Can you be a christian fashion influencer?
JUDY LEE | JULY 24, 2019 | 5 MIN READ
The term “influencer” has surged with the rise of social media. Companies have taken over platforms like Instagram by sponsoring popular bloggers, who have the chance to make money and gain followers through brand collaborations and #ads.
Can Christians be a part of this influencer world? We all know there isn’t a guide on how to be a “godly Instagram influencer” in the Bible. So what should we do?
As someone who’s involved in the Instagram fashion scene, I’ve often wondered how far I should go with it. There are already Christians who are part of this Instagram fashion influencer community (see: @kristinjohns, @courtneymichelle) who actively promote their faith as well as their fashion and lifestyle.
At the same time, Instagram also grew my pride and addiction to internet shopping. I’ve been convinced to buy something I saw on Instagram more than once or twice. The deeper I fell down the rabbit hole of Instagram feeds, the harder it was to surface and remember that a) I wasn’t a 100K+ famous influencer who could afford this spend-throw-repeat lifestyle, and b) this wasn’t the lifestyle I should be living as a Christian.
To help answer my dilemma, I interviewed two Christian “influencers” of the Instagram community, one current and one former, to ask them about their experiences.
Sally Kim (@sallykim7) has more than 11,700 followers on Instagram for her fashion and lifestyle posts. For her, Instagram is an outlet to “showcase the things and people I love,” she said.
Sally’s social media presence started out as a personal interest in fashion. Being an influencer was never her goal. Instead, she wanted to use Instagram as a platform for creative outflow.
“As I got more interested in fashion in high school, I started posting more about my outfits and it kind of just happened, very slowly and organically,” she said. “It was kind of like a ripple effect — you start to get more followers, more people are able to find your account, you get more followers.”
Because of this, Sally’s Instagram is not just about promoting a brand or a lifestyle. It’s a combination of pictures of her personal life and fashion-related content.
“I like to post about people, experiences, food, outfits — everything I love,” she said. “I don't plan to ever have a pure fashion or ‘influencer’ account, so it doesn't seem to make sense to make a new account to make that separation, and I don't want to lose all 8 years of memories on that social media outlet.”
In other words, Instagram is a way for Sally to preserve memories as well as creatively express her personal style through her OOTD’s (Outfit Of The Day).
Still, Sally’s Instagram habits weren’t immune to criticism.
“Social media is often a common pastor analogy of idolatry, so I think people subconsciously tend to judge those who are very active on social media. Admittedly I did struggle with self-image and fear of man a lot growing up, so I always have to take a step back and reflect,” she shared. “I definitely had instances where people judged me for my account before meeting me, but this happens inside and outside the Christian community — I personally never felt judged within the church,” she said.
Perhaps the motivation for why you become an influencer is key: If your intent is to become famous and gain followers, social media might be an idol. But if you’re just truly passionate about sharing your style, ultimately don't find your identity in it, and show gratitude and humility towards God, the giver of the gifts in your life, then it can be a hobby and a creative medium like any other.
But what happens if it becomes your identity?
Sarah Kim, formerly known as @n0bigdeal, was an active Instagrammer with almost 3,000 followers. Just before hitting the 3,000 mark, however, she chose to quit Instagram as a public presence and only posted on a private account.
Looking back on her time as an influencer, Sarah said, “I don’t think I had quite the scale of influence, but I believed myself to be someone who documented her sense of fashion for the public to see.”
Like Sally, Sarah began her Instagram with a personal interest in fashion. As her presence grew, however, her interactions with the public grew more and more intentional and all-encompassing.
“As someone who deeply appreciates inner circles, it was very new and almost unwanted at first. Who are these random people looking at my content? But I realized that being a fashion Instagrammer in and of itself requires publicity,” she said. “How can you have an influence or a presence if you're so closed off to who looks at your content? I made a few Instagram fashionista friends but most of the friendship consisted of commenting and liking mutually.”
Sarah herself never felt criticism or judgment from her Christian peers for her love of fashion. But the standard of public appearance and the need to constantly portray an outwardly perfect lifestyle was a big struggle. So it wasn’t people, but rather her own conviction from God that led her to eventually quit the influencer life.
“It definitely hindered my faith. I was so self-centered,” she said. “Being a fashionista on Instagram literally drove my life. Every day I would wake up and wonder which outfit I would wear that was worthy of a picture. Then everywhere I went, whoever I was with, I would plan how I could get the best picture for that outfit.
“Say I'm at Venice Beach with my friends to have a good time. I would constantly worry about where to get a good picture and who to ask. And if I got a good picture? I’d most likely be going through all of them and editing them while I was with my friends.
“That wasn’t the end of it. I'd look at these pictures over and over no matter how similar they looked. Posting time would actually get me excited and I would watch the likes pour into my notification center. By then I’d officially spent half (if not all) of my day focused on my post.
“As I grew more intimate with God, I saw the strongholds I had with self-image. I also had strongholds on how others perceived me. God was calling me to worship Him and Him alone. I do believe that this world of fashion influencers has a place for missions. But unless God has refined you well to be Him-centered, I believe it is more harmful than helpful for individuals.”
In Sarah’s struggles, I see my own issues of self-image and obsession reflected back. Her last words hit me the most — knowing whether something is within your sphere of influence or simply your personal aspiration is vital.
I believe influencers with fewer followings can often get more stuck in this rut of posting not for your audience, but to fill a need for yourself. My reason for posting wasn’t to genuinely provide content for my followers but to satisfy my own need for affirmation. Like Sarah, I let Instagram become a self-gratifying idol. I wasn’t using it to glorify God, and I was becoming consumed by it.
The difference I see between a worldly obsession and a mission field in Instagram is allowing yourself to be led in faith. For Sally, followers and likes came naturally through her personal interest in fashion. She also does not center her life around her posts, but rather posts to highlight moments from her life that bring her joy — ultimately glorifying God who blesses her with these moments.
Motivation and state of heart are the keys. I do believe there’s a place for Christians in the influencer world, like any other secular industry. It’s a matter of whether God calls you to be one or not. Just as we shouldn’t try to be a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer out of our own desires, we shouldn’t try to be an influencer. We should humbly accept the role if God delivers it to us. If God wants you to have followers, He’ll make it happen.
Judy Lee is a English Writing major at Biola University. She serves for the Youth Ministry at New Life Presbyterian Church of Orange County, and is a lover of all things Shane & Shane, iced coffee, Asian food, and the color peach. She is currently working on her first novel. Her fashion blogs and writing can be found on her Instagram and website, The Urban Royal.