities than others doesn’t mean you can’t struggle. But acting as if you and your audience are at the same points in life is clearly not working either. My advice? The best way to go about your daily life and struggles as a person in a position of influence on social media would be to first acknowledge your privilege and recognize that others do not have access to the opportunities that you do and then use your platform to voice whatever common, “relatable” opinions you have.


Cover: Daria Shevtsova

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