Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
I can splurge on fake lashes, shoes and overpriced handbags, but you haven’t seen me more upset than when I have to pay more than 12 bucks for a can of tuna. My life goes from eating canned tuna three days in a row to eating caviar canapés at a blogger event. It’s called balance. It is also called living by my one rule in life: don’t spend good money on food when you can buy clothes and shoes instead.
My golden rule worked fine for the broke years of my blogging life, but now every other blogger is posting pictures of their food and it may or may not be a fetish, but people love seeing what their favourite bloggers eat. But hell am I going to pay R80 for a smoothie bowl. Yoghurt, fruit and seeds for R80? I REFUSE.
They say desperation is the mother of innovation. I don’t know who said it, but I heard it on some phony YouTube inspiration video. Whatever. You get the point. Which is why I believe in banking food pictures. Don’t you dare judge me! People won’t want to see my canned tuna and whatever limp veggies my flatmates have in the fridge for days on end. They want to see perfectly styled pictures of food with a lipstick randomly sitting on the table and the menu sticking out on the other side.
That perfectly styled fine-dining experience to appease my viewers is going to cost me a good R500 and I am still going to be hungry and go home to a can of tuna. So, I go early to blogger events and take a million pictures of the food and store them to post later.
Then on the rare occasion I do go out, I make sure to take pictures of my food and the food of random strangers sitting around me. I am that person that smiles at a stranger sitting next to me at a restaurant and asks, “Hi, can I take a picture of your food for my social media?”Most of the time people are too confused to say no.
At a healthy breakfast place in the arty bit of Rosebank called Milora, the waiters know me now and call me to take pictures of the food before they even serve it. No one said being a millennial influencer was all glamour, honey!
I basically order one coffee when I am there and sit there for five hours stealing the WiFi. Our home WiFi cannot cope with uploading videos so a girl has to make a plan. And by making a plan I mean connecting to Milora’s office WiFi after sweet-talking Lawrence, my favourite waiter.
I sit amidst the overpriced single-origin coffee beans which are, of course *insert high-pitched twang* sustainably sourced, and I drink tap water. Before you come at me, we live in Johannesburg; there is no difference between boujee bottled water and what comes out of the tap. Even if there is, I am not paying hard-earned money for water!
When you’re sitting with a MacBook and wearing something cute with your headphones in, no waiter is going to come and interrupt. And when they try to, Lawrence deals with them. He even sneaks extra lemon and poppyseed muffins to me for free — well, mainly because nobody buys those muffins — but whatever. It’s a sweet gesture.
In exchange, once a week I post a picture of my MacBook, iPhone, lipstick and coffee and tag Milora. I used to feel bad but hell, I give them so much free advertising. I’ve also met SO many of my followers here because they know I post from here on Friday afternoons.
Although they don’t know that I am here every other weekday morning too. I should really email the owners and ask to collaborate.
If you are over the age of 40, you’re probably raising your eyebrows wondering why a girl who posts pictures on the internet would collaborate with a coffee shop.
Firstly, aunty, leave your judgment at the door.
Secondly, collaboration is the fancy way of forcing people to buy things by putting my name on it and getting a minute cut in return. Or even just free things in return. A girl can’t be fussy.
I often think that I am the modern-day salesperson who used to stand in the middle of the mall trying to sell you a massage chair or Dead Sea cosmetics. But now I am in your phone, sharing my ridiculously fabulous life so that you can buy what I tell you to. Listen, it pays the bills. Well, mostly.
Actually, I must not be so self-hating. I actually love this job. I am passionate about content creation. Okay, maybe passionate is a strong word but I enjoy what I do.
So, obviously, I had to take some good pictures of the pizza we ordered at Ansies 24 last night and post it after a good round of editing.
@MaariahMeans: Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about finding pizza.
#PizzaForLife #Pizza #MidnightSnacks #WhoNeedsBoysWhenYouHavePizza #FatLife
I obviously tag Firdaus on my post because she was with me, and without her I probably would have had to walk home in heels while starving.
She was quick to comment. “Midnight pizza is life! It was so good, friend!”
Yes, I spoke to her for the first time IRL yesterday and now we are best friends. I’m kidding, but I am not.
Now her followers and my followers go crazy that their favourite bloggers are suddenly besties. On a serious note, I think I could be real friends with Firdaus. I mean, I don’t have that many friends but she seems genuine and we have a good vibe.
Once my free pizza post was uploaded and began getting some seriously good engagement, I decide to hook up my laptop for some serious Netflixing this weekend. My plan is to chill in bed and snack on the stuff I snuck from the party I went to last night. I got a ton of macaroons, some wafers and a handful of chocolates. Yes, I stuffed it all in my handbag. No, I am not embarrassed (only because nobody saw me).
As I get into bed I make a mental note of what content I would be posting on my social media this weekend. Today, which is Saturday, I have the pizza post and a selfie I took at the launch event. For tomorrow, I have a banked coffee picture and a paid ad flat lay for a new face mask company. They didn’t pay me much for the advert but Nabeela was sure they will give us more paid gigs as the brand gets bigger.
I listen to Nabs’ financial advice but never her fashion advice. She wears dad jeans all day every day with slogan t-shirts. She dresses like a middle-aged dad. Nabs doesn’t give a hoot about fashion. But when it comes to making money, she knows her stuff. She took my blog from making a random R2 000 a month to being able to leave my job and earn about R21 000 now.
But I had to get super disciplined and focused. Nobody likes working with an unprofessional blogger. We plan content ahead of time and I have to be consistent. There is nothing spontaneous or random about my posts.
Every look I post on my blog is planned and we get Simmi to shoot the looks in a way that it’s magazine quality. Simmi is a journalist for the Sunday Times but as a creative outlet, she dabbles in photography.
At first, Nabs suggested we pay a freelancer but it wasn’t making any financial sense. The thing about being an influencer is that there is no set income. One month you can make R40 000 from a campaign and the next month you can barely make ends meet. So, because photography is mostly a hobby for Simmi, we have a set fee we pay her as part of our expenses.
At first, I used to post pictures taken with my iPhone but Nabs was adamant that the only way you can make serious money from blogging is if your images and content are shot professionally. “Nobody will invest in you if you don’t invest in yourself,” is her go-to line.
I keenly follow international bloggers who maintain a high standard for their content and I can see how it pays off. Of course, they earn millions of dollars and live in mansions, though.
The motto of Maariah Means is ‘quality, engaging, and chilled’.
I try to keep things as real as possible because I know my followers are not people who can afford Dior and Chanel. And honestly, the luxury-goods influencer market is saturated. Yes, some high-end brands still send me press drops but I don’t get the fancy international holidays and sponsored trips to New York Fashion Week. That is on my bucket list, BTW. Although I need to get a passport first before even thinking about NYC.
Nabs is strict when it comes to work ethic and deadlines. If an ad is paid for and we agree to post it on a certain day, she doesn’t care what has come up. What I lack in discipline, Nabs makes up for it.
Her goal is to build a network of influencers under her wing. For now, we are in a 60/40 agreement in terms of profit share but soon we will have to change our agreement now that she’s started managing more people.
She took a gamble on me and I took a gamble on her when she started managing me. I think she was just fed up with her job for a marketing agency where they believed in the archaic way of promoting brands. Despite the evidence to the contrary, some PR people still undervalue social-media marketing and their influencer budget is usually a fraction of what they pay for spreads in traditional media like magazines.
Who even buys magazines these days?
Initially, I was very worried about moving in with Nabs after she started managing me, but somehow we have solid boundaries. Business is business. I needed a place to stay and she and Simmi wanted to pay less rent, so we converted the sunroom into my bedroom.
The house has a quaint old charm to it but with Nabs’ chronic cleaning tendencies, it’s always spotless. Simmi, on the other hand, is unbelievably untidy. Like, frat boy untidy. On any given day, you will find half the clothes she owns on the floor of her room. You may even find a mountain of newspapers too.
So back to my Netflix options. I am torn between watching old Gossip Girl episodes or even older episodes of Gilmore Girls. I know whatever I choose it’s going to be a binge-fest and I am not going to leave my bed all weekend unless I really have to. As I mull the very serious decision of which series to watch, I log onto Instagram to check how my pizza post was doing — also because I am addicted to Instagram. My fingers literally twitch if I don’t log on for a while. Yes, it’s my job, but I never leave work. I see five direct messages. When I started out, I would respond to every DM I got but now it’s impossible with the number of people sending me messages every day. I usually just scroll through them and respond to the nice ones. Obviously, my inbox gets full of perverts who send me inappropriate pictures. I could write a book on the cheesy pickup lines I get. Gosh, and the million ‘Are you Muslim?’ messages I get all day.
I used to get so offended but now the block function is my friend.
A message from @Adil_ZA catches my eyes.
“So only Firdaus and Ayesha get a shout out for the pizza?”
It takes me a minute to get it.
“Haha. Thank you.”
I can’t say I wasn’t hoping he slides into my DMs. Obviously, I have to Insta-stalk him at that moment. It’s 2019, how else do we get to know people? Also, my social media stalking skills are so good, the Hawks should hire me to catch corrupt politicians. SARS can hire me to go after shady businessmen.
For months after my divorce, I would stalk Ozayr’s girlfriend, but I was too cowardly to ever send her a message. Weirdly, I was actually happy for them when they eventually got married. Nabs says I have psycho tendencies. I am supposed to hate this girl because she ruined my life. But, to be honest, I don’t think my divorce ruined my life. Yes, it sucked! And it was hard to be thrown into the deep end, but honestly, staying in a loveless marriage would have really ruined my life. I was tested and I came out stronger than I have ever been. It could have been much worse. I could have had a child by then.
But back to Insta-stalking Adil. He seems to be into property and often refers to random buildings as his ‘baby’.
There doesn’t seem to be any love interest in his life, judging from his Instagram profile. He seems very, very serious. He does not have a single selfie on Instagram, and he seems to be very well-travelled.
The furthest I have been is to Cape Town, although I am all about the ‘wanderlust’ life. I am praying for the day I can post a basic AF picture of a flight ticket with the caption “Catching flights, not feelings”. Am I even an influencer without it?
So back to property guy. I decide to keep the exchange casual but friendly.
“That pizza was so good!”
God. I’m really bad at this. Nabs was shocked when I told her I’d never had a boyfriend in my life. I was introduced to Ozayr at my aunt’s house, he came to my house with his parents once and then we were engaged. I saw him a total of four times before our wedding day. And after my divorce, I focused on working, so I had no time to even think of dating. Yes, I entertained a few people who slid into my DMs but it never went anywhere.
“Yeah ... although you barely ate," he quickly hit back.
“It was past midnight!”
“Would you eat more in the daytime?”
“For sure.” “Shall we test this theory tomorrow?”
Is he being serious? Is he asking me out?
SIRI: How can I help you, Maria?
ME: Firstly, you can at least try to pronounce my name properly.
SIRI: I am listening...
ME: Is he flirting with me?
SIRI: I don’t know. You tell me.
ME: YOU ARE OF NO HELP, SIRI.
Sidenote: I desperately need to make real girlfriends. I don’t know what to say. Maybe I am reading the situation wrong. A bestie could help right now. That’s what Sex and the City taught us, at least.
“Haha. I can eat a whole pizza, without any help”.
“Game on. See you tomorrow at Ansies”.
Oh. He is serious.
“Are you for real?”
“Yeah. Unless you have something better to do?”
“No. I am in.”
“Pick you up at 1?”
Does he usually pick up girls via DM? I’ve never done this before. He looks too serious and good looking to be a stalker, right? He could be a stalker or the love of my life, but I am placing my bet on the latter.
Note to self: Every stalker psycho in movies is well dressed and good looking.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.