“I am as guilty as the next person of scrolling through and tapping ‘like,’ and not reading the caption of what somebody posted,” says Eric Rutherford.
Over the past year, the model and social media influencer — and now, podcast host — has been reassessing how he uses social media. He’s been slowing down, and paying greater attention. He’s been reading the photo captions, and rethinking what he wants to share with the world.
“I love taking a pretty picture. I love working with photographers and stylists and fashion designers and brands,” he says. “But I also felt like, how can I use my voice in this process? How can I use this platform that I’m grateful for to do something to truly be of influence?”
Those questions led him to quite literally use his own voice. Last fall, Rutherford was approached by producers from Stereotype Studio about hosting a podcast. Rutherford already had experience interviewing his friends on camera, and was in the process of writing a collection of personal essays for a potential memoir. The studio saw an opportunity to combine the vulnerability of personal essay writing with the intimacy of conversation; the podcast, “Not Just Pretty Pictures,” debuted last month.
Rutherford asked each of his guests to write down the story they wanted to share on-air, in their own words. Rutherford narrates the written stories, followed by a conversation about what they’d chosen to share and why. Guests have included former NFL player Ryan K. Russell, actress Joslyn DeFreece, Miss J Alexander and Sharon Stone; future episodes will include “first male supermodel” John Pearson and writer William Norwich.
Rutherford turned to five central themes as story prompts — survive and thrive, ode to a lost child, hiding in plain sight, Renaissance resistance and otherness. Miss J Alexander talks about feeling othered within the LGBTQ community; Russell (who’s openly bisexual) explores subverting expectations around masculinity and DeFreece dives into pushing back against the gender status quo as a trans woman.
“There still is that struggle of people wanting to put labels on you because that’s how they define what it is to be a woman or a man,” says Rutherford. “And then talking with J, he comes across as so confident — he moves through the world fiercely and fabulously. And yet with this moment of realizing that he had been othered, even within his own community, it shocked him and it made him pause. It reminded me again that there is so much more going on behind what we share and what we show.”
Rutherford hopes that listeners will discover unexpected connections through the podcast — and ultimately find stories rooted in positivity, healing, and hope.
“There’s still a space for pretty pictures,” adds Rutherford (and there’s still space for Instagram “likes,” too.) “Every single person who is a part of this loves a great picture. But we also want to make sure that there’s more to it, and I think we learn by listening. If we take a moment to pause and truly listen to someone’s story, we find empathy. We discover there’s more similarities than there are differences between us.”