opinion

OPINION: The trouble with Chloe Szep, the influencer who couldn't keep her "mouth shut" any longer.

It was mid-July when 22-year-old Chloe Szepanowski announced she couldn't keep her mouth shut any longer.

With a particular interest in health, Szepanowski (who goes by Szep on Instagram) has moved increasingly into the wellness space. In April of this year, the Gold Coast based influencer launched WellWeb, a digital world of 'wellness', including yoga, mindfulness, and nutrition advice. 

While Szepanowski has no formal qualifications, she does have, at the time of publication, 656,000 followers on Instagram. 

That's where she decided to air her concerns.

But first, watch 'how to talk to anti-vaxxers'. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

For the majority of her followers, they knew what was coming. 

They'd followed the breadcrumbs of 'freedom' and 'knowing what is right for you and what isn't'. They'd watched the YouTube video where Szepanowski had said they were "looking into" whether or not they should vaccinate their son "ourselves" and in the meantime, they're building up his immunity. They'd heard the message that natural is always better, fear is a weapon and it's time to "awaken". 

The breadcrumbs led to the following statement. 

"You know what I've kept my mouth shut and I could easily keep it shut. The lockdowns haven't affected me physically, financially or mentally, so there is no personal agenda here, apart from the fact that I do not support what is going on. 

"The solution is officially worse than the problem. And to the individuals personally suffering through this bulls**t and have for the last year, my heart goes out to you. My entire news feed is filled with family, friends, small businesses all suffering right now from the solution. But what my news feed isn't full of, is people with the problem..."

She tagged her partner, 25-year-old Mitch Orval, the son of former Collingwood football star, Mark Orval. Both failed to see the irony that the reason their news feeds aren't full of people "with the problem" (I presume, dying of COVID-19) is because lockdowns work. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Living on the Gold Coast, you'd be hard pressed to find a city more protected from the devastation of the pandemic. It is because of Melbourne's 15 week lockdown, for example, that an outbreak never reached Szep's doorstep. 

Szepanowski eventually deleted her post.

Interestingly, if you were to visit Szepanowski's Instagram right now, you'd see no trace of her stance on COVID. It exists only in her stories, which disappear automatically after 24 hours. 

One tile remains in her highlights which simply reads: "We have been programmed to live in a fearful vibration. Why? Because a fearful person is obedient. Fear is a weapon that can be used to control the mind. A conscious person leans into their fear and discomfort. They question things. They challenge things and don't blindly believe what they are told. As you awaken and walk this path, you will feel very isolated at times, but please know you are not alone."

But her stories have been far less ambiguous.

After making her stance known, Szepanowski posted a question box asking her followers to tell her how they were feeling. "This is not the new normal," she wrote, "and I'm happy to stand for our basic human rights".

On the day of the so-called Freedom Rallies, Szepanowski posted her implicit support.

ADVERTISEMENT

Image via @chloeszep 

And then there is her stance on health in general, which is broadly anti-medicine. 

Image via @chloeszep 


Image via @chloeszep 

ADVERTISEMENT

While on the surface advocating for 'health' seems relatively uncontroversial, the position becomes dangerous when it mutates into anti-medicine, anti-science and ultimately anti-expert rhetoric. 

In fact, the people who put the "most time, effort, and resources towards health" would be health professionals. Doctors who train for the better part of a decade. Nurses who have worked in hospital wards for 30 years. Immunologists and epidemiologists who have read thousands of papers, and contributed to a field which abides by rigorous standards.  

But Szepanowski believes - as her Instagram effectively communicates - that health is about hydration, sunlight and charging water in the moonlight. 

If only it were that simple. Maybe then four million people wouldn't be dead from a virus that only a few weeks ago killed a healthy woman in her 30s. 

Interestingly, there are some pharmaceuticals Szepanowski has no problem with. While, according to Szepanowski's logic, taking insulin for diabetes or anti depressants for mental illness is 'unhealthy', dermal and lip filler is permissible.

In 2018, Szepanowski appeared on ABC's Four Corners to talk about her cosmetic procedures, including the injection of dermal filler before her 20th birthday. 

While often marketed as non-invasive and low-risk, Four Corners reported that such procedures can have serious health consequences. 

There seems to be a lack of consistency, not just by Szepanowski but various other influencers who have identified as anti-vaxx, when it comes to whether or not a 'jab' is dangerous. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In response to Szepanowski's politics, her follower count has begun to decrease. In the last few weeks, she's lost 20,000 of them. This is significant because Szepanowski's brand on Instagram is how she makes an income. Building an online community gave her the platform to launch Szep, an activewear range. 

The problem with Szep now is, well... that it's called Szep.

Woman have shared TikToks lamenting the fact they can't wear their Szep activewear anymore because of what it represents. A brand that "aims to encourage a healthy lifestyle" now has a clear position about what that healthy lifestyle ought to look like. And it's not one that resonates with a significant portion of her clientele. 

Once the story of Szepanowski entered the mainstream, she posted the following.

Image via @chloeszep 

ADVERTISEMENT

While some of the commentary around Szepanowski has doubtlessly been "negative and horrible", other conversations are a genuine attempt to grapple with the question of responsibility.

This 22-year-old with no expertise has more followers than just about every Australian news outlet. 

Her title is literally 'influencer'. Her job is to influence, and she does it well. Really well. So what do we do when she's influencing people to join a rally that goes against public health orders? 

What do we do when she uploads a video going shopping at Big W without a mask, at a time when face masks are mandatory indoors in all areas of South East Queensland? 

People never followed Szepanowski for her politics. But now followers are getting drip fed her politics, whether they like it or not. 

Listen to Cancelled, the podcast about what happens when the world turns on you. Post continues below. 

While Szepanowski has been hearing the complaints, her response is simple. 

Five days ago she uploaded a video to TikTok with the caption, "how to continue on with your day even if you don't agree with something". The video featured with her walking, stopping for a moment, and then walking out of frame. 

Unfortunately for Szepanowski, that's not how a democracy works. And while having hundreds of thousands of followers has its benefits (selling your activewear brand, for example) it also has its drawbacks. That is; criticism. And lots of it. 

Should Szepanowski be 'cancelled', whatever that means? 

No. 

Again, that's not how a democracy works.

Instagram is getting better day by day at identifying 'false' information, which is a critical feature at a time when the stakes have never been higher. Whether or not people 'believe' in vaccines is quite literally a matter of life or death.

False information flag on Instagram. Image via Instagram.  

ADVERTISEMENT

While Instagram is doing their bit, we can do ours. 

Szepanowski's power lies in the number that sits beside her Instagram handle. 

If she does not represent what you believe in, unfollow her. 

She'll understand. After all, there's nothing she cares about as much as your 'freedom'.

Feature Image: @chloeszep Instagram

Want to have your voice heard? Plus go in the running to win 1 of 3 $100 vouchers? Take our survey now.
MMSurvey