Illustration: Helen Frost
Whether you’re at uni or sharing a squalid grad house in an overpriced part of London, sooner or later, you’ll have to live with someone you hate.Traditional red flags normally include passive-aggressive behaviour in the WhatsApp group, not paying bills on time, still listening to dubstep or letting meat juice go all over your freshly delivered vegetables. But in 2020 there’s a new type of hellish flatmate to contend with: the influencer. And from the sounds of it, it’s a 12-month contract of pure pain.
Much like the beleaguered Instagram Boyfriend, endless deliveries, forced photoshoots and fake Instagram stories are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to living with an influencer. As the boundaries between social media and real life blur, the flatmates of Instagram get to experience social media fame behind the scenes – and it sounds rough.We spoke to six flatmates of Instagram and asked them about their experiences of living with influencers.
“I didn’t know him beforehand, but saw an advert on SpareRoom and didn’t realise he was an Instagram influencer. Then, when I moved in, I thought: ‘Wow, he’s really ripped and has perfect skin.’ Then, once I found out, everything clicked into place. He’s in his early thirties, has a few hundred thousand followers and does life coaching. But it makes no sense because his parents still pay his rent and he doesn’t have a proper job. Once I was over the freebies (expensive food and drink from various events and companies he worked with), I started to see the reality of it all.“He has positive, ‘inspirational’ messages all over the house. Every morning he plays this motivational Christian rock song on full blast and it drives us all insane. He posts photos on Instagram of him being in fancy hotels and will tag the location as ‘home sweet home’. Or he’d be at home, cooking dinner in London, whilst his IG story would show him dining out in Greece. I have no doubt he went to Greece, but he went on holiday for a week, not partying for a month like you’d think from his Instagram.
‘HE’D BE AT HOME COOKING DINNER WHILST HIS IG STORY WOULD SHOW HIM DINING OUT IN GREECE’
“I think probably 90 percent of it is lies. If you follow him on social media, you’d think he’s quite a wealthy guy and always travelling the world and living in a nice house, but that’s just a super exaggerated version of the truth.“It’s just hard to live with someone when you don’t think they’re trustworthy. Even his photos - he looks different in each one because he edits them so much.” — Theo, 28, London
“There was a lot of fast-fashion consumption and she always tried to bribe me to go to things with free clothes. To this day, I still have so many free beauty products, tooth whitening strips and face masks. She was always watching TV and scrolling on her phone at the same time, with the gym being her only down time. I think what’s fascinating is that you look at these people and you think they’re so polished, going to fancy dinners and events, but in reality they live above a dodgy massage place and pay £600 on rent each month. I don’t think people can picture these things together.“She borrowed a lot of my clothes and asked me to style her in them. She’d also send over a bunch of photos and ask me to choose captions for her. When we went out, I’d take quite a few pictures of her, but I’ll take some responsibility in that because I think it ends up being two-fold. I started viewing spending time with her as an opportunity to get a nice photo – I knew we wouldn’t have a nice conversation over dinner. Over time, it becomes mutual. When I came back to Manchester, I realised that I became quite obsessed with my own image and feed curation.” — Fatima, 24, Manchester
‘I REALISED THAT I BECAME QUITE OBSESSED WITH MY OWN IMAGE AND FEED CURATION’
“We lived together in 2013/2014, and the influencing landscape wasn’t what it is now. We had mutual friends, so I thought she’d be a fun person to live with, but it was the worst time of my life. She had dyed green hair, which required a lot of maintenance, and every surface of the flat was covered in these horrible green splodges. I was cleaning the walls every day, terrified of losing out deposit. She was essentially a glamour model on Insta, but her fans didn’t see the general grossness of her bedroom. You know when something leaks in your makeup bag and it’s covered in a layer of grime? Everything in her room was like that.“She had around 250,000 followers and was probably more of an Instagram model than someone who got loads of brand deals. Instagram allowed her to have more of a relationship with her fans, rather than being this marketing tool. She didn’t really have a stable income, so she’d make these Amazon wish lists for her followers to buy things she needed – she even created one to get housewarming gifts off them when we first moved in. Though none of it was practical stuff, like an ironing board or a washing basket. Instead, she got a wooden suitcase full of flavoured teas and coffee syrups. We had so many parcels filling up the communal hallways and she always tried to rope me in to collect things for her – there were about ten to 20 deliveries a week.
‘SHE CROWDFUNDED TO COVER HER RENT AND BILLS’
“The donations escalated when she had an accident while filming a YouTube video and crowdfunded to cover her rent and bills. She was really bad with money and didn’t have the right bank accounts set up, so I had to use my PayPal account for her ‘fans’ to donate to. I even wrote her CV once. Managing her and her money became like a second job for me.” — Evie-May, 26, London
“I was at art school living with a group of randomers who were all around 20 years old, and the girl in the bedroom next door was an influencer with 20,000 Instagram followers. She was a nightmare to live with and super high maintenance, but I genuinely felt a bit sorry for her.“She was getting crazy numbers of likes on her socials and broadcasting her ‘best life’, but she never really seemed to socialise with anyone, either in the house or externally at uni, aside from occasional one night stands from Tinder.“She genuinely seemed really lonely and standoffish, but it made me re-establish how I perceive people from their feed, and there was just such a disconnect from what was portrayed on social media – in reality, she was sat in her room most of the time.” — Eshan, 28, London
‘SHE WAS BROADCASTING HER “BEST LIFE” ON INSTAGRAM, BUT IN REALITY SHE WAS SAT IN HER ROOM’
“My experience is definitely very positive. My roommate and I are pretty good friends. She’s a micro-influencer and treats it like a part-time job. We talk about Instagram a lot and, especially over quarantine, I was taking a lot of her photos, as I was the closest person to her. I see it as more of a practical moneymaking thing that helps her career, rather than someone who is getting Fashion Nova sponsorships and has a very curated Instagram – it doesn’t feel like that yet with her.“I think the biggest thing that surprised me about living with an influencer was how much she says no to brands, because I always assumed that influencers will work with any brand. We can’t really reject [influencing as a career] anymore, because influencers are very real people making a very real income. Obviously not everyone has positive experiences, but I’m not blindly for or against Instagram influencers, and living with my flatmate has made me realise there’s a lot more nuance.” — Millie, 24, London
‘THE BIGGEST THING THAT SURPRISED ME… WAS HOW MUCH SHE SAYS NO TO BRANDS’
“My sister is a part-time influencer at uni and I am diametrically opposed to influencing because so much of it is fast fashion – especially in Manchester, where she goes to uni, I just really disagree with it.“She got veneers done for free, people have offered her lip fillers, but she’s never had that done. Unless she really likes something she gets sent, she generally sells it. JD Sports sends her about £800 of shoes in a box every month – she’ll get a brand new pair of trainers, take a picture of them, put it on Depop and sell them for a hundred pounds. She gives a lot of things away to people we know. She’s very generous – she’s even given things to the person who does her nails across the street.“Social media bleeds into her life. When we’re making plans, it does just make sense for her to get a picture that day – not always – but maybe a few times a week. So then she gets up, puts her makeup on, gets her Instagram outfit on and like hair extensions for ‘work’. Or even when she’s going out for dinner with her boyfriend, she’s always planning a little bit ahead.“It hasn’t affected our relationship in a good or bad way, it’s more that I do see her getting upset or losing her temper if I take her picture and it’s not turning out the way she wants. She does snap out of it, like you do with a sister or your close friends. It’s probably made me a bit wary of her own self-confidence, because she is beautiful, but from a self-image point of view, it’s just something she can’t turn off. If she posts a picture at 8PM, we can’t go do something for the next few hours, because she’s replying to all the comments for good engagement.” — Jenny, 23, Brighton@thediyora