Honest, funny and unfiltered. Bella Younger is here to remind us that the social media spotlight is genuinely not all that it is cracked up to be. When Bella Younger spawned Deliciously Stella – her hilarious and daring social media alter ego – she wanted to prove once and for all that Instagram does not equal reality.
“I thought that to want to be successful on social media, you had to be vain. You had to be interested in your looks and your clothes. I was like, ‘ everyone is just vapid’. Somehow I thought I was above it because I was making jokes. I wasn’t at all; I was still obsessed with all of the same things. I just wanted people to tell me that they liked me.”
Within weeks, she’d gone viral and begun her very own cycle of shoot-post-repeat. As the constant rush of notifications fuelled her endorphins, life among the Instafamous started to take a toll. As Bella’s carefree presence flourished online, her health began to spiral offline, culminating in a stint at The Priory for social media addiction. She got to a point where she asked herself: “how did you get there? How did that happen?”
The pressure to be online
Should she have undertaken a month-long run of stand-up comedy immediately after she was discharged? Probably not, but the pressure to be ‘on’ and online was all-consuming. “It can happen to anyone. The flood of people telling you how brilliant you are, pressuring you to think that if you want to stay brilliant, you’ve got to be brilliant. So you just keep going”.
Deliciously Stella’s Instagram account has spawned a spoof cookbook, a podcast with over 100,000 downloads and a sold-out live show at the Edinburgh Festival. The persona she created reached international acclaim, seeing Bella appear everywhere from newspaper front pages to be the top trending topic worldwide on Buzzfeed with over 1 million views.
Younger realised how much validation had started to shape her life at that time. “The only validation that I craved was from strangers. It was completely one way, and I wasn’t presenting an authentic version of who I am at all. I was presenting a character. I ended up just chipping away at how I felt about my real-life self. Why would anyone want me when everyone wants Deliciously Stella?”
The Accidental Influencer
Funny, frank and fearless, The Accidental Influencer is a relatable story of the precarious balancing act between our online and offline selves – and the truth behind the staged shots, spon-con, and the coveted, but ever-elusive, blue tick.
“I found the actual writing of the book incredibly cathartic and almost like a form of therapy. And I was able to finally close the door on that experience and get something positive out of it. That was great.”
Still, launching a book requires a level of spotlight that Bella has not been under for a long time. “I found promoting it horrendous. It made me so anxious to be on social media way more than I like to be. I hadn’t been on Instagram a lot for a long time.”
A few years ago, Bella found herself spending a lot of time on the platform. She gained 75,000 followers overnight and hundreds of likes a minute. Soon she was being paid thousands of pounds to beat up a cake for the’ gram, attend ludicrously lavish influencer gifting events, and drop emoji-bombs left, right, and centre. These days, she embraces a more moderate approach. “I don’t think that getting rid of Instagram altogether is a good idea at all. It’s entrenched in our culture. And it’s impossible not to use it. But I think everyone needs to be wary of how they are using it.” She admits to having been on the end of the spectrum: “I got a repetitive strain injury on my thumb – I knew I was scrolling too much.”
The joy of separation
From her home in Mallorca, she found that the physical separation has helped her cope with the feeling of overwhelm as the book The Accidental Influencer came out. Being able to create a divide between her and the spotlight has been crucial for her mental wellbeing.
“I’m lucky because I live in Mallorca and spend a lot of time in nature easily. I do lots of hiking and swimming in the sea. I realise this is so far from what my life used to be. I am in Spain. No one knows who I am. No one cares. You’re in the Guardian, but no one reads it. It’s separate, and it’s not a big deal.”
Despite the pressure of being in the spotlight, Bella has appreciated the positive feedback from readers and teenagers. “It’s amazing to know that anyone’s reading and connecting with your work, especially because it’s a cautionary tale. It’s something that we need to concentrate on in teenagers especially.”
She recently worked in schools talking to children and parents about the issue. “Talk to your kids about this – there has to be a reason why one in five kids wants to be an influencer. They need to know that it’s not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Honestly, for me, it’s quite dangerous.”
How can you find the positives from such a vulnerable and challenging journey? “I learnt to have boundaries and to say no. A million people can be screaming at you telling you that they love you, but if you don’t love yourself (cliche as it is), it’s not going to penetrate. If you’re surrounding yourself with this feeling of inadequacy, no amount of strangers is going to change that. You’ve got to look within, as cringy as it sounds. You’ve got to do the inner work. I’ve had a lot of therapy, can you tell?”
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My name is Fab Giovanetti and I am a writer, author, marketing consultant, founder of the Creative Impact Group and professional troublemaker. I help people grow their online audience and monetise their content and unleash their potentials as creatives.