Danae Mercer, a journalist, activist, content creator and Cambridge alumna, reveals the tricks of the trade behind posed and filtered photos to highlight the difference between appearance and reality and to share the importance of self-love. Previously the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health Middle East, she now curates a community based on uplifting life advice and body confidence through her website, podcast, newsletter, YouTube channel, private Facebook group, and 2.3 million-strong Instagram following. We met at the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze—the place where she had her first date with her now-husband (they got married along the Amalfi Coast this September)—to discuss the ways social media both helps and harms self-esteem, as well as chatting about how she’s found life in Florence so far.
Ph/ Valeria Raniolo
Jane Farrell: Where are you from and how long have you been in Florence?
Danae Mercer: I’m originally from California. I’ve been living abroad since 2009, so I’ve been all over the place at this stage. I was in Dubai and then fell in love with my Florentine husband, so we did long distance for a while before I moved over here in May, and now Florence is my home.
Tell us about your work.
In the past, I’ve always moved for work or studies and as a travel journalist you usually base yourself in a central hub like Dubai and then travel around the world. So, obviously, my job has changed a bit over the last two years and I’m doing more content creation and social media. I began opening up in April 2019 and sharing about self-love and body image, and I guess when Covid hit my online space really took off. It’s now what I dedicate 90% of my time to and journalism is more of a fringe thing for me these days.
What’s striking about your content is the universality of what you speak about, so many have relationships with their bodies that they’d like to improve. Do you find that you’re amazed that there are not more accounts like yours? That there are not more accounts exposing the false aspects of social media? Essentially, have we all bought into a trap?
I think humans, by our very nature, have always been drawn into whatever at that time we deem as beautiful. The standards are always changing and it varies based on society, culture and timeframe, but we’ve always liked what we see as aesthetic and as beautiful. It’s only human nature to want to present yourself in the most beautiful way, and social media makes that easy, using a very precise lens and filter, posing and lighting, and all that stuff. On the flipside, presenting yourself in a more real way is vulnerable and scary, and the internet can be really mean. Sometimes I get asked if I think celebrities have a responsibility to show their cellulite, stretch marks or wobbly tummy. I think no, not really, because if they are not in that mental space to deal with the inevitable hit back (and there will be) I’m not going to be responsible for someone crying or going into a deep depression. You asked have we bought into a trap? and I think we’re doing what humans do. It’s very hard to be more vulnerable and I would love to see more accounts like mine.
You shared about your path to having the relationship with your body that you have now and your experience of an eating disorder. Did the pandemic open up more discussions about that with people at home and out of their routines?
I think that the pandemic made people that were struggling with body image or their relationship with food and mental health so much worse because they were taken out of the structure to their day, and the world is terrifying, leading us to look for coping mechanisms at the same time that social media is showing us perfection, making it a really dangerous space for body image. My community grew the most during the pandemic and I could say that’s a big part of it, that all of us needed something just to say Hey you’re not broken, you’re not alone, and every part of you is worth loving.
Have you any plans for how or if your work is going to involve Florence?
My narrative at the moment is always a mix of the things that I, as a woman, go through, so a big part of that is body image and social media and navigating the mental health side, but then part of it is also about being an expat, living in Florence, moving for love, changing my life to be with my partner, trying to find new friends, and it’s all an adventure with ups and downs. Going forward, my content will absolutely have Florence in it as I learn the city and navigate life here.
Ph/ Valeria Raniolo
Tell us about Twelvetinypaws.
It’s the best thing! Nicco has a dachshund and I have two very pretty, fluffy rescue kitties. When we first got one of them, he was so skinny and he was dyed orange on his paws and tail, now he’s grown up and he’s gone from the ugly duckling to a swan, a giant pretty ball of fluff! Twelvetinypaws is our account where we show them becoming friends with each other. The first introduction between the cats and the dog was terrifying. I ended up crying because the kitties were terrified and the dog was barking and growling, and now over time it’s at the point where Koala, the pretty one, and the dog, Romeo, are best friends. It’s a happy, fun account that also lets me show Florence too because we go for walks early when the city is quieter and walk by the river, the Duomo and the Uffizi.
Do you see yourselves in Florence long-term?
I think Florence or maybe nearby Tuscany long-term. Nicco’s family is here and it’s very important for us to be close to them. I’m studying Italian piano piano! I love learning languages. I studied French for years, and I thought it was the most beautiful language. And then, the more I learned Italian, I loved how it’s almost like they’re singing every word. If it ends sharply, they throw on another vowel to make it nicer. It’s such a passionate and intense language. At the beginning I was constantly asking Nicco, Are you okay? Are you guys in an argument? and he would say No, we’re just talking!
What are some of the positive and negative aspects of being a content creator?
One of the things I’m most proud of is knowing on a tangible level that I help women feel better about themselves. And I only know this because they are so kind as to message me saying things like Because of you, today I wore a bikini, and of course, it’s not actually because of me. Sometimes I get dads who message, saying I sat down with my little girl who has been commenting about her body or picking herself apart in the mirror and I spent time with her today looking at your profile and I was showing her how easy it is to fake things. Or even just for me, more recently, going through some of the more emotional struggles I navigated as I shared about my miscarriage, I spoke about how it’s really wonderful not to feel alone in this. My community has given me such a gift in the sense that during something that can be so isolating and feel shameful, I have had millions of women around the world saying, That happened to me too and you are not alone, and it’s one of the best aspects of this space. I honestly get as much as I give and I probably actually get more from those around me.
Favourite place to work?
Floret at La Terrazza Luisaviaroma, because of the owner, Tamara, and also because of the food which changes every season. It was the first place that I could go and work for hours; there was never once a feeling of You need to go now, we need to use this table, which happens elsewhere a lot!
Favourite place for an aperitivo?
This is more Nicco’s forte, we’ve gone to some wonderful places. The Four Seasons does a great aperitivo, as does Belmond Villa San Michele and the rooftop of the Westin Excelsior, where you get a gorgeous view of the whole city.
I really like Nico’s mom! She’s so fashionable, chic, cool and confident, and has been so inviting and inclusive with me. She came to the Questura with me and she had a Hermès bag and Chanel shoes and was so glam in contrast to the dark and heavy Questura!
Favourite place in the city?
Grand Amore Hotel. It’s a gorgeous property in the city centre with a charming bar. Right now there’s even a ‘build your own’ hot wine table with cinnamon sticks and oranges and such.
Favourite place in Tuscany?
Montalcino, it’s where we go cycling. We’ve been there several times, always taking the same route because it’s so beautiful with its historic little village, restaurants, countryside and vineyards.
See @danaemercer on Instagram and YouTube, @twelvetinypaws on IG, the ‘Talking Out loud with Danae’ Facebook group, and www.danaemercer.com
See The Florentine‘s Instagram Live with Danae Mercer, held on February 1, 2022.
View this post on Instagram
We thank the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze in Borgo Pinti 99 for hosting this Instainterview.