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A TikToker Has Some Comprehensive Theories About Mormonism And Instagram Influencers

In one-part of this week's newsletter: Emily Kim delivers an epic thesis about piety and a certain kind of lifestyle influencer in under three minutes.

Posted on October 1, 2021, at 8:01 a.m. ET

This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

Never have I ever seen someone package a dense thesis on piety and influencing into a nearly 3-minute clip quite like Emily Kim did in this TikTok.

Earlier this week, Kim posted a video/epic social media essay in response to one of her followers, who was shocked to learn so many influencers are Mormon. Kim told me she’s followed a group of lifestyle bloggers turned Instagram influencers for years, so she’s well aware of their religious backgrounds. Their posts have made her deeply reflective on how Mormonism informs their line of work (but more on that later).

“THEY’RE MORMON????” a commenter wrote on a previous TikTok Kim made about how certain influencers name their babies. So she decided to make a whole new TikTok in response to this person’s bewilderment. “Yes, they are, and so is every influencer you’ve loved in the past decade,” she says in the video.

“Finally, a chance to share an elaborate diagram,” she says, and she delivers. Displaying a Venn diagram behind her, Kim says she categorizes Instagram influencers into one of three categories: “One, luxury: These are the OG fashion bloggers who are still doing it and raking in the dollars,” she says. She cites traditional influencing techniques, like closet tours and Nordstrom Anniversary Sale promos, as well as swipe-ups. Examples of these kinds of influencers include the Skalla sisters.

Kim categorizes the next cluster of influencers as “chill” — or very curated and outdoorsy women who post “Instagrams full of refreshingly artistic film photography with a focus on imperfections and letting the moment be real.” An example is the ever-so-effortless @amberfillerup (who undoubtedly puts a lot of effort into her work).

And the last category is “energy,” which Kim says scares her the most (lol) because these influencers have no limit to the amount of Instagram reels or stories or “clickbaity videos with titles like 6 Life Hacks To Taking Eight Kids With Broken Legs To Disney World” they can produce. (Double lol.) In this category, she points to influencers like @jordanpage and Shannon Bird.

Like all good researchers, Kim also breaks down how these categories intersect. Between luxury and chill are “effortless glam” influencers; the overlap between energy and luxury makes for influencers who post their wealth chaotically and often; and energy and chill produce people or family accounts that are “vibing enthusiastically,” like The Bucket List Family.

“And they’re all Mormon, whether by their own declaration or context clues,” Kim concludes in her TikTok. She adds the disclaimer that there is a whole spectrum of devotion — whether it casually informs people’s values or they strictly live by the religion’s decrees — but that she’s “fascinated by this group because they’re all connected by Mormonism.”

Many fashion and lifestyle influencers on Instagram are Mormon by their own declaration, but of course it’s unclear if every single person Kim mentions is still practicing today. However, because many of them have spoken about their faith at some point, it’s interesting to consider how that religious background has shaped the industry as we know it (at least the segment dominated by young, pretty white women).

“There are so many theories to explain why Mormonism dominates the world of influencers, and I bet there’s a grain of truth from most,” Kim says. “Young, white Mormon women are more likely to get married and have kids younger than the national average, and that’s connected to the long history of the church’s guidance to prioritize having a family above everything else.” She then alludes to an LDS children’s songbook with lyrics like, “While I am in my early years, I’ll prepare most carefully / So I can marry in God’s temple for eternity.”

Kim explains that since the religion prioritizes women marrying and starting families young, blogging has become a natural outlet for people to share their domestic lives, all with a coat of glamour. And it allows them to generate income without having to compromise their duties at home. The way Mormon women have used the internet to manage these basic needs has come to define a huge portion of the influencer culture we consume and criticize today.

“College-educated women are putting aside other aspirations in favor of being a stay-at-home mom, and I think it’s a natural inclination in that role to seek an outlet that lets them feel creative, organized, in control, and social,” Kim says. “Blogging started doing that a decade ago, and it has evolved into the influencer culture within Mormonism we see today.”

Of course, the consequence of elevating one brand of women on social media is it creates an illusion of a perfect life and an improbable standard for the rest of us to meet. But, as Kim points out, it’s extremely addicting to see how influencers maintain the image of being a perfect wife, mother, and Mormonwomanboss.

“Watching a 20-year-old Mormon newlywed travel the globe while expecting their first baby brings out feelings [like] curiosity, confusion, envy, admiration, scorn, or aspiration,” Kim says. “No matter which feeling, [followers are] probably coming back to see more.”

Kim’s TikTok and theories are so compelling to me. I’ve written about organized religion, particularly Christianity, and its latent ties to social media work before. But it’s also important to remember there’s more to a person than their religious background. We can learn a lot about why people may make the choices they do, or contradict their values, or contribute to an industry in both positive and harmful ways, without reducing them to stereotypes. That’s always what I fear when Stephanie and I write about influencers: that we may unintentionally be giving people more fodder for hating on them or the business. Influencers should be critiqued, but I hope this kind of analysis on why they’ve gotten into the industry further humanizes them.

“Like the quote in Ted Lasso, ‘All people are different people,’ you really can’t assume you know someone’s beliefs because you can stick them in a category,” Kim articulates. “It’s important to pay attention to nuance. For example, Harry Potter fans may cherish the deep-rooted message of friendship and also disown J.K. Rowling for her [anti] transgender comments. Mormon influencers may resonate with the doctrine of life after death and also renounce church leaders who hurt the LGBTQ+ community.”

Oh, and one sub-category of influencer Kim didn’t include in her TikTok is the “progressive Mormon,” the opposite of the conservative evangelical woman.

“Progressive Mormons would include accounts like DesignMom by Gabrielle Blair, the writer Meg Conley, and influencer Rosie Card,” Kim said.

Until next time,

Tanya

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.