EXTRACT | ‘When the Filter Fades’ by Janine Jellars

08 December 2023 - 10:05
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'When the Filter Fades' follows three young Jozi women in pursuit of social media stardom.
'When the Filter Fades' follows three young Jozi women in pursuit of social media stardom.
Image: Supplied


There’s a hierarchy to fame, from the Real Celebs who sell their skills as actors and singers to the Professionally Pretty (the garnish to any occasion), the Hashtag Hustlers who range from influencers to the social media savvy, to the Hopeless Hangers-On.

Everyone has their place in the ecosystem, and knowing your place in that hierarchy is half the fame game won. For three young women in Johannesburg, the new age of internet celebrity presents them with obstacles, opportunities, opulence and a chance at fame, fortune and fierce fashion.

Lin: Through sheer ambition and force of will, Lin has rebranded her entire existence. She’s shrugged off her past to fully embrace a new identity: Linfluencer, the high-end influencer whose Outfits Of The Day are obsessively followed by every budding fashionista with a blossoming social media addiction.

Lebo: Then there’s Lebo, who has only ever known a life of fame — real fame — as the former child prodigy behind the TV phenomenon Sedi Star. Everyone grew up watching her every move, but now, as she’s grown up, the work, roles and offers have evaporated. But her penchant for scandal, controversy and social media squabbles have kept her in the headlines.

Finally there’s South Africa’s reigning Queen of Gossip, Mbali. The entertainment site she runs with an iron fist is known for breaking the hottest news, and the odd celebrity career. With the Hashtag Hustle threatening her media empire, how will she continue to keep her readers enthralled?

As Lin, Lebo and Mbali jostle to take their places in the fame hierarchy, their ambitions, aspirations and agendas collide. Their wins and woes not only affect one another, but can mean they either individually rise or collectively crumble. Will Lin’s past threaten her future? Will Lebo’s (self-)sabotage prevent her return to the top? Will Mbali’s reign as the Queen of Gossip continue, or reach a dead end? The choices they make can balance or break their entire ecosystem.


Chapter Four

'HI, GUYS, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WATCHING! I’m sorry I’ve been quiet lately, there’s just been a lot going on. I know I say this all the time, but I promise I’ll do better with videos and livestreams. Things have just been so crazy around here, lately.”

Lin was smiling into her smartphone camera, making sure to angle her face in the direction of her floor-to-ceiling living-room windows. First rule of selfies: Always find the light, she thought. Early-morning call times were not her favourite thing, but this morning she was up before her 6am alarm to prepare for her photoshoot with Thandi. A quick livestream video was a way to kill time before Brandon arrived to drive her to the studio.

OMG Lin, I’m watching in the car on the way to school
You look so glam!
We missed you Lin!
Does the Queen reply?
Like my comment if you love Lin
Our Queen is flawless

The fan comments made her smile even wider. She’d spent 30 minutes doing her “no make-up” make-up look even though she knew she’d have to take it all off on set. Looking this effortless took a lot of energy.

She responded to comments when she could. I’m going to answer maybe three questions while I’m online. The first one is by … She scanned through the comments coming in thick and fast. Here’s one — Kgomotso wants to know what I ate for breakfast this morning, she giggled. Picking the innocent questions were always the best. “This morning, I just had some toast and a cup of tea, nothing hectic.” She snuck a guilty peak at the protein shake waiting for her on her desk, just off-camera. Sample size was a hazard of the job, but there was no way she’d promote diets to her young followers. Let me see what else there I …

Oh, Susan says she’s watching the livestream on her way to school and wants a shout-out to the grade 10s at Bryanston High. “Susan, consider this your shoutout! Have a good day at school today!” Heart emojis exploded all over her screen.

“OK, guys, last one … Let me find a good question.” She scanned the questions streaming in. “Amanda wants to know what I’m wearing today! You guys want to see my outfit?” She knew she’d be met with a screen filled with fans pleading to let them in on what she was wearing. “OK, OK, let me show you guys.”

She moved her hand holding her smartphone to allow her to pan over her body. Today she was dressed in her favourite “off-duty model” look of white crop top, jeans and designer flats. The outfit barely made sense, but the true mark of a fashionista was being able to throw on any look and make it work.

“So, I’m wearing my favourite little crop top and jeans from TopLooks and then the loafers are by Gucci. I’m probably going to grab a leather jacket on my way out just to toughen the look up a bit.” Giving her fans a few fashion tips always worked in her favour.

“Anyways, guys, have to run now. But I’ll be online and posting some behind-the-scenes snaps from a photoshoot I’ll be doing today. Stay tuned and have an awesome day.

She signed off and quickly browsed through a few of the comments.

Love the look, Lin
Tea and toast? Stock for tea and toast just went up, sis!
My whole day is made. Can’t believe Lin answered my question

Lin smiled to herself as she took a swig from the shaker containing the gross low-fat protein shake she was drinking twice a day. She remembered how excited she’d been when she first moved to Joburg and would run into her favourite celebrities at random places. Whether it was a soapie actress in the supermarket or a famous soccer player in the queue at home affairs, she just never got used to it. Encounters with celebs were like catching a tan in December — it just filled you with that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Speaking of sun, while she had the early morning light streaming into her lounge, she pointed her smartphone’s camera at her face and took a quick selfie, posting it with a caption: Off to a photoshoot. Something very special. Can’t wait to show you guys xx

Is it a campaign?
You look like you could be on the cover of Vogue

She smiled. She’d be lying if she said the validation wasn’t rewarding in itself. Her message alerts went off and dented her smile. It was from her mother. Ons mis vir jou meisie. How you? When you coming to visit?

Lin sighed, and promptly deleted the message. The last thing she needed was to have her mother ruin a big shoot day.

With five minutes to kill until punctual Brandon arrived to pick her up for the Thandi shoot, she flicked through her apps until she found the bank. In four clicks, she’d managed to transfer cash into her mother’s account.

“Miss you”, she knew all too well, was short for “Miss your money” and there was no way she’d spend her day on set being pestered for cash. Lin had long since stopped asking what the money was actually for. For all she knew, some or other cousin needed medicine for a child she’d never met or someone’s abusive boyfriend needed bail money.

Her status as family ATM was encapsulated in one sentence: Sy werk in Joburg. Actually, make it two: Sy’t mos varsity toe gegaan.

Lin didn’t mind helping her mother out every now and again, but the constant demands on her bank account wore her out. Besides, she wasn’t the only able-bodied adult at home. None of her siblings, full or half, had ever held down a job, and few of them finished school — hell, many of them hadn’t even finished grade 10.

Why wasn’t I just born into a family with a trust fund or maybe I should find myself a sugar daddy …? Her thoughts of being free from financial woes were interrupted by the buzz of her intercom.


Lin didn’t mind being chauffeured around; she imagined this is what life would be like if she ever made it, so she really appreciated that Brandon was playing driver this morning. As he always said, appearances are everything and no star would ever drive themselves to a photoshoot. Not on his watch.

“Mwah-mwah, babes”, said Lin as she shuffled into the passenger seat of Brandon’s Toyota. “How’re you doing this morning?” “Traffic is crazy,’ he said. “How the hell do office workers handle this every day of their lives?” Flustered, he waited until Lin was strapped in, her seatbelt secure, before taking off. He was as responsible a driver as he was a manager. “Aren’t you glad we don’t live that life, though?” Lin turned on a morning radio show as they headed for the studio. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to fight other commuters to head to an office every single day.

“Did I tell you the editor of Sfunukwazi emailed to ask if you’d want to do an interview?”

Sfunukwazi?” Lin wrinkled her nose. “That cesspit? How about 'hell no'? Who has the energy?”

Lin was used to receiving Google alerts whenever her name appeared in news stories and on internet publications, and whenever she received a mention on SA’s biggest gossip website, her stomach turned.

“Those commenters — whew! Remember when they found that Miss SA International had an abortion as a teen? They were so damned vicious. Isn’t that site run by a woman? I can’t believe how she lets her commenters just say whatever they hell they want.” Lin cringed when she remembered how Miss SA International had to step down from her position and give up her crown.

She was from a small town — maybe Uitenhage, or was it Upington? —and had to go back to teaching, of all things. It just didn’t make sense how a group of people leaving mean comments on a website in some feeble attempt to deal with their own bored lives could ruin someone else’s. Rumour had it that the commenters were mostly Egoliwood insiders, which would explain why they always had the hottest gossip on every celeb.

So far, the comments on her own posts were quite tame, considering. The odd commenter may say she was boring, others speculating who she could be dating, or that her outfits were too expensive, but nothing truly vitriolic. “I thought that’s what you’d say,” Brandon laughed, pulling into the Thandi office parking lot. “I turned them down.” “This is why I love you, B — you just get me!” Lin was happy that she had a collaborator like Brandon to help steer her career in the best direction.

She could’ve been splashed all over Sfunukwazi instead of strutting into a shoot at Thandi, the leading business magazine for women. Sure, three other influencers were also going to be featured in the shoot, but Lin was confident she would stand out from the crowd.

This was her chance to rebrand herself as a businesswoman. She’d slowly been working her way up to more high-end and lucrative endorsements and she already shown a knack for personal branding — something all businesswomen, regardless of sector, could benefit from.

This year was high stakes — she could feel the air crackle with excitement, and taste new opportunities around every corner.

Extract provided by Janine Daniels (Double D Publicity) on behalf of Tracey McDonald Publishers.

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