Digital Culture

Pretty Privilege in Publishing: When Instagram Meets Books

Image Credit: Cj Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Cara Lee

Being published is a huge achievement, and a career goal for many.  It’s notoriously hard to achieve, but there are four tried-and-tested methods which seem bulletproof – so if you’re struggling, take note.

1) Be pretty

Pretty privilege exists, accounting for a lot in this era of perfect online realities.  Instagram now seems to be embracing naturalness, rather than Kylie Jenner’s bee-sting-esque lips with Molly-Mae Hague affirming this change, documenting her  lip filler dissolving and dental journey on YouTube – which, combined, have over three million views.

Hague – young, white, blonde, and objectively pretty – is the epitome of marketable debut author.  Sure enough, last week Becoming Molly-Mae was announced.

The optimist within you is saying publishing isn’t this superficial and commodified.  Let me, then, introduce Florence Given, another young, white, blonde woman of Instagram, debut author of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty.

The title, dreamed up by another objectively pretty woman, is supposedly empowering, yet Given’s attempt to be “not pretty” is growing armpit hair, suggesting this is ugly, despite being natural.  The book is flawless for flatlays, but speaks to wider discourses. Given’s #girlboss feminism and Hague’s #hustleculture are both byproducts of capitalism: their approaches and work inherently exploit others.

2) Be 22

Youth is marketed as inspiring — and crudely, you have more time left for future publications. You’re a good investment.

But what can you really know of the world, at 22?  Apparently, everything! Hague’s debut is a memoir of how to “become” her, similar to Michelle Obama. Her story (being scouted for Love Island – not even having to apply) is money-oriented, constantly.  Recently, she admitted to participating in Love Island to “enhance her career”, but finding love perfectly concluded her fairytale.

Given positions herself as empowering. I can see why this character is believable – who would argue with the pretty woman on Instagram telling me I can do anything, if only I love myself?  But the content of her book is so basic that her youth shows: feminism has progressed, but her work hasn’t.

We must question why publishers use young women as spokespeople; they are inevitably controversial, yet the trend will continue.  As long as a writer is profitable, their wellbeing and occupation don’t matter.

3) Be blissfully ignorant of these two privileges

Molly-Mae’s recent announcement that “we all have the same 24 hours” implies that poor people are only poor by choice.  Luckily for her, fast-fashion brand Pretty Little Thing offered Hague a seven-figure sum to become Creative Director, a role she is wildly inexperienced and unqualified for. However, fame means guaranteed custom – and this is undoubtedly publisher Ebury’s motivation too.

Given’s introductory-level feminism, meanwhile, comes complete with pseudo-profound statements like “life is too short not to love the shit out of yourself” – well, obviously?  And who is she to say “it’s a wonderful day to dump him”?  Her being 22 at publication shows.  Revolving around sexuality, Given’s work neglects other struggles (like race and class) entirely, and, upon publication, there were accusations of Given profiting off Black feminists, such as Chidera Eggerue.

4) Have a big Instagram following

Need I say more?