When she appeared on Steven Bartlett’s Diary of a CEO podcast in December, 22-year-old influencer Molly-Mae Hague seemed to pre-empt the backlash she was about to receive. This wasn’t the first time she had been “slammed a little bit” for saying that achieving her level of fame and fortune came from true grit alone. Unfortunately, her self-awareness came up short.
In the now-infamous clip, where she talks about her multimillion-pound rise to fame, Hague said, “We all have the same 24 hours in a day.” She added that while she “understands” that people come from “different financial situations”, her meritocratic mantra is simple: “If you want something enough, you can achieve it.”
For people like Hague, that may well be true. If you’re white, meet conventional beauty standards and come from a middle-class background, your pathway to fame and fortune can be straightforward: all you have to do is follow it. What Hague fails to take into account, however, is that her sparkling-clean path to a £2m net worth is an exception rather than the norm. For most people, various systemic inequalities like class, race and disability either hinder that path to success or block it off entirely.
Hague was hardly living on the breadline before skyrocketing to fame as a Love Island contestant in 2019. She had already made a name for herself by competing in multiple beauty pageants, and was an established Instagram influencer working with fast fashion brands long before becoming PrettyLittleThing’s creative director. While reality shows like Love Island are known for launching many people’s careers, they didn’t launch Hague’s, but simply furthered it.
Perhaps she finds the rags-to-riches narrative more palatable, but the truth is, Hague is blind to her own privilege as a middle-class white woman. It’s because of this blindness that her championing of meritocracy is problematic. As well as overlooking external, deep-rooted factors that limit a person’s success, she’s almost positing these factors as somehow being the person’s fault.
This insular, navel-gazing viewpoint is at the heart of the criticism Hague has been getting online since her comments went viral. The unbridled capitalism, the hierarchical system that uplifts and benefits Hague is the same one that squanders and limits countless others. Because of this, numerous Twitter users have compared Hague to Conservative figures like Margaret Thatcher.
But while Hague’s blindness to her own privilege may appear striking to many, it is far from new. She is simply the latest in a long, blonde line of #girlbosses to pedal white, neoliberal feminism. This kind of feminism is adored by many influencers and “She-E-Os” because it champions individualism: “You too can get there if you hustle hard enough.” Its insular ideology, which fails to consider intersectional issues like race and class, means that women like Hague can avoid changing or challenging the problematic system that they unconsciously benefit from.
The problem is, Hague hasn’t just got herself to think about anymore. She has millions of young, impressionable fans looking up to her and taking her word as gospel. Given that her fanbase comes from various backgrounds, Hague is irresponsible and short-sighted to universalise her experience as the “norm”. She does her fans a disservice.
[See also: Why the UK’s inequality problem is even worse than thought]