In the past few weeks, I have clocked an unseemly number of hours scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. I have seen it all: the freshly baked bread, the baby photos, the pushup challenges, the reposted vegetable drawings. The first night I returned home, I stayed up all night, lying on my childhood bed and numbly refreshing Instagram. In the midst of my disorientation, I stumbled upon a new post from Gabi Abrão, the artist and influencer behind the Instagram account @sighswoon.
She posted a swipe-through guide on “passing the time during the pandemic,” offering advice ranging from guided meditation to getting “free trials of everything you’ve ever wanted to try out.” The first guide she posted last year, “how to have a positive experience on Instagram,” garnered over 85,000 likes and almost 800 comments. With over 100,000 followers on her account, her guides are archetypes of the kind of content she produces: self-help meets social theory meets art school meets magic.
“Specific to the pandemic guide, it’s accessible in the sense that every single thing on there is free and requires either household items or nothing at all but your body,” Abrão says in an email. “I chose to share exercises that I take part in and enjoy that have cleansing and creative undertones, and offered specific directions on how to approach them.” She continues, “Instead of saying, ‘watch movies,’ I recommended creating a watch list from the favorites of your friends and romantic interests for greater connection and conversation points.”
Central to the philosophy of @sighswoon is the exploration of an existence on the Internet; the popularity of the account solidifies and deepens this existence. Abrão undoubtedly fits influencer criteria — she partners with clothing brands and charges for exclusive content on Patreon — and yet, as Nicola Pardy writes in an article for The Outline, “@sighswoon’s content publicly grapples with pillars of its own existence within the influencer economy: interrogating the value of visibility, fixed traits, consistent aesthetics, monetizability.”
Abrão told me that in the past few weeks, she’s gained subscribers on Patreon at a faster rate than usual. Through a five-tiered monthly subscription program ranging from $3.99 (Sigh) to $222 (Swoon Supreme), subscribers get access to her close friends list on Instagram, weekly vlogs, and merchandise discounts. An article in The Atlantic last fall cited Abrão — among the likes of Caroline Calloway — for her use of subscription services, “charging money for all kinds of intimacy” by way of paid-for “personal email penpalship” and book recommendation lists.
Under quarantine and in self-isolation, people with careers inextricable from their social media followings are in a unique situation: an opportunity for increased exposure and economic gain at a moment when the idea of professional strategizing seems tone-deaf at best.
But Abrão also provides a specific service. She creates niche memes that act as a path toward self-actualization for her followers, a service that is now in higher demand.
“This is the first time on the internet that the entire world is on the exact same page, dealing with the exact same emotional and physical limitations. All content created and shared right now is in reaction to quarantine, even if it isn’t directly so,” Abrão writes. “By default, everything shared is art created from the quarantined self within the era of coronavirus. It is the one and only context.”
A few weeks ago, Abrão left the communal home she lives in with other artists to quarantine with her family in West Los Angeles. “I don’t have my own room here, there is no independent identity or privacy here, no desirable ‘aesthetic,’ and I am sharing a bed with my sister,” Abrão writes. Amid a world of influencers creating content from immaculate backdrops during their quarantines, Abrão’s situation might be more recognizable.
For many of us, the quietness of our current lives has emboldened our virtual selves. At the very least, we’re probably spending more time scrolling. Without the stability of unexpected social interactions, the influencer’s role becomes inflated. We’re living with our family and calling close friends every few days, but right now, the influencer might occupy a similar space as that of our more distant friends and acquaintances.
Recognizing what her followers originally sought out in @sighswoon seems to inform how Abrão has produced content in the past few weeks. “I decided at the very beginning of the pandemic that I wasn’t going to repost news stories, express doom, or discuss anything political or economic on my page,” Abrão writes. “I like the idea of people knowing that we can go to some ‘channels,’ [some profiles] for news and heavy realities, but also tune into others for consistent entertainment or general positivity when we need it.”
There is something comforting in the intentional reliability of accounts like @sighswoon — the height of a pandemic does not slow down her production of self-help-art-school memes. But this reliability feels disconcerting. Does the posturing of community on social media trick us into believing we live in a culture of collective care? Maybe accounts like @sighswoon are especially comforting because they are distant from the realities we operate in.
But despite her dedication to upholding the normalcy of her personal “channel,” Abrão believes in finding peace through experiences unique to today’s circumstances — quarantine, isolation, separation. “There is a whole network of people to connect within my phone at all times, and these days, that energy is 100 times stronger,” she says. “But there is also so much to be found in surrendering to the circumstances, allowing yourself to be quiet, to be invisible.”
— Staff writer Josie F. Abugov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.