The Fantasy of Elevated Daily Lives Is What Keeps Us Hooked to Influencer Routine Videos
There’s a better way to do everything, including wake up and go back to sleep.
When writer Annie Dillard said that “a schedule defends from chaos and whim,” what comes to mind is perhaps the daily routines of great writers, artists, scientists, actors and more — who still remain an immense source of intrigue, logging, and hackneyed emulation. Joan Didion, for instance, always takes an hour before dinner to review her work and Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 am to write for six hours.
Though the routine exists as a form of utility, it is also a personality marker for traits like discipline, hard work and the potential for success. Due to this, having a routine in itself becomes something to aspire to, rather than the means to achieve aspirations. Keeping up with a famous scientist’s routine is awe-inducing enough to temporarily forget about what it leads to. With the advent of more public documentation of productivity and success, the result is irrelevant, and the temporary journey towards the result is now content.
While previously, routines of the famous and successful were gleaned from letters, biographies and interviews, the more recent purveyors of showcasing routines are influencers — beautiful, young, well-off individuals self-employed as full-time tastemakers for their target audiences. Specifically morning and night routines, in which each influencer takes us through elaborate routines of what they do in the morning after waking up, or at night before going to bed. Since the myth of the lifestyle economy is that there are boundless, perfect ways to live our lives — influencers have found boundless perfect ways for human beings to carry out their most basic routines — from washing their faces to what they eat for breakfast.
While there’s no doubt these routines are idealistic and almost pointless in their perfection (who cares about what you do when you wake up or go to sleep, truly?), they’re absolutely riveting. The audience for these routines is aware of the above too — a scroll down the comments section of every ‘routine’ post is a barrage of self-effacing humor. “I am gonna quit my job in order to have this kind of morning,” typed one Youtube commenter. “If I do this every morning, it would take me the whole day, and by the time I’m done it would be night again, then go to sleep and repeat,” added another. A personal favorite, in response to an influencer who liked to take a minute to breathe in the city’s air from his high-rise apartment, was, “Imagine standing on your balcony at 7 am and seeing your neighbor standing on his balcony right beside you aggressively breathing air.” But, the question remains — why are these routine videos so much fun to watch, if we all know they’re not realistic?
To understand why, let’s rewind back a bit to the origins of the filmed routine. Many a frothy, romantic comedy has utilized a routine to introduce a protagonist; fromClueless to Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham. The audience then utilizes this routine to make an inference about the protagonist. In both the above examples, the characters Cher and Pooh are both introduced as young, fashionable, popular women by virtue of their routine’s extensive focus on a beautiful appearance. In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman’s intricately detailed fitness and skincare routine ends with him calling it all an illusion set in place to hide his psychopathy — it is the ultimate performance of a routine.
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There are two aspects to routine videos that draw us to them in particular — physical perfection and productivity. While aesthetics are an overarching theme, it is these two facets that human beings often doubt in themselves and what influencers excel at depicting on camera.
What sets apart a morning or a night routine from the other methods of marketed perfection, is that it is the most inaccessible, volatile method to be perfect. Thus, it is the best way to showcase one’s social standing — which is the accessibility to levels of perfection. Cher, Pooh, and Bateman are all well off individuals who can afford to keep up an expensive routine — so are influencers. Nobody is physically capable of waking up with excellent skin, keeping the perfect diet or doing an entire bath-and-skin-care routine after coming home deathly tired every single day. For young people, eating dinner before hitting the bed is a day well spent; brushing one’s teeth before bed is often a miracle. What keeps us rapt in attention as an influencer describes the many ways a new sleeping mask changed their life, is the idea of a modern fairytale life — of stability and elevated mundanity.
Influencers making these videos often have delightfully done up rooms and homes, spotless skin, attractive pajamas and an array of skin and bath products. Their routines always hold the same skeletal structure as everyone’s morning and night routines, only done better. Rather than an alarm, some wake to the sun streaming upon their faces; rather than merely brush and bathe, they add in excess skin maintenance; rather than cereal and milk, they make fruit salads. Beyond common routines like brushing and bathing, they also add steps; there is meditation, there is an exercise routine, there are various forms of journaling — planning, to-do lists, gratitude, dream, name it and it exists. Naturally, additional steps exist to open potential sponsorship opportunities or to merely add more to the white space surrounding leaving the bed and returning to it.
As routine videos pile on to Youtube, each more expertly shot than the last — they also often lose touch with reality. Sometimes, an influencer picks out a fresh lemon from her lemon tree each morning; sometimes another takes cold showers daily to activate ‘beast mode.’ Some often like to take themselves less seriously, making more relaxed, realistic routines or straight-up American Psycho-esque parodies.
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Yet, there’s a case to be made for how fun it can be to watch a routine video, especially to unwind. One can forgive the influencer their excesses for the time and energy they spend to creative direct attractive, often even motivating piece of content. One can also forgive them the need to document their perfect lives — for all of us are party to documenting the beauty in our own. This isn’t influencer apologia — it’s just routine apologia. We all want to be seen as people who can keep a routine — especially a good routine. This want makes an influencer document it, encouraging the assumption that this is a ‘daily’ routine rather than maybe a one-off, and this makes individuals consume it –knowing that it’s unrealistic, but fancying ourselves in their shoes anyway.
While the illusion of stability and mundanity might elude us because of work/family/life/stress/drama, maybe we could benefit from being ‘influenced’ into a meditation routine or a healthy diet. If not that, then at least we get a long, hearty laugh at the dramatics of it all.
Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.