At 6:45 am on a Thursday in late April, about two dozen women lined up yoga mats in several rows on the damp, chilly concrete of the Austin Marriott deck. You could see the glistening Colorado river, and the smell of barbecue was already wafting from the city’s restaurants. The yoga class itself would be unremarkable, except for one mantra you don’t hear at your neighborhood Vinyasa session. “When you’re in ‘Warrior Two,’ you find your authenticity,” the teacher cheered on her students. “Despite all the noise, when you find your authenticity, you resonate inward and with the rest of the world,” she said. Moments later a worker wielding a leaf blower interrupted the yogic calm.
The mantra, which would be repeated no fewer than five times during the 45-minute class, was tailored to the audience: a crowd of bloggers, influencers, and marketers in the world of online parenting, often somewhat disparagingly called “mommy blogging.” They had gathered at a long-running conference for mompreneurs. “Authenticity” would come up many more times.
“Authenticity” is what influencers are supposed to lend the brands they promote. Marketers value their content as more honest and grounded than traditional advertising. But this central tenet of the influencer economy is also the fulcrum of most of its problems. Critics see the professed sincerity as contrived. As they see it, authenticity is being co-opted in the interests of a fabricated reality. This comes into sharp focus when influencers buy fake followers, hawk sketchy products, or fail to disclose that they’ve been paid to promote something. Authenticity is also an incredibly squishy concept, making it difficult for influencers themselves to grapple with it, consumers to judge it, and, importantly, for governments to regulate it.