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For young influencers, fame is just a TikTok away

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Becoming a household name these days can take just a few clicks of a button on social media. With that, almost anybody can rise to international fame and millionaire status.

It doesn’t take much – just a cell phone and/or laptop can do the trick. Many people in our community have excelled in doing it.

Twenty-three-year-old Jenna Berkowitz, better known as “Jenna Babez” on TikTok and Instagram, has amassed 35 000 followers on TikTok, with views on her videos skyrocketing into the 100 000s.

During lockdown, many young adults laughed at her hilarious and often scarily accurate parodies of “Joburg Jewish Mommies” and their reaction to major events.

She says being an influencer began as a joke while she was on her gap year in the United Kingdom. “I decided to start a ‘Finsta’ – a fake Instagram account – where I would just post whatever I was doing that day and share my antics with my friends,” she said.

Stories and posts of Berkowitz just being herself and sharing her stories and shopping hauls started gaining traction, and by the time the COVID-19 pandemic began and Berkowitz had to return home to South Africa, she had gained a significant following.

It was during lockdown that she began posting on TikTok – “Because, why not?”

Soon afterwards, TikTok South Africa asked her to join its Creators Fund – a programme that pays TikTok influencers based on video views and engagement.

But, she says, she was never in it for the money. “I never thought it would amount to what it did. I’ve always loved making videos and filming. The ‘drive’ [behind the page] is because I love it and the people that follow me love it too.”

She believes the reason her content thrives is because “a lot of the content we consume on Instagram is so curated and staged, and people post their ‘most perfect’ self on Instagram, whereas I do the opposite.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Chad Nathan, also known as “@Gingerwithagopro” on Instagram, expressed a similar sentiment.

Nathan, a travel and adventure photographer, also began his content-creation journey following his gap year in 2012. Travelling the world and backpacking through Europe, Nathan carried around a point-and-shoot camera from his mother, and documented his international adventures.

His iconic username was inspired by a GoPro wearing Spaniard during a tomato-throwing festival in Valencia, Spain. “I was starstruck [by the GoPro], I felt like I needed it.” And so, upon his return to South Africa in 2013, Nathan bought himself a GoPro, and the rest is history.

“People follow my page because I’m just me in my authentic, natural self. I don’t put on any facades. It’s just me being me, doing me, and people appreciate that type of stuff and that type of content,” Nathan says.

His 37 700 followers on Instagram are exposed to hidden gems and places you wouldn’t usually visit such as Zanzibar and luxury game lodges around Africa.

Nathan describes his photography as “meaningful storytelling” and an opportunity to “raise awareness and help as many people as possible”.

During lockdown in 2020, he launched the Raising Hope campaign, in which he went out into the streets and documented the poverty-stricken lives of those without basic necessities like food and shelter. The campaign raised more than R750 000 over the past two years through countless Instagram posts of emotive photographs that tug at our heartstrings and wow us with their incredible quality.

Nathan spends up to three hours every day developing his business, reaching out to brands, creating content, and replying to the online community – none of which would be possible had he not joined Instagram during its early days in the 2010s.

“[Instagram] drove me to go out on more adventures, to travel, and create more. It inspired me every day to become better [and] was a way of finding my passion for photography and filmmaking.”

Ten years down the line, Nathan gets around about 200 to 300 direct messages a day, all of which he tries to respond to in some way because ultimately, “it’s about the community”. His latest project is a collection of prints of arial photographs of beaches around Cape Town titled “Ants on a Beach”, which is available on his Instagram profile.

Comedy and photography are but two of several niches in the content-creation field. Twenty-six-year-old Helena Kahanovitz Unterslak, known on Instagram as @HKModstyle, noticed a gap in the influencer arena in 2016 when she started her modest fashion page.

“Modest fashion often gets a bad rap. People didn’t understand how I was dressing modestly and yet could look trendy and fashionable at the same time.” Their comments inspired Unterslak to create her page, which promotes modesty and modest fashion.

Her aim is to show that you can look and feel great about your clothing while still dressing in a tzniut (modest) manner. She has about 1 500 followers, and has recently started a modest fashion line called Helena The Label.

“There’s no reason why girls can’t feel great about themselves and look fabulous even when a bit more covered up,” Unterslak says. “I hope my page inspires girls to see that modesty and fashion are not mutually exclusive, and we can purchase and wear stunning clothes from ‘regular’ stores.”

Unterslak isn’t able to spend as much time on her page as she would like to because she has a full-time job. In spite of this, her profile is full of beautiful, modest outfits that she shares for all occasions – chaggim, celebrations, and everyday casual wear.

She hopes that through her “small contribution”, she’s able to inspire Jewish women to be modest and fashionable.

These are just three of many Jewish South African influencers, and it doesn’t take much. It’s never too late to join a social-media platform and start inspiring, telling stories, or making people laugh. As we can see from Berkowitz, Nathan, and Unterslak, you never know how influential you could be.

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