Stuck in the Suburbs
midwestern influencers, snark communities, and my desire to run errands
I had my first pumpkin spice latte of the season last week. There was a slight chill in the air and I had been holding out for the correct vibes to warrant a trip to Starbucks. I waited for my drink along with all the teens who had just gotten out of school for the day, watching their complicated drink orders make their way out, one by one. Sipping my drink as I walked home, it almost felt like the perfect suburban afternoon.
I grew up in the Midwest, but didn’t try a PSL for the first time until adulthood. As a teenager, I would have never set foot in a Starbucks. I was reading Adbusters magazine and volunteering at my local anarchist bookstore. I probably would have written PSL consumption off as “basic” had the term existed back then.
This morning, I checked in on one of my favorite Midwestern influencers, Holley Gabrielle. She’s in her kitchen holding up a package of gluten-free pumpkin spice flavored waffles. A few slides later, she discusses a DIY project she did with some plastic pumpkin decorations for her front porch. She’s sitting on her couch in her modern farmhouse style home, messy bun in her hair, wearing a sweater with the words “Feeling Spicy” on it. She shares a Like To Know It link to the exact sweater a few slides later.
I’ve been following Holley since 2019. I first became acquainted with her after searching for the term “Hobby Lobby Haul” on YouTube. Her “Fall Home Decor Haul” video popped up and I was immediately sucked in. Holley’s channel was the exact type of content I was hoping would pop up—but usually never did—when I typed that phrase into the search bar. Finding Holley felt like coming home.
There’s something comforting about consuming Christian Girl Autumn-tinged media. It’s a longing for a lifestyle I brushed up against growing up but never fully experienced. Holley grew up in Iowa. I grew up in Indiana. She reminds me of girls I went to high school with. Girls who I felt I had nothing in common with, so much so that I actively rebelled against what I thought they stood for. Perhaps I watched too many teen movies or shows like Daria that emphasized the popular vs. outcast dichotomy and felt the need to embody that.
Holley was my gateway into the world of Midwestern influencers. Every time she mentioned an account I would follow them, hoping to find something familiar. I got as far as finding a popular influencer who grew up and still lived in my hometown with her former firefighter husband (he helps her make content now) and two daughters.
I watch them share recipes for Crockpot buffalo chicken dip, decorate their homes for each holiday, and run errands at Target. For a while, I had everyone’s Instagram stories muted except for my beloved Midwestern girlies.
I don’t look at their lives and pretend there’s a reality in which I could have ended up like them. We may have grown up side by side, but I’d always fail at getting their gestures just right. Teenage me would probably resent their success on the Internet, feeling like my space to finally “be myself” was being encroached upon. What would Jung have to say about all of this?
My passive consumption of these influencer’s lives is my attempt at bottling a feeling. The popularity of aesthetics like Cottagecore during the pandemic, which emphasized “slow” and “simple” living, weren’t so different from my fantasy of suburbia. I have no desire to go live in the country, but I do want to go to a strip mall that has both a Michaels and a TJ Maxx.
There’s a safety in the distance between myself and these influencers. I know that we would never be friends, that we aren’t really on the same plane of existence. Our shared Midwestern and girlhood references bind us, but I’d never compare myself to them. There’s no threat to my ego. I’m amused and detached.
As someone who has had a very public online presence for the majority of my life, it was exciting to consume someone else’s very public online presence in private. That privacy often extended into “snark” communities online. These communities, which take place on Reddit, specialized forums like Guru Gossip, and private discord channels, are dedicated to discussing and mostly critiquing a particular influencer.
Occasionally, an online personality I followed would fail to meet my expectations and I’d search for their name on these forums to see if anyone else felt the same way. It turns out, a lot of people do, and they have a lot to say about it: they aren’t “relatable” anymore; they are fake; they only post sponsored content now; their marriage is headed for divorce; their couch has too many pillows on it. Some snark communities feel as active as actual fanbases. Every post is torn apart and seen through Bitch Eating Crackers colored glasses.
Suddenly, my morning ritual wasn’t just keeping up with the Midwestern influencers of the world, but also lurking their respective snark communities, consuming them from every angle. I was both an Internet anthropologist and just a girl delighting in some petty gossip. What lies at the root of it all—my own relationship to being spoken about anonymously online—is beyond the scope of this blog post. It wasn’t until I started going through some major changes in my own life that I stopped reading them.
Now, I only follow a select few Midwestern influencers. None of them live in the Midwest anymore. Unlike YouTubers who move to New York or Los Angeles for their careers, Midwestern influencers move to Texas or cities in the South.
46 minutes ago, someone commented on a snark subreddit dedicated to Holley Gabrielle.
“Also she looks SO pretty here! (Even with the chompers 😅). Although this is around the time I started disliking her cause she went totally off the rails post-breakup.”