Springfield social media influencers balance content creation, mental health and parenthood

May 10, 2023
Springfield social media influencers balance content creation, mental health and parenthood

"Turn your body more toward the camera."

"Then move your hand up the ax."

"That looks perfect!" Heidi Mae Herrington exclaimed, as AJ Jenkins smirked into the camera. Fitted in a bright red dress, Jenkins' hands were covered in fake blood as she held a toy ax over her shoulder, beaming with excitement as Herrington flipped her camera's monitor around to see the shot.

The pair of social media content creators, Herrington, 34, and Jenkins, 30, were recreating the "Pearl" movie poster, a slasher-horror film, in Herrington's backyard. In the poster, lead actress Mia Goth holds a bloody ax over her shoulder, a finger over her lips, as if she is "shushing" the viewer. The photos and short video clips Herrington and Jenkins shot are a part of the pair's most recent project for TikTok and Instagram.

Although the two are Ozarks natives, they have only been collaborating on social media content for the past four months, creating short videos and photos inspired by horror movies to share with their extensive follower base. As of Thursday, Herrington, also known as Heidi Maetrix on social media, has over 205,000 followers on Instagram and 176,000 followers on TikTok. Jenkins, or AJ the Illustrator, has over 21,000 followers on Instagram and 11,000 followers on TikTok.

The duo recently had a set of two videos — parodies of the "Scream" franchise — go viral, with over one million collective views on Instagram. In addition to the views, the official "Scream," TikTok and Paramount social media accounts engaged with the posts, Jenkins said.

The videos are not even 30 seconds in length but took Herrington and Jenkins two days and 10.5 hours of video production to complete. They were a part of a TikTok trend that was popular on the app in April, with users creating videos visually inspired by Wes Anderson's cinematography, including symmetrical angles and pastel color grading.

In one video, Jenkins is seen enjoying breakfast before she receives a phone call from Ghostface, who lures her from her home before "stabbing" her on the sidewalk. In the other video, Herrington buys an ice cream cone before she is chased by Ghostface, then "killed" at a parking garage. Following the success of these initial videos, the two made two more "Scream" videos in the Wes Anderson style.

Herrington came up with the idea for the "Scream" videos after seeing two Wes Anderson-style videos on her TikTok feed, with a gut feeling that a trend was beginning to formulate.

"I noticed the trend popping up on my feed ... and I was like, 'AJ, we need to do this.' By the time we got it out, (the trend) was reaching its height," Herrington said, adding that she believes most TikTok trends last about 10-14 days.

Herrington and Jenkins agreed that the trick to successful content is hopping on a trend at the right time, but staying true to one's unique style.

A history in influencing

Collectively, Herrington and Jenkins have been creating social media content for more than three decades, both getting a start on MySpace. Jenkins started making MySpace layouts in middle school and Herrington got involved in the "scene" movement around age 19. Emerging in the early 2000s, this movement evolved from the emo movement and was popular with teenagers dressing in skinny jeans, neon-colored clothing and accessories, and the signature hairstyle of straight hair with a teased top, often with fringe covering the forehead.

Under the username, "Heidi Mighty Bear," Herrington had more than 11,000 followers on MySpace as a "scene queen," a title affiliated with a woman associated with the "scene" movement. Herrington said she was homeschooled, so utilizing MySpace allowed her to connect with her peers, but after receiving negative feedback from her family, she decided to deactivate her account. But going cold turkey from MySpace left a good amount of people wondering what happened to her.

"Actually, people thought I was dead," Herrington said with a laugh.

About eight and a half years ago, Herrington started sharing content again on YouTube and Instagram, focusing more on parody music videos and cosplay, dressing as characters from movies and television shows. In 2016, Herrington was one of 11 cosplayers who won DC Comics' Squad Up! Cosplay Contest with her cosplay of Harley Quinn from "Suicide Squad." As a winner, DC Comics flew Herrington out to the 2016 San Diego Comic Con.

More recently, Herrington has stepped away from cosplay but still creates content focused around pop culture media. Herrington said last month she was laid off from her full-time job creating social media content for a marketing agency, so now social media content creation is what she does full time.

In addition to her horror-themed photos and videos, Jenkins is also a digital illustrator, often creating brightly-colored illustrations based on horror movies. Prior to the pandemic, Jenkins was a full-time digital illustrator, often working with ecological-friendly brands.

The power of collaborating

As two social media content creators who have been in the game the majority of their adult lives, Herrington and Jenkins know they are capable of working independently, but they both have "satisfaction and fulfillment" from working together. Though the pair began creating content together only four months ago, they've been friends for about a year.

"All of our skills combined just make this powerhouse of an ability to create awesome content together," Jenkins said.

In addition to her work as a social media content creator, Jenkins is the mother of a three-year-old and a five-year-old. She said balancing these aspects of her life has been difficult but working with Herrington has taken a weight off her shoulders.

"It basically took me until creating with Heidi to feel like ... I wasn't drowning because motherhood consumes so much of my time," Jenkins said. "Once I was able to work with Heidi ... I didn't feel so burdened by the amount of work that it would take to create the content that I wanted to create."

'What is the point of having a platform if I don't use it for good?'

As someone who has had a long-term online presence, Herrington likes to be open with her followers, even about the things in her life that may be difficult to discuss.

A few years ago, Herrington was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or CPTSD. Where PTSD is traditionally stimulated by a single event, CPTSD is stimulated by ongoing events that the victim does not anticipate ending. Since her diagnosis and undergoing treatment, Herrington has begun to discuss the disorder more online.

"I wanted to talk about CPTSD and destigmatize it and also bring awareness to it," Herrington said. "What is the point of having a platform if I don't use it for good? I started talking about it and bringing awareness that it's a real condition, it effects people for their whole lives and how we see and interpret the world."

Even through the horror-themed content the two create, Herrington and Jenkins hope to make an impact in the creative community, showcasing that a low-budget project with hard work can be successful.

Jenkins said the two never spend more than $40 on a single project and enjoy visiting thrift stores for costumes and props.

Looking toward the future, Jenkins and Herrington agreed that they hope to one day be able to financially support themselves entirely from content creation. When it comes to specific projects, Jenkins said she wants to continue filming shorts for social media and eventually produce a feature-length film.

Source: news-leader