Expectation vs. Reality: A Content Creator’s Story

Welcome to the world of content creators! (Otherwise known as the nicer, less-stigmatized title given to people who create media content for a living or compensation, but don’t want to identify with the bad rap typically given to “influencers”.) On the outside, it’s a glamorous world full of pretty photos, public adoration, and the chance for anyone to achieve virtual notoriety. It looks real, even down to the daily Instagram story installments of creators running errands and working from home. But is it, really?

Now, as a disclaimer, I would consider myself a lot of things: artist, stylist, photographer, graphic designer, and content creator. So, I really can’t complain too much when I choose to play by the rules of the game and do get some benefit out of it. But there is a large portion of false reality that, at least for me, has had some negative side effects on everything from my mental health to relationships.

As a creator who looks to use media to inspire others, I value transparency and realism in addition to the pretty façade. I think inspiration can be found in a lot of different ways, and not all of them have to be perfect or overly aesthetic all the time. And, despite having a shut-off, private kind of personality, the one thing I don’t want is to be a figurehead instead of a human. So, I wanted to invite you into my world of part-time content creation and show you the good, the bad, and even the un-chic.

What you see…

Here’s what you see when I post on Instagram: curated, planned captions and a carefully selected set of photos.

What you don’t see:

After driving for 1.5 hours on a Saturday morning, we still couldn’t find the location we wanted to shoot at. We ended up in the middle of nowhere, no cell phone service in sight, starving due to missing lunch, and badly needing a bathroom break. With no restrooms in sight, we finally decided to pull over onto what we thought was a secluded overlook where we would have relative privacy to take care of business out of view of the highway, but as soon as we pulled over and found suitable bushes, the few and far between cars passing by on this remote two-lane road started also pulling off to check out the scenery, walk around, and just hang out for a bit. By this point, I painfully needed to pee and was getting rather irritable, so I opened up the passenger door, had my husband use our giant portable photo reflector as a shield, and shimmied out of my sequin pants and flamingo pumps to do what I needed to do. (As an aside, I can’t tell you how many times I have badly needed a restroom when we go on our remote photoshoots; it’s one of the things I worry about the most when I know we’ll be gone all day!) Afterwards, I felt better, but increasingly miffed that our remote location was being encroached upon by other travelers when we weren’t even at a popular tourist destination. (Here’s another fun fact: despite my love of crazy clothes and bright colors, and my penchant for being extra in photos, I’m actually reeeeeallly self-conscious when we do photoshoots. I’m getting better, but I still get so embarrassed posing when there are people around, and therefore generally prefer to be completely alone when we’re getting content.)

And now it’s time for me to admit something… I have a slight tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist (or diva if I’m honest) when I’m creating, and as with many of our photoshoots, my husband and I end up arguing about the creative direction we’re either taking or not taking. I’m not proud to admit it by any means, but while sometimes creating as a husband-and-wife team brings us closer together, it often does end up causing tension too. On this particular day, things kinda blew up between us when I fell off the hood of my car when I was holding a difficult pose while simultaneously burning my butt on the hot surface, and didn’t know he wasn’t ready to take the picture. A few choice words followed by mutual apologies, a slightly twisted foot, and a bruised knee later, all was well again. The hordes of day-trippers had finally left, and we started getting some good content.

The moral of the story is, even though I can’t begin to express how lucky I am to have a husband who both supports and participates in my dreams, it has taken a long time for us to come to a mutual understanding, respect, and agreement on how things are going to be when we create together. And, there is a significant risk that despite the effort we put in in our free time (for no money I might add), we’re never guaranteed good content. (Yes, I have had to reshoot outfits on a few different occasions where something didn’t meet my expectations; see below!)

Budget Battles

While some content creators do get a lot of financial and product compensation for their work, I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t. I am really selective in who I partner with because MDM is my creative baby, and I do feel that sometimes the people who do nothing but sponsored posts often unrelated to their niche end up having their platforms look more like advertisements that are dictated by corporate imaginations than a place of personal perspective. In addition, I haven’t been approached with any collaboration offers besides product exchange, and I have never pitched myself to work with a brand that hasn’t initiated the conversation as of this point. (Not to say I wouldn’t someday, but my aforementioned shyness does admittedly get in the way of me asking.)

As a result, 99.9% of my clothing, shoes, and accessories are purchased with the money I make from my day job, and even if you’re not familiar with the fashion industry, you can guess how out-of-control that can get financially. My husband and I have been fortunate to be able to devote a portion of our household budget to this hobby, but there was about 2 years of spending significantly over our household budget on stuff that left us with struggles we are still repenting for.

Basically, in the very beginnings of MDM, I was afraid to spend more than $20 on anything fashion-related. I had grown up sale-shopping and penny-pinching, so I was never privy to the possibilities and necessities of fashion blogging until I started spending more time on social media to escape the reality of a high-stress, strict job. I’ve always been someone who loves art in any form, but I especially have a soft spot for avante-garde clothing. When I followed a bunch of 1 million + follower fashion mega-influencers I thought, in my naivety, that they must purchase all of their high-ticket outfits. I had no familiarity with the concept of gifting or borrowing clothes in exchange for publicity, and I wanted the same ultra-high-fashion looks that had given me so many eye-opening fashion feels on the ‘gram. I was making money for the first time in my life, not a lot by any means, but enough (I thought). The false pretense that “you too could have rags-to-riches Internet fame if you dress and act like me!” that many influencers were touting slowly started to crumble as I realized that the social media of 2019 did not afford as easy virality as it did when I started an account in the early-2010s. (For example, I had an account in college where I posted low-quality photos of cheap, hippie-esque outfits that started gaining traction quickly before I made the account private due to the concerns of social media-sensitive family members.)

One of my earlier MDM posts

I was baffled to say the least. I had all these expensive pieces and photos taken with a nice camera, so why were my average likes less than 20? The only time I experienced genuine, unprecedented growth above 1-2 followers a month was when a favorite shoe designer of mine reposted my photo. Well, it really wasn’t until the 2020 Covid pandemic that I began investigating, learning, and truly connecting with regards to social media, and I discovered that there’s a lot of things creators have to do nowadays to achieve that fame, with the possibility of going viral being next to impossible and highly unpredictable.

Fast-forward to now, as I’m still picking up the pieces of my credit limit and apologizing to my husband for spending our savings. I’ve learned, however painfully, that high-ticket items and polished photos are no longer the keys to the fashion kingdom. I’ve had to temper my lust for these kind of items and come to the reality that, at least when you’re a small creator like me, gifted Chanel bags just aren’t gonna happen. I’ve had to forego the popular influencer attitudes of “wear it once, throw it out” and “that’s so last-season” in favor of a budgeting model that’s more sustainable, like embracing clothing rental services to cut costs and second-hand consignment sites when I want a designer piece.

Outfit from Rent the Runway, shoes are secondhand from The Real Real.

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest parts of influencer culture that has become so detrimental: the lack of transparency over gifted/loaned items, the “behind the scenes” that are clearly still staged, and the generally disposable, trend-focused pace that seems to alienate, rather than include. I fell for the illusion, whether due to my sheltered upbringing or tendency to seek the best in people, and it cost me a lot of financial and marital struggles until I found clarity.

More is not always merrier…

If you think about how much I usually post every week (not counting duplicate posts), that’s a LOT of outfit combos and photos. It’s not uncommon for us to have 70-80% of photos from a shoot remain unused because they don’t fit the vision, and have a mess to unload from the car that inevitably gets piled in our guest room until the off chance that we have visitors.

One of the cleaner “aftermaths” of a photoshoot; this is after minimal picking up!

To put it in perspective (since my husband is the software guy), in the past 2.5 years of MDM, all of our photos and video content has just about filled up a 1 Terabyte hard drive. (for comparison, the laptop I am writing from has just 250 GB of storage. (1 Terabyte = 1024 GB; that’s the equivalent of just over 4 laptops worth of photos and videos, most of which haven’t made the cut.) To top that off, here’s our guest room on a good day after a shoot. (Keep in mind, it has looked much worse!)

All in all, being a content creator has allowed me to achieve my dreams of being a model and wearing beautiful clothes, even if it is for a smaller audience, and I couldn’t be happier about the support I’ve received from my community. But I also want you to know that what I do is full of lots of sleepless nights editing after working a 40 hour/week 9-5, a multitude of mishaps, and fighting through app updates and algorithm changes in order to showcase what my husband and I so painstakingly create mostly just for the sake of our love of it.

In an age built and thriving on artifice, being imperfect and authentic is simultaneously the most important yet often suppressed part of the human experience. And, while I might not be 100% comfortable in sharing all personal things yet, I promise to always be open about the things that matter. I’ve been learning that it’s okay to have bad days and good ones, it’s normal to need a step back from the constant streams of information to protect your mental health, and despite being shown otherwise, there’s plenty of real left in the world.

Here’s the real behind the scenes! I had a dress stuffed underneath my clothes because we were headed to a really remote location to do a shoot!
Explanation for that last photo^^^

So, here’s to owning it, 100%. Here’s to real life.

Xx Tabi

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