Money and media: a look at how digital connections affect our spending

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Kourtney Kardashian

The Kardashian-Jenner sisters are notorious for promoting beauty product #ads on Instagram.

Money. What would we do without it? No, really. What would we do without it? How much money we have determines the food we eat, the transportation we take and the homes we live in—and a lot more than that.

According to CNN Money’s Jeanne Sahadi in 2016, the Congressional Budget Office announced that in 2013 the top 10 percent of families held 76 percent of all U.S. wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent shared just 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

While this is clearly an unjust distribution, how many are viewed by the rest of society is determined by how much money he or she has compared to others. With this comes a hierarchy of societal status often, though not always, conveyed as simply as by one’s outward appearance. Cue Cinderella and her stepsisters, sans helpful mice.

The more disposable income one has, the more likely he or she is able to use it on things such as hair care, gym memberships, the latest clothes and accessories, cosmetics and even plastic surgery, if the person should see fit. The less money one has, the less of a priority those things are likely to be, especially if one is just scraping by to afford the basics. Put simply, if one can’t afford groceries for the week, he or she is not likely to pick up the latest Kylie Jenner Lip Kit instead.

The Social Media Surge

Vain, narcissistic, egotistical: All words used to describe the social networking millennial generation—a generation that constantly keeps its followers on said social media updated with every last detail of the users’ lives.

We see workouts at the gym from all angles, outfits of the day in a variety of mirrors, new purchases, new hair—we have even coined a term for a close-up, self-taken photo. With this, a new type of celebrity has even risen: the social media celebrities who depict their seemingly fabulous lives with all of the model shots to prove it.

While it obviously isn’t fair to label these people as narcissistic—even those who post selfies every day—a path of exploration many wander down is whether or not social media breeds a higher prioritization of one’s physical appearance. But, if money weren’t an object, would social media have even grown in popularity at all? If money weren’t an object, gym memberships, outfits of the day, new purchases and new hair wouldn’t much exist, and then what would people post about?

This leaves us with a new question: Have social media and appearances become the latest way of asserting how much money one has? Has money brought our socially connected world to a new level of—dare I say—vanity?

Let’s take a closer look.

The hairdresser


Jenna Lupenec thinks we live in a vain world, and money has something to do with it.


Jenna Lupenec, 23, of Rochester, Michigan started doing hair when she was still in high school. Now a licensed hairdresser at Broadway Salon Studios, her average client spends about $120 per visit, coming in every four to six weeks for a visit—spending roughly $1,040 per year. Since her start seven years ago, Jenna has already begun to see a positive shift in her industry with the rise of social media.

“Everyone cares about—I mean, we live in a very vain world—but, when you’re seeing it, when you’re scrolling through Facebook, Instagram—it gives you more ideas on what you want to do, which also pushes people to do more,” Jenna Lupenec explains. “And, as far as the business in salons, I feel like for a really long time hairstylists weren’t looked at—like, you couldn’t make a lot of money being a hairstylist. That has changed a lot. And, that too comes from social media.”

With the surge of social media hair posts and societal status check-ins, however, comes the danger of clients wanting more than realistically possible, especially within their budgets.

“People look at people like Kylie Jenner. She changes her hair all the time. But, what people also don’t realize with that is that people have unrealistic expectations for a very normal person’s lifestyle. She spends thousands of thousands of dollars on her hair.”

On the other hand, some people are now more willing than ever to shell out whatever it takes to reach their #hairgoals.

“People see celebrities, all that, and so they definitely—I think people now are willing—like, I know stylists who charge just for color minimum $400. So, I know people who spend thousands. I know girls that—I mean, I’ve charged someone $800 for their hair before.”

Naturally, however, not all clients have those same means.

“I have clients that are willing to spend tons, and I have clients that I only—I used to work at a color-only salon and it was a little bit cheaper there because you’re not getting the blow-out, you’re not getting the cut, all that—so some of my clientele will still come from there so I kind of—I keep my prices lower for them because they’ve been loyal and all that, and I know those clients. Some of them—some of them can spend a little bit more—but they don’t want to have to spend $200 on their hair.”

The gym rat

According to iHRSA, in 2015 the global fitness industry totaled $81 billion in revenue. Michigan State alumna Brandi Stephens, 21, has had her gym membership at Planet Fitness in Okemos, Michigan for nearly four years. Spending $10 per month, Stephens says that, right now at least, she wouldn’t want to spend anymore than that for a membership.

Her motivation to join a gym was to avoid a sedentary lifestyle while in college. The reason many others join, however, Stephens doesn’t think is as genuine. While social media may encourage fitness in some ways, the fitness posts of girls in gyms wearing name brands such as Lululemon and Nike shouldn’t always be taken at face value.

“Just from my experience, I don’t really think people have memberships for the right reasons. I think a lot of people do it to have the body type that they want to have or to be super thin. Like, a lot of my friends work out just to look a certain way and they don’t eat healthy, they don’t stay hydrated—all that stuff,” Stephens explains. “I think that social media portrays this image that these girls have these very unrealistic body types and so I think it does make people want to work out to look that way, and they don’t even realize that these people are posed and probably before they’ve eaten anything for the day…they don’t look like that.”

As someone who is dedicated to health more so than recording her workouts in the gym, Stephens says that if her funds did get low enough, she wouldn’t need to pay for a gym to stay fit.

“I would give up my membership if I really, really had to for like bills or car payments, or whatever other financial priorities I have, but I would still continue to work out outside and just go for runs—things like that.”

The fashion design student


According to the Federal Reserve, as of April 2017 the U.S. has $1.54 trillion in circulation.

According to the United States Congress in a 2015 report, fashion is a $1.2 trillion global industry. According to the same report, more than $250 billion is spent annually on fashion in the U.S. Recent graduate of Dakota High School Julianna Lupenec, 17, of Macomb, Michigan has been pursuing her fashion ardor and designs for as long as she can remember.

“I honestly can’t remember a time I wasn’t in love with wearable art. It has always been a passion of mine. It may sound funny, but I think I was just born with the intense passion for fashion,” Julianna Lupenec says.

According to Julianna Lupenec, the effects of social media have touched even the stable and timeless world of fashion and design.

“Social media has influenced the fashion world because stores brand themselves in a way that makes girls feel like, ‘If you don’t get this dress or these shoes or something that is wildly popular right now, you’re not cool,” Julianna explains. “Once a fashion trend goes around Instagram or Twitter, everyone just has to have the item because it’s what everyone else is doing, and people tend to follow others.”

A concept that has always existed, yet has evolved with the rise of the Internet, Julianna says this heightened “you need it” syndrome does affect how people prioritize their spending.

“People spend so much money on labels because they are paying for that feeling of being cool or fitting in. Most of the time, they just want that moment when someone gushes over their bag just because it is Gucci or YSL.

“I think when people wear a high-end garment or label, they feel more elegant and extravagant. Especially if you are not from a social class that is used to labels and couture and you get to wear a dress that is thousands of dollars and makes you feel rich and confident. Once again, I believe this is why some people spend so much money on a couture piece: Because who wouldn’t want to feel like that?” Julianna Lupenec says.

Julianna Lupenec also affirms that, the more disposable income one has, the more likely one is to dispose of it on the things that matter to his or her social circle, regardless of posting it on social media.

“I think the more rich you are, the more important fashion is to you. There’s also a pressure to look good when you’re in a higher social class. Looks are very important to the rich, and they won’t mind spending a bunch of money to wear a dress once to a lunch at 2 p.m.”

The beauty product collector

According to Forbes in February 2017, the biggest segment in the beauty industry is skin care, with its global sales predicted to be more than $130 billion in 2019. Jessie Kinney, 25, of East Lansing, Michigan says that if she had the kind of financial resources that the Kardashians do, she would be doing a lot more for her skincare, and beauty regimen in general.

“I believe that the more money a woman has, she will be much more willing to use more expensive services like lash extensions or facial treatments,” Kinney says. “I can’t speak for others, but I would say most girls or young women my age would most likely agree with me, especially the women that are heavily involved in social media. There’s so much pressure to maintain a certain look, and much of these looks are a matter of seeking a professional for an expensive treatment. I’m hoping this pressure dissipates over time because I even feel it at age 25, so I can’t imagine how teenage girls must feel and process this pressure.”

Beyond the pressure, however, Kinney looks at her makeup collection like a painter would his easel.

“For me, I’m not super artistic in other ways—people are like drawing or making music—so the way I kind of like to experiment with creativity is with makeup. I don’t wear it every day, but when I do wear it I kind of go all out and have as much fun with it as I can.”

Though not a Kardashian in terms of finances, Kinney admits that the Sephora trips do add up—but it is all worth it.

“Just like other artists want the best tools for their art, I try to get the best makeup brands for the best results and it’s definitely time-consuming to do the research on the product and very expensive. But, I just have so much fun with it. I also figure I’m somewhat creating the face I want to present to the world and that’s pretty cool. Whether that’s full on drag makeup or tinted moisturizer, having the choice to do either is so much fun.”

The man off the grid


Michael Bonofiglio thinks that vanity is person-by-person, regardless of wealth or media.


Lansing, Michigan native Michael Bonofiglio, 24, on the other hand, believes that the prioritization of one’s appearance is entirely personality-based, regardless of one’s wealth, societal status or social media.

“I think the availability of money would make your appearance more of a priority only if you had the desire to dress flashy or go about altering your appearance. But, overall, it comes down to if you’re interested in doing so,” Bonofiglio explains. “I work with a lot of very wealthy guys who wear dirty, ripped jeans. I think it varies from men to women as well.”

Bonofiglio is also a millennial unlike many of his kind: he does not have a single social media profile. Off the grid, Bonofiglio has never been one for “flashy” appearances.

“I personally don’t have any social media because I do see the shallowness and vanity it can perpetuate. But, again, I think it’s very personal and user-specific.”

So, what’s your conclusion?

We’ve heard some thoughts and opinions from some influencers, some consumers and an unbiased, off-the-grid dark horse when it comes to media, appearance, how much people are willing to spend and why they are willing to spend it. Now, what do you think? Do you think money has capitalized on our social network and made our society more concerned with looks and societal status than ever before?

Tell us here!

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