Katherine Ormerod
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Hi, everybody, and welcome. My name is Katherine Ormerod, and I'm a journalist, an author, and a social media influencer. Now, if you had told me that of the many things that make up my CV, it would be posting pictures of myself online that really pays my bills, when I left university, I would have probably laughed in your face because, let's be honest, it's quite ridiculous. How did I get here? is a question I ask myself quite, quite often, to be honest. But really, I think if we wind back and look at where the beginning of my career started, it was kind of a different planet. On the side of my university career, I was also working in fashion retail like a lot of other students. But I fully fell in love with the fashion industry itself and thought, when I graduated, that I might like to become a fashion journalist. So I enrolled on a master's programme at the London College of Fashion, up sticks to the capital, and started interning on a range of publications, including Sunday Times Style, Marie Claire, InStyle magazine, and at The Independent newspaper. Back then, office culture was quite different. When our editors wanted us to request a Fashion Week ticket for them, we had to use this thing called a fax machine. We were on our phones all day, but our mouth was at the receiver and those phones were attached to the desk. There was no Pinterest; there was no Instagram; there wasn't even Twitter. However, still quite a lot of money left in magazine publishing, which meant I had some insane experiences, like the time I sailed across the Côte d'Azur on the back of a yacht just to get a single picture. Or another instance when a brand flew me business class halfway across the globe just to spend seven minutes - and I timed her - with a designer. It was mad and bonkers, and it was a real ride. But it wasn't all glamour. (Laughs) 'The Devil Wears Prada' is actually not a work of fiction at all - it's a pretty accurate representation of what work culture was like on magazines in the noughties. Some of my editors were comically demanding. Once, one of them came over to my desk and unrolled the pair of socks that she was wearing, handed them to me, and asked me to handwash them for her in the communal loos and then use a hairdryer to dry them. I will never know why. It was also pretty poorly paid - and when I say 'pretty', I mean 'extremely'. I worked as a fashion intern for £50-a-week expenses for two years - and that was nine-to-nine, Monday to Friday, for under £3k a year. It was a really tough gig when you came from a 'normal person' background. Both my parents grew up in council houses, and I'm the first person in my family to get A levels, let alone go to university, so there wasn't exactly a trust fund waiting in the wings to tide me through. When I started my first 'proper' job - as in I was on staff - my first salary was £14,500, living in central London and working there too. By the time I was in my mid-30s as a senior editor on a national magazine, I was still earning well below the London average. Now, look, don't get me wrong - there are plenty of poorly paid jobs out there, and most of them, let's be honest, are offering the community slightly more important [inaudible] than mine. But it's pretty rare you would be paid so little to do a job which projects such an image of glamour, that expects you to be dressed head-to-toe in designer clothes every day, with a perfect blow-dry. The disparity between the fantasy of what everyone thought my life was and the reality of how I was actually living, in the end, got too much for me. My crunch moment came when I was 31. My husband had just left me, and I was in terrible debt. And I can remember, even though I was working 60-hour weeks, having to call my dad up to ask to borrow some money to get a tooth filling. I just felt like such a failure. And what made it all that much worse was that everyone I knew thought I was living this glamorous, exciting job, you know, and that I was a success as a person. I decided to make the break. I quit my job and embarked on a quest to find a way to carry on working in an industry I loved while being able to support myself. Now, in the midst of all this, the landscape had been changing dramatically. When I first started my final job on magazines, my editor told me to bin my BlackBerry and set up an Instagram account, and pretty soon, I'd attracted a few thousand followers, who all got to see the fantasy side of my life. They didn't get to see the divorce or the debt, and they definitely never saw my bad hair days. I set up a small digital agency to help brands create content for their social channels and their online channels and started to really invest time in growing my own Instagram profile. Soon, I became a small player in the social media economy. Now, apologies if you all know this, but for those of you who aren't big users of social media, this is how it works. Back in the day, a brand would have had a certain amount of advertising and marketing budget, which would have been divvied up across traditional channels of advertising like billboards and television and magazines - things that we all kind of understood. These days, a good percentage of that budget goes to people like me. And the reason is that as we built our platforms, we have gained the trust of our followers, and that trust translated into influencing their purchasing decisions. It is pretty effective. In fact, what social media has done is turbocharged the power of word-of-mouth recommendation. Now, don't get me wrong - you can lose the trust of those followers pretty quickly. If tomorrow you log on to my Instagram account and I am suddenly advertising teeth-whitening strips, I accept that maybe you'll be leaving the day after. But at the beginning, what brands really wanted to do was to get to work with these influencers who had the highest proportion of followers. It was all about huge audiences and a total numbers game. The thing is, those accounts - the ones that got the most followers - were generally all pretty much the same, and they projected the same lifestyle: a wealthy, glamorous world in which nothing had ever gone wrong. It was a world that I was very, very au fait with, let's just say, coming from fashion magazines. My account followed that pattern, that kind of template, to a T. But after about a year of making my money that way, I don't know what it was, but I started to feel a deep sense of unease. I couldn't put my finger on it. My Damascene moment happened, ironically, in Tulum, Mexico, potentially the most Instagramable destination in the entire world. l was sitting on my sunlounger, trying to deal with a really tricky email from, let's call it, a 'challenging' client. In the background, I could hear one of my girlfriends on the end of the phone to her factory, dealing with a significant production issue. To my left was yet another mate who was going through the most brutal break-up. To my right, another friend who was dealing with some pretty serious family trauma. All of us were dealing with something either on a professional or personal level. And then I looked at the pictures we were all posting. I bet you can imagine what they looked like: sunsets, cocktails, pictures of us all together, living our best life in designer bikinis. And something inside me just burst. I felt like I wanted to scream 'This is not real life! None of these girls are this goddamn happy the entire time!' On that trip, I decided that if I was going to carry on making my money this way, I was also going to have to start talking about the other side of my life too. I was going to write about my divorce, I was going to write about my debt and my eating issues and my fertility issues, and I was going to ask every woman that I knew in both magazine and social media worlds to do the same too. On the day that I set up workworkwork.co, I received about 50 emails. The next day, there was another 50 in my inbox, and it continued for weeks. And broadly, all of the messages said exactly the same thing, and that was 'Thank God someone said something.' The relief was palpable. And don't get me wrong. it wasn't easy, you know, telling everybody that you're, like, quite poor after you've been creating this image of 'glamorous globetrotter' for 10 years - let's be honest, it's a bit awkward. But it also felt so good to be honest. As I was doing the interviews for the website, one theme kept cropping up time and time again, and that was the psychological impact of viewing so many images of perfection all day, every day. And this was a universal situation - it didn't matter where these people came from, it didn't matter how much they had. Over my time on social media, it's made me feel many things: unattractive, overweight, stupid, and seriously devoid of a sense of humour. It's made me feel lonely; it's made me feel really unpopular; it's made me feel poor but also that I should be spending money that I actually didn't have. Ultimately, it fueled my insecurities. But this isn't a niche issue. And the more and more I spoke with other women, the more and more I understood that we all feel the same. And that's why I decided it was really time to tackle this problem head-on. Four months ago, I released my book, 'Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life', and you may say 'biting the hand that feeds' - I've heard it. (Laughs) But equally, I managed to interview international influencers with a following of over 10 million, academics, researchers, psychoanalysts, therapists, plastic surgeons. And all the evidence, in a highly abbreviated nutshell, pointed into the same direction: if we continue to use social media the way we have been, we will seriously jeopardise our future health and happiness. Don't get me wrong - there were some fantastic stories about social media as well, you know, and as humans, it's the way we use technology rather than technology being necessarily nefarious. For myself, social media has enabled me to continue working while looking after my little boy. It's meant that I have found this holy grail of working in fashion while being able to support myself. Importantly, it's meant that I will never wash another woman's pair of socks. But if we do not change both our mindset and our behaviour - this obsessive comparison, soul-destroying envy, passive social media use - you'll recognise it - the stalking, the creeping, the lurking - we and generations following us will continue to be feeling these feelings of deep insecurity. To underline the point, I went back through my social media feed and started reposting pictures where I'd looked happy as Larry, but actually, my world had been falling apart behind the scenes. I posted pictures of myself where I'd been in beautiful hotel rooms, but actually, I'd just been dumped in that hotel room. I posted pictures of myself where I was on these dreamy holidays that look so fantastic, but I'd actually spent the whole time in a pit of despair, thinking about the state of my thighs. I posted pictures where I'd just had morning sickness off-camera; I posted pictures where I'd just had a row with my boyfriend; and I told those true stories. And beside each picture, I used the hashtag #whysocialmediaisruiningyourlife. Soon, other women started posting similar images in solidarity. A few days later, Sky News got in touch, and then the newspapers and magazines followed, and it went wild. This time when my inbox was inundated, it was a lot of parents saying that they'd used the campaign to show their kids the difference between the lived life and the online life. But there were also lots of messages from people that I knew who said that they'd had literally no idea what I was going through and that I'd really made them look at social media in a different light. Now, today, social media still pays my mortgage, but I now understand that I have the power to effect change and not just send people to their next pair of shoes. Don't get me wrong - there's absolutely nothing wrong with that fantasy. You know, magazines - they changed the entire trajectory of my future. As a teenager looking at them, they were everything. But we need to ground our expectation of reality, of what real life will be like, in the nitty-gritty of what real life is actually like. Otherwise, the Monday-morning commute, the inevitable break-ups, the awful financial struggles that we all go through, the emotional challenges, which, let's be honest, are just part and parcel of a life - they start to feel unbearable. We start to believe that we are the only ones who suffer while the rest of the world swings their Gucci handbag nonchalantly by as they go by on their busy, perfect lives. Everyone has demons, no matter how many followers, no matter how much money you have. And whether you communicate that online or not, they're still there. So you can't use social media to judge how anyone's getting through anything. Let me give a final example. Every time I post a picture of myself online, I'll probably have taken a hundred images. I choose one picture to put up - normally the most flattering - and you get to see a 1% glimpse of one moment of my day. You have no idea what's going on in my head or my heart. I could have just been sick; I could have just been dumped; I could have just lost my job. So don't let those 1% images affect the way you feel about your real life - the one that you're living beyond the squares and screens. Thank you so much. (Applause)