Yesterday, millionaire influencer Molly-Mae Hague’s name was trending on Twitter. This wasn’t because of a PrettyLittleThing competition she may have been promoting – instead, the Love Island star came under fire for her comments on success, wealth and background during an interview on Steven Bartlett’s podcast, Diary of a CEO.
While discussing privilege, Hague admitted she’d previously faced criticism for arguing we all have the same amount of time in the day to achieve our goals (the infamous quote about Beyoncé springs to mind), but continued to reject the notion that someone in poverty would find it harder to climb the socioeconomic ladder than her.
“I understand we all have different backgrounds and we’re all raised in different ways and we do have different financial situations, but I think if you want something enough you can achieve it,” she said. “It just depends on what lengths you want to go to get where you want to be in the future.”
Hague’s ignorance around social mobility is rather galling – research shows class inequalities cause barriers to education, employment and pay – but it seems to me there’s an entrenched belief in individualism at play in her comments.
In general, the obsession that privileged, wealthy people have with meritocracy is all based on maintaining the status quo, which happens to be the very antithesis of the “hustle culture” that Hague is trying so desperately to promote.
It appears, for example, to be far more convenient for the star to ignore her inherent privilege in favour of a rags-to-riches tale, as this narrative absolves her from any societal responsibility while adding clout to her personal brand.
By refusing to accept her background has helped her gain success, isn’t Hague validating the inequalities that come as a result of the class gap, while upholding the neoliberalist views that keep disadvantaged people in poverty?
Thankfully, Hague’s opinions are debunked by data. According to research by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison, just 10 per cent of people from working-class backgrounds make it into Britain’s “higher managerial, professional or cultural occupations,” with specific fields such as medicine and journalism being even worse hit by socioeconomic disparities.
Unfortunately, these barriers don’t end if you do manage to gain access to senior roles. The UK’s Social Mobility Commission also found there’s an average annual class pay gap of £6,800, with women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities being hit the hardest.
Differentiating factors include education and job type, but after controlling all of those elements the survey found “those from working-class backgrounds are still paid £2,242 less than more privileged colleagues”.
It’s proven that invisible biases – including judging a person’s accent, educational background and poor connections – can hinder a working-class person’s progression even when they’ve managed to smash the so-called class ceiling.
Of course, this is not to say those from working-class backgrounds cannot obtain serious wealth. They are exceptions to the rule, and often have to take a far harder route than their more privileged peers.
Fans of the meritocracy model rely on wheeling out these success stories in order to push the narrative that anyone can become a millionaire and revel in the delusional gratification that success is solely down to hard work.
This worldview ignores the social inequalities many people face, and conveniently keeps the status quo for the upper classes. If we could all get rich based on merit alone, poverty wouldn’t exist.
In my opinion, for Hague to insinuate that someone in a lower-paid job works less hard than someone on a higher wage is to spew Thatcherite ideology under the guise of “girlboss” entrepreneurialism, which might inspire her fans to buy into a false sense of security.
Her views are even more infuriating when you consider her job as the creative director of fast fashion brand PrettyLittleThing. In June 2020, an investigation by The Sunday Times found a factory in Leicester producing clothing for PLT’s parent company, Boohoo, was paying its workers just £3.50 an hour. The UK living wage for people aged 25 and over is £8.72.
In its response, Boohoo said the conditions at the factory, Jaswal Fashions, were “totally unacceptable and fall woefully short of any standards acceptable in any workplace”. Can Hague honestly say these workers are awarded the same opportunities with their 24-hour day as she – a millionaire fashion tycoon?
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The root of influencer culture thrives on perpetuating a life that is near unobtainable, but just within reach as long as you simply “work hard”.
It seems to me that those who make money from selling unrealistic dreams rely on keeping us onside and alienating us in the same breath: “Buy those designer trainers and you’ll be a better person”, “invest in lip fillers and you’ll be perfect”, “earn enough money and you can spend your day taking selfies in a bikini in Dubai”.
To admit a person’s success is often dictated by social mobility is to shatter the illusion of influencer stardom – and would force Hague to admit she is mistaking the advantages of class for talent.