Accidental Influencer Deliciously Stella On Why Social Media Was Ruining Her Mental Health

'Chasing Likes Left Me Feeling Empty And Worthless', says Bella Younger.

Deliciously Stella

by Grazia |

She went viral satirising influencers, but then Bella Younger inadvertently became one of them – and soon the pressure to get more ‘likes’ was ruining her mental health

I have always longed to be an enigma. The kind of person who never complains, never explains. Someone who men would longingly describe as ‘mysterious’. Instead, I’m a chronic oversharer, a class clown, a hyperbolist, that person who can make a story about being shat on by a pigeon into an epic quest that led them to the very pub in which they recount their tale.

In short, I’m an attention-seeker, which made me really, really good at Instagram. Before I went viral on the platform, my personal account had only 200 followers. I didn’t feel like the ’Gram was built for people like me – people who took pictures of dogs and socks and wouldn’t dream of showing off their eyebrows or abs. At the time, I was working as a researcher in food TV, checking out the clean eating phenomenon to see if any of these newly minted ‘wellness warriors’ would make good TV.

I recoiled at their suggestions of vegetables in puddings and various spurious ‘dusts’. I decided to parody them to make my boss laugh, starting a new Instagram account called Deliciously Stella. Within weeks it had taken off, growing to thousands of followers. Within a few months, I had quit my day job to be funny online full-time. Sooner than I could have imagined, I was being gifted with freebies, making sponsored content and filling my days with press trips and parties. I had accidentally become an influencer.

At first, being an influencer was a hoot. I had people telling me how funny I was all the time, I didn’t have to work at a desk and I had more free brownies than I could eat. Quickly, though, the pressure to outperform my last post started to catch up with me. It became harder and harder to think of new jokes. Each post that got fewer likes than the one before it felt like a failure. It could only be a matter of time before people decided the joke was no longer funny. It soon became clear to everyone but me that being on social media all the time was damaging my mental health.

‘But I’m so lucky!’ I would cry to my parents when they suggested I go back to ‘normal’ work. ‘People would kill to be an influencer!’ I’d wail, before covering my face with barbecue sauce and slapping on a smile to make a joke about contour. I was convinced that the likes and follows were the only thing that made my life worthwhile. I had learned to measure my self-worth with an app and I couldn’t see a way out.

At my lowest, I entered the Priory, where I was treated for insomnia and stress. While there, I even staged a photo shoot with some party rings to make a joke about ‘hole foods’. I knew that I needed to break free from my social media, but by then it was my career, my identity.

Despite the damage I knew my career was doing to my mental health, there was always something that stopped me from leaving.

I had a book/show/article that needed promoting. I’d be offered an unfathomable amount of money to make a joke about yogurt. I was trapped playing a character online that had seeped into my real life. I was no longer certain where Bella finished and Stella began. I was starting to become my internet presence in my real life.

Ironically, the decision to quit came while enjoying the pinnacle of my success.

I was on a press trip in LA with Universal Studios. I’d been treated to free flights, free meals, free booze and free handbags, and yet I felt empty, vapid and undeserving. I’d finally realised that it wasn’t free when it came at the cost of my self-worth. I’d lost sight of the original purpose of my account, which was to satirise the aspirational lies we were being fed on Instagram. I could no longer feed the beast. I needed out.

Of course, leaving Instagram wasn’t as simple as quitting and going cold turkey. It made up most of my income, was my only means of promoting my creative projects and was the most successful thing I had ever done. Instead, I decided to try and embrace moderation. First, I stopped my quest to be ‘on brand’, posting authentically as myself for the first time. I accepted that I wouldn’t be getting as many likes and that people would unfollow me.

At first this felt like exposure therapy – like telling a joke at Wembley without getting a single laugh. But, as I started writing more and working with brands on their social media strategies, I found that I felt much less pressure behind the scenes. Eventually, I trained myself not to pause for applause – after posting, I would delete the Instagram app for an hour to stop me from frantically checking. I started scrolling with intention, in blocks of time that I’d set aside specifically for it, or when I needed a piece of information. I refused to compare myself to others, taking myself out of the popularity rat race to count my real-life blessings.

Now, when people unfollow me in their droves, I know that it isn’t the real me they’re unfollowing. It’s a character I used to play, who I was always in control of. I feel like I’ve got my life back.

Bella’s book, ‘The Accidental Influencer: How My Need To Get Likes Nearly Ruined My Life’ (£14.99, HarperCollins) is out now

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