This is a response piece to an article by Carolyn Highland, published by Teton Gravity Research about the authenticity of women in the outdoors who post their adventures on social media. Read the original article here.
In light of Essena O’Neill quitting social media, many articles, YouTube videos, debates empowerment, confidence, agreeing, disagreeing, and even publicly bashing (huge reason why I left a community of outdoor bloggers this week. Bashing of Essena and bashing of another person in the outdoor community behind the closed doors of a Facebook Group).
Regardless of what you think about O’Neill, there is no doubt that social media is shaping our world, especially in the outdoor industry.
In a recent Teton Gravity Research article, Carolyn Highland questions the authenticity of “everyday,” women who have big social media followings and are sponsored by big brands. One of the first things she chooses to point out is how Brooke Willson, a traveler, mountain climber, and all-round explorer is “immaculately groomed for a weekend outdoors.”
I’m sorry, but is this not a classic example of picking on the pretty girls? Why does it matter if you wear makeup or don’t? It’s the choice of the woman. Why is there a need to question her authenticity if she wants to wash her hair prior to a hike or put on mascara?
I personally choose to wear makeup whenever the hell I want. Instagram in mind, or not.
Highland then presses, “are women actually doing outdoor activities in clothing like this?” Find any of these influencers on another social media platform, such as Snapchat, and you will find your answer. YES.
The article continues to point out other things, like “why is so-and-so’s hair so perfectly coiffed after such-and-such hike,” and the fact that the photo might not be the first shot.
Guess what? This is a result of social media marketing. It does not have anything to do with the authenticity of these women. Outdoor brands are relying more and more on influencer strategy vs. catalogs, stock photos, and commercials. They want us to see real people out their using their product, and if there is someone out there with a following who is already living that life, why not pay them to get the word out? (The responsibility of these influencers to require money vs. free gear AND to question the ethics of a brand/supply chain are other topics I am passionate about, but that’s for another day).
I am a freelance digital marketer and when I create influencer strategy, I do things like “find influencers who can help us promote the brand,” and when I do, I look for authentic people, and authenticity isn’t necessarily dictated by their following, hair, makeup, or lack thereof.
The other thing that really annoyed me about this article was the lack of questioning the authenticity of men. Why are they excluded from this? There are countless van-bros out there who are sponsored, have huge followers, and perfectly poised headlamp shots (which I hate, by the way). I’m assuming that there is gender specificity in who can and cannot come across as authentic in the outdoor marketing world?
In conclusion, not all females want to be covered in scabs and have dirt in their hair. It does not make someone any less authentic if she prefers to dry shampoo her hair while camping or take a photo at sunset on the top of a mountain. After all, the time spent getting to these locations is not effortless, so how can it be considered fake?
There is beauty in the dirt and beauty in the glitter: why try and plot them against each other?