“I’m so glad that I’ve found my people“
When you mention TikTok in any situation you may get mixed responses. Most know it only as the dancing, lip-syncing, teen-celebrity-making app, some think of it as an app purely for kids which they wouldn’t dream of downloading, and a few will only recognise the name from headlines about China stealing all our data.
But beneath the thick fog of bad press which every social media platform is shrouded in, lies the truth of TikTok – It’s helping people.
People are coming out, realising their sexuality and/or gender identity (see the hundreds of heart-warming YouTube compilations of people coming out via TikTok because of the support from people on the app). Others are expressing themselves how they’ve always wanted to, their style dramatically changed since the beginning of Lockdown. Creators are embracing parts of their identity they have been afraid to showcase before, like a love of witchcraft, anime, or even just a fondness for frogs.
Basically, TikTok is helping people all over the world become who they’ve always wanted to be, and its glorious.
But why is this happening? And How?
In short, our personalities are shaped by our social interactions. Whilst we’ve been keeping those to a minimum thanks to the pandemic, TikTok has taken its place.
The app has provided many with a much-needed sense of community, with the various ‘sides’ creating even more niche safe-havens for people to explore and be a part of. Thanks to the almighty algorithm, users have been introduced to hundreds, if not thousands of people who have the same interests, style, thoughts, hobbies, political views and sexuality as them, people who they wouldn’t have encountered before lockdown, or without the help of TikTok.
It has given those who have never felt heard, a voice. It has let the people who feel alone know that they are definitely not. It has made so many users feel normal, safe, and free to talk about and enjoy things they would have felt scared or ashamed to before. It has offered connection in a time of none.
Team this feeling of finally being seen, understood and loved for your differences with the isolation from the general public and judging eyes, and amazing things can happen.
TikTok seems to have accelerated an effect called ‘The Michelangelo Phenomenon’, which refers to how people can be highly influenced – or ‘sculpted’ – to develop more towards their ‘ideal selves’ when in close proximity to others that support and uplift them. It is implied this effect is only seen with close, romantic partners, but when we have no one else around but those on TikTok who make us feel appreciated, it’s easy to see how a romantic partner isn’t necessary in this case.
In fact, users have gotten so accustomed to their support networks that parody TikTok videos have cropped up depicting people leaving lockdown, only to remember everyone isn’t like them and consequently running back to where they can keep being themselves.
One of the users that joined this trend was 16-year-old @help.irl, who has amassed an impressive 25.6k following on TikTok. A look through her feed shows her becoming more comfortable with every video, and it turns out TikTok itself was the reason.
“I now identify as punk/emo…now I have the confidence to dress that way too, because TikTok has opened my mind to the alternative world”. She told me the app has not only helped her meet her boyfriend, but has had a huge impact on her mental health, “[it] has been at its peak because of the people I’ve met on TikTok and the confidence it’s given me…communities can bond together over TikTok, and I’m so glad that I’ve found my people”.
Another user, @kt.thedyke, recently dueted a video of theirs showing how much they think about identifying as non-binary, with one three months later revealing that they had finally decided to, thanking everyone for the encouragement. The comments were filled with others in the same situation, even admitting that seeing the video helped them to realise their own gender identity.
As we head out of our self-quarantine bubbles and back to the real world, I only hope that people’s new-found confidence doesn’t lessen as the lockdown does. Everyone deserves to be themselves and feel like they can be without fear of judgment. So if you feel alone, misunderstood or weird, get yourself on TikTok. Amidst the dances and lip-syncs, you might just find your people, too.