Hustling Backwards 101: Trying to ‘Fake It Til You Make It’

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Last week, designer, A-list socialite and girlfriend to Mick Jagger L’Wren Scott committed suicide, hanging herself inside a $5.6 million New York City apartment. “Within hours,” according to the New York Post, “Scott’s life was revealed to have become an elaborate facade.” Her lifestyle—at least the one she showcased on Instagram—included fancy vacations arrived at by private airplanes, plenty of leisure activities and high-end frocks, as well as a company that was $6 million in debt. The Post described her as “just one of countless New Yorkers who secretly fake their fabulous lives.”

But “fronting,” as any black person under the age of 40 would likely describe this phenomenon, isn’t limited to New York City, any more than it’s the sole domain of the upper-echelon (and mostly white) examples the New York Post writer used to back up her assertion. Every black person knows somebody—if you don’t, you might be that somebody—who moves with a “fake it till you make it” or “ride it till the wheels fall off” philosophy. It’s a pervasive mindset: According to a 2013 Prudential survey, African Americans are significantly more likely to have some type of debt (94 percent) than the general population (82 percent).

Writer Jennifer Sanchez captured this mindset in a (hilarious) article last year, “‘25 Sitting on 25 Mill’: Why Rap Culture Is Ruining Our Generation’s Perception of Money”:

Here I am: 25 and employed by a company that pays me pretty well. That’s all well and good, but where the hell is my Lamborghini?! … This is bulls–t …

Our generation has grown up thinking that we are young, we are talented, and we deserve boats and hoes …

We have rented limos to drive us around for nights of club hopping, planned weekend trips to Atlantic City to stay in presidential suites, and bought VIP tickets to events that were completely unnecessary. Why? Because Big Sean does it. A$AP Rocky does it. Because Tyga hasn’t had a hit since “Rack City,” and even he does it. So, why don’t we?”

Her story—and the Post’s story on Scott—reminded me of the wise words of an elder I met in Los Angeles. I was in town to promote my book and had stopped by a very fabulous—and free—party. I encountered a man whom I’d met at a prior event and who had identified himself as a veteran talent agent. After a quick round of small talk, he had an observation to share.

“You know what I call the people in here?” he asked rhetorically, looking around the room of very attractive people. “FAB,” he said, answering his own question. “Fabulous and Broke.”

He explained that fronting was more or less the L.A. way, and because he didn’t want to single out his own city, he added that he’d also lived in Washington, D.C., New York City and Atlanta over the past 20 years, and that was “the way” for a lot of people in those places, too. “The problem is, the vast majority of people don’t ever make it,” he explained. “The reality is, you make a show for people you don’t know, who don’t really care about you, and you end up bankrupt by 40.”

His story reminded me of a friend long ago who was trying to break into the New York nightlife business. He was convinced that in order to be taken seriously, he had to look like “the people” who already had what he wanted. It was a classic mistake of trying to have at the beginning what someone else had after years of hard work.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. KL says:

    Honestly Belle, this phenomenon exists at all levels of society. I work in a private bank in NYC. This firm caters exclusively to ultra high net worth individuals and families. These folks are the 1% of the 1%. Even among them (and FREQUENTLY among their heirs) some people are living well beyond their means. People with a $2 million dollar trust are living like they have a $10 million dollar trust. Those with $10m are living like they have $100 million.

    I’ve said forever and i’ll repeat it here, you can be financially responsible at any level or financially irresponsible at any level.

    I feel for people who think that money will fix all of their problems. If you don’t have your life together getting a bunch of money will simply reveal to you all the problems that money can’t solve.

  2. I will second that this FAB concept can be seen just about everywhere these days, no matter what bracket you fall into. I have a friend who would routinely buy things while out shopping with her friends (or by herself and then post it to Instagram) and two weeks later when bills are due have to return it to make ends meet. She’s been without a car for about a year now and has yet to put away any money for a down payment because every cent outside of bills goes to clothes, make up, and eating out (mostly for the purpose of Instagramming it, it seems like). To make it even more ridiculous, whenever she does go to look at cars, she’s at dealerships test driving 2013-2015’s. Girl, what are you thinking? Go to a used lot and get something that isn’t pretty but will get you from point A to point B.

    That’s just one case that I know really well because it happened in front of my eyes, but I see so many people follow this same pattern. “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

  3. KL says:

    We live within our means and honestly it’s boring and un glamorous! At the same time I’m the only person I know who is debt free.

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