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For anyone not immersed in the world of #sponcon, the power of Instagram celebrities to sell trends is not a well understood phenomenon. The Guardian interviewed a bevy of young women making their living with selfies and social media, and it seems terrifying from both their perspective and ours.

After an obligatory reference to Susan Sontag and the use of the camera to construct a life, the piece dives into the experiences of the women immersed in turning their daily existence into #content. Most of them say they got into Instagram casually before realizing their potential to make money, and their photos usually connect to their interests in beauty and fashion. They also openly admit to selling stuff through their accounts, though generally insist they don’t sell anything they don’t approve of.

Jayde Pierce, who is identified as a beauty and lifestyle Instagrammer, has almost one million followers. Pierce says she tests products before accepting paid post gigs, and that the job has allowed her to make her own schedule and income. The downside of this, as it is for most of these women, is being targeted for abuse.

Pierce says:

Instagram can be stressful. People assume this job is really easy but it’s hard work and as much as there are advantages there are also disadvantages. If you do everything yourself it’s very time consuming. I film and edit all my own YouTube videos and mini Instagram videos. I create content every day (with the help of my partner taking the photos), attend meetings and events, test out products, plan everything. I had a baby six months ago and have just moved into a new home, so I juggle quite a lot in life.

But I’m grateful I’m in a job like this. The main disadvantage for me would be the internet hate and getting judged for everything you do 24/7. People feel like they can tell you how to live your life. It’s very frustrating.

Alice—who goes by her first name only—has been accruing followers since high school, and has found that her level of fame sometimes surprises people outside of that social media world. She also addresses how disproportionately white the women featured by beauty brands tend to be, and how she’s been able to discover influencers who are women of color on YouTube. It’s gotten a bit easier since she started her career.

It’s actually been really recent that I’ve found myself following more brown girls and been really inspired by them and how connected they are to their cultures and background and heritage. I’m really pushing myself to get into that and also reflect that in my makeup. I really want to do more stuff connected to my parents and my background. But in terms of YouTube there is actually a big gap where there aren’t many brown YouTubers. And that’s motivated me to do more.

Ama Peters, who is a current student and lifestyle blogger, also discusses how her skin tone changes who approaches her to promote content. Her ambition is to break through brand stereotypes about who buys what sorts of products. She also says some very unsettling things about how little people understand about what they’re seeing on their timeline:

We’re the influencers, but the people being influenced don’t have a clue, they think it’s real life. And that’s kind of dangerous. As an influencer, you have a responsibility to not exaggerate things too much. I feel like society is just a massive quest for influence in general. I just see myself as a content creator. It’s like if you work for an advertising agency, you get given a job and you create the content. This is the same, but you’re the content. I don’t take selfies for fun, I think about the best way to show off the product that I’m posting.

You can and should read the rest of these women’s observations here.