Influencer? More like one of the most awful narcissists I’ve met

Laura Kennedy: I just find dealing with other people’s auras so draining, she said

Social media influencer? Whining narcissist more like.

Social media influencer? Whining narcissist more like.

 

“I’m just a very spiritual person, you know? Other people have auras which I sense very strongly and I just find dealing with them draining.” This statement was followed up primly with a gobful of quinoa, and I listened, staring into my bowl of soup, wondering not for the first time whether I was living in a simulation. The offending statement was uttered by an international Instagram influencer (what a phrase) whom I met on a press trip with a beauty brand.

I don’t know any other beauty writers whose day job is academic philosophy, but I’m sure I am not the only one. I write a beauty column in The Irish Times Magazine on Saturdays, and frankly there is no more thrilling, enjoyable job that a person could do. It is also rich in astonishingly wonderful perks – getting to travel, to try almost every new product before it becomes commercially available, to share what actually works with readers who are interested, and to meet creative people within the industry who I spent my teen years reading about (along with philosophers, novelists and a variety of other people and work, who I don’t usually get to meet at beauty events, but you never know).

When you consider “a philosopher”, the image that springs to mind, if you don’t imagine Socrates, squat with stout, goatish features and obscenely dirty feet, is that of a distinguished older white gentleman. Elbow patches, round spectacles, maybe an avuncular demeanour. This description is in some sense realistic – some philosophers do look like this. Most, these days, just look a bit scruffy and generally anxious (a countenance common to any academic within the humanities). There is no real pattern that philosophers ascribe to, at least on the outside, though most of them are still male and most of them don’t write about make-up, even sometimes, even for fun.

There exists an idea not simply within academia – it is a far more fundamental human trait than could be unique to any one profession – that discussion of “non-serious” things indicates that a person is insufficiently knowledgeable or expert in “serious” things. Evidently, this presupposes that academic work is inherently serious or important, when in most cases this is far from true, depending on your definition of important.

If “important” has any link to measurable human advancement, to social function or cohesion, or to the shared betterment of our species, then the overwhelming majority of academic work is not important. A dissertation on an incredibly obscure micro-aspect of Husserlian descriptive phenomenology, is (hopefully) interesting to the handful of people on the planet who are expert in such topics, but completely inconsequential to everyone else. No change comes about as a result of it – no pragmatic impact is made. This of course does not make the work less worth doing, necessarily.

Other people’s auras

Certainly, philosophers are less likely to talk about being drained by other people’s auras, but there was something to what the influencer was saying. It is not that she is particularly spiritual (what a vague, overmasticated word) and that other people’s “auras” are exhausting. It is that the tension of giving a performance as one’s “public self” in a group of unfamiliar people can feel a bit tiring – for everyone except the most confident and extroverted of us.

This particular influencer, being uncannily physically beautiful and one of the most insufferable, whining narcissists I’ve ever encountered, merely made the error of considering this experience to be unique to her because she appeared to feel her own existence so much more palpably than anyone else’s.

I was reminded of a conference I attended a few years ago, where I witnessed a senior philosopher berate a young graduate student’s work solely through an obscure reference to Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, with the clear aim (just for the sake of it) of forcing the junior person to admit in front of a crowd that they had not read it. The look of withering smugness on the face of the older, more experienced person was almost identical to the one on the face of the influencer when she described her special ennui over quinoa. Those who do “deep” work can be shallow, and vice versa. We are all human, after all.  

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