In May of this year I went through and deleted a heap of images from my Instagram account, the majority of them were these mirror selfies.
I started doing these styled photos about two and half years ago as a way to showcase how I would wear SAMANTHA WILLS jewellery. As with most things I do in branding, I wanted to replicate a consistent format and these styled shots allowed me to show customers how I styled the jewellery in a personal way, it allowed me to showcase my love for Australian* Designers (*not all outfits where Aussie Designers, but the majority were), and it also became a platform for sharing my Dad’s very relatable Aussie humour in commentary on my often non-Dad-Friendly outfit selections.
The landscape we are in is changing so quickly and one night I was laying in bed and my mirror selfie posts were playing on my mind - they were not sitting well with me all of a sudden. I logged in to Instagram and scrolled back through them, the most recent one at this time was only posted a week or so previously, I thought about what is important to me personally and compared that against the current landscape, and it was instantly clear that these types of posts did not wash against where my personal values sat. Second only to honesty, authenticity is an incredibly important personal value to me, and I realized these specific mirror selfies were neither honest or authentic.
Of late if I get angry or upset about something, I am asking myself why I feel that way.
Like most, I watched the Royal Wedding and was immersed in the huge amount of media coverage that followed it. I saw a few separate media outlets with headlines or articles saying that “Duchess Kate was ‘throwing shade’ at Meghan by wearing the same dress to the royal wedding that she had already worn to her sister Pippa’s wedding, and also to her daughter, Princess Charlotte's Christening.” They went on to suggest that “the least Kate could have done was buy a new dress for the event.”
I couldn't believe this was making headlines and was so angry when I heard/read this.
Kate looked brilliant every time she wore that (not for nothing; Alexander McQueen) dress. I have had a long time admiration of the Duchess’ commitment to wearing both designer AND high street brands, when she has access to wear anything at all that she wants, and especially wearing items multiple times, even though she is photographed every time she steps out.
In a time of material disposability, her steadfast commitment to this is highly impactful and I respect it greatly.
So WHY was I so freaking angry at the media giving her a hard time for wearing a dress she had already previously worn, to Harry & Meghan’s wedding?
Was it because it wasn’t an empowering message to women, as it suggested that they should have to have a new outfit for every occasion?
Well yes, it was partly that.
But then it hit me, it was because I was no better than the media’s comments on Kate’s outfit. I was adding to this very problem with these mirror selfies.
When I was starting out in my career I had no profile and was $80K in debt, no one would give me a thing. In fact the majority of people didn’t want to know me. There was a very definable turning point, it could be gauged by perceived career success / profile, it could be measured by the moment I hit the 150K+ mark on Instagram followers, it could be that I now have (hopefully!) much better style than I did back then. But whatever it was, things turned quickly. Such is the disparity, when you have nothing is when you actually need loans / favors the most. When you have enough money to buy what you want and / or have a higher profile you would be shocked at what people will loan you / give you / beg you to take or wear. I only owned about 10% of the clothes I would post in these shots. It is not lost on me the privilege it is to have access to borrow gowns and clothing from designers, and I say that with my hand on my heart; I have had nothing and when I needed things loaned, I was told no, in no uncertain terms. Now I am in a position where I have persisted and have enough money to buy the things I once needed to loan, but now I can do that is when people want to loan or gift them. I get the mutual benefit for exposure purposes, and I also think the principle of it is unbalanced. While NONE of these posts where sponsored, when I looked back over them, it easily gives off the perception that I had a wardrobe the size of a VOGUE fashion cupboard. When I would see comments like #WardrobeGoals it very much hit home to me that people were setting their goals against something that was not an actuality. This was not my wardrobe, I wore them for a night / event and returned them, never to post about them again.
I was adding to the exact problem the media was perpetuating... AND I was getting angry at the media about it. It was a sharp wake up call, and as Eldridge Cleaver said; "There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem."
My analysis didn't end there.
These images looked spontaneously snapped as I was 'running out the door'; They were not.
As they were initially created for advertising / promotion to showcase SAMANTHA WILLS Jewellery, they were styled and planned and often would take 45mins to an hour to style and shoot each shot. I am a Creative Director: I know how to professionally light images, it's my job to create photographic campaigns. While this is something I have published articles on before, because lighting has so much power over an image, anyone scrolling through seeing that I was shooting this in my bedroom at home as a 'candid' capture and wondered why they were not getting the same outcome could very much have to do with the 14+ years experience I have in creating campaigns and photographic lighting.
ADVERTISING v INFLUENCER: I am a paid ambassador for brands I choose to partner with (you can see the full list HERE) . Usually I am engaged on these contracts to create professional content. I have written about it before and I am adamant that this type of work makes me (or whoever) an ADVERTISER. These mirror selfies were portrayed as candid / INFLUENCER style shots that I was creating (as a professional Creative Director), knowing how to professionally light them, with borrowed gowns and often with my hair and makeup professionally done for an event, taking 45mins+ to create the image. What started as a casual snapshot in my bedroom mirror, actually evolved over the years to be produced and created the same way an advertising image would be. Lighting, styling / wardrobe / hair and makeup. And that no longer sat well with me, so I deleted them.
Life is about constantly evolving and the more you know, the more responsibility you have to take. In this case it felt like the right thing to do to delete these photos. I understand the role and need for advertising (As I said above, I am an advertiser, both for my own company and others), but on a platform like Instagram where the lines can easily blur between Influencer & Advertiser, I think there is a responsibly to not only differentiate between the types of content, but also to ask yourself if what you are putting out into the world could have a negative impact (especially if full details are not disclosed so that the viewer can make an informed decision rather than having to assume one way or another)
I hope what I am trying to say here makes sense, and whether you agree with me or not, either way; all of the above aside, the images no longer sat well with me, and I think the strongest thing we have access to and must use more than ever in this landscape is our intuition on what is the right thing to do. And to me, this just felt right.
My kindest - SWx