Malini Agarwal, known to millions around the world as MissMalini of the namesake lifestyle blog she started in 2008, is widely acknowledged as India’s first and most famous digital influencer. Today, she is the Founder and Creative Director of MissMalini Entertainment, having evolved a blog into a multimedia lifestyle brand. With a career spanning 20 years in the media and entertainment industry, she has seen social media evolve tremendously over the years—from being once optimistically considered a tool for social change, to a place where trolls, likes (or the lack of them), and comments can be sources of major anxiety. In a candid chat, Malini tells us that a ‘digital detox’ might not be realistic in today’s environment, but it is possible to maintain a thriving mind by following those who share positive and uplifting content; and communities such as her very own Malini’s Girl Tribe.
Social media gets a rap on the knuckles these days for causing anxiety. But you have been able to use it to build an extremely positive and supportive community with Malini’s Girl Tribe. How did the idea for this come about?
I started Malini’s Girl Tribe as an experiment to test out Facebook Groups by adding 100 girlfriends. When I saw a rapid growth in the tribe, I realised that women, especially, were looking for a safe space on the internet to connect, express themselves and reach out to discuss various issues: serious personal problems and general lifestyle recommendations on everything from marriage and careers to travel and skincare. In India, particularly, I feel the two key factors that are giving people anxiety are the number of trolls and creepy advances women encounter virtually on a daily basis, plus the tendency for everyone to be overly aggressive, critical and defensive online. Ask any girl; she’ll have a hundred stories of her “others” inboxes and the disturbing messages they are filled with.
Instagram recently announced it would remove the ‘Like’ counts from posts, so users won’t be able to see Likes on others’ posts. What do you think about this?
I think it’s a great move. Honestly, I know many influencers and celebrities will be disappointed to lose their daily dose of dopamine and there may be an impact on influencer marketing, but in the larger scheme of things, it will significantly reduce the anxiety and desperate race for validation nearly everyone is facing on a daily basis. One of the most unfortunate side effects of ‘likes’ on posts has been the de-humanising of people and reducing each other to their follower count. I believe if you drop those metrics, people will actually take time to focus on the message and content of the posts and find more meaningful connections with each other.
MissMalini started out as an individual blog, and now you have a team that carries the core values of what you started. What are some of your learnings from managing things all on your own, to passing things on to your team, and how do you ensure they don’t burn out in this 24×7 social media world?
Personally, I have had an incredible adventure and learnt a lot! I hope my team has benefited from our policy to only write what we can say to someone’s face. We endeavour to spread happiness through positive entertainment journalism. I believe it has had a healthy impact on the team and our followers. I am grateful for the fantastic work my team continues to do with heart and empathy.
What do you personally do to take a tech break? Do you take any conscious steps or have a routine?
One thing I have realised over the years is that it can be a tough balance. Sometimes I find it hard to take time out for a “digital detox” just because of the sheer volume of backlog I’ll have to deal with once I’m back online. But I try to offset that by consuming uplifting content and try to follow accounts that encourage, empathise and spread positivity.
How does one not get carried away by the gratification derived from likes and comments and conversely, the negativity that could arise from it too?
It takes time to acclimatise; it can be quite a rollercoaster of emotions from dopamine to depression. I think focusing on positivity and true connection is the secret to finding balance. I love Malini’s Girl Tribe for that reason. The group has an inherent core of empathy and kindness, which I believe is the best possible application and use of social media. Everyone is looking for a witness to their lives, but the key question to ask yourself is: what are you making them witness? If we all make a conscious decision to be our best selves online and treat each other the way we would like to be treated, the virtual world can open up countless opportunities and connect people on a scale that isn’t otherwise humanly possible.
How or what do you do carve out time for yourself and maintain your mental health?I make a conscious effort to surround myself with positive people; those who nurture and support each other and help me decompress when I’m feeling down. I also love to spend “me time” with simple things like making puzzles, watching shows and reading. I find the one thing that brings me immense joy is spending time with the people I love—even those I may have never met, but who are reaching out on Malini’s Girl Tribe with love and kindness. It is my virtual happy place!