Can You Relate?
By Rumbidzai Mudzongo
How often do you watch a TikTok video, read a tweet or scroll through Instagram and see someone or something that you can relate to? When we hear of or see new trends or topics, don't we usually look for a trusted voice or someone we think would be funny or insightful in a way we like? In 2023, most of the content we consume is specifically catered to us, it's tailor-made for each of us. Relatability refers both to scenarios that are appealing to most people or people themselves being relatable in how they do things. This applies to even the most mundane tasks, like getting ready for school or making their morning coffee.
This isn't an entirely new concept. It’s been around for decades - for example, in the family-centred tv shows we watched, the teenage romance novels we read and obviously the adverts we saw. Back then, the content or entertainment was generally relatable. It didn't necessarily have to portray the exact life or scenario the target audience experienced, it just had to give people a sense of familiarity or even just understanding.
Nowadays, many of us expect to see content in which we can directly see ourselves. When we think of relatability we think of shared experiences, similar realities and a sense of being part of a community. Whether your corner of the internet is cooking, cleaning, fashion, painting or books, there is a community to be found and influencers who are at the helm of it.
As a black woman in her early 20s, being able to see someone who looks like me and has the same life experiences as me is very important. Life can sometimes be isolating and lonely, especially when you're far away from home. Seeing someone who is reassuring and comforting can make all the difference between feeling like you're the only one going through problems and knowing that you’ll make it out to the other side of the issue. Sometimes, it's the smallest things that endear us to someone, maybe it's the way they dress or the music they like or even how cute their pet is! With all the stresses of the world, on most days we just want to watch something light-hearted and entertaining to take our minds off everything else. Whether it's a video on how to organise your closet, a thread on wholesome stories or a post on winter outfit inspiration, we want to be able to see ourselves in it.
I feel that in an attempt to connect with those like us, we have started isolating ourselves by expecting others to act a certain way, to act in a way that we can identify with. When you spend a lot of time engaging with someone’s content, it's common to feel like you know them well or in some instances are friends with them. We can often feel like we have the same life especially if the content is about someone working in the same field as you, a university student in the same program as you or even just a random stranger who shows their daily routine. Change isn't something we always willingly welcome, especially when it comes to things that we've grown fond of or care for dearly. When an influencer or online personality you follow suddenly changes how they do things or starts creating content that is different, it can sometimes be hard to reconcile that people change and things won’t always stay the same. Over the past few months, I've had to ask myself if I would stop following someone or liking their content because they changed their content drastically. What if their content becomes too perfect and curated? One of the things many people look for is someone who is authentic and genuine. If someone feels or looks too perfect, it can be hard to relate to them because we aren’t perfect and our lives aren’t carefully put together at all times!
When I think of relatability or look for relatable content, I mostly look for people who look like me, who have the same interests as me and who share my thoughts on certain topics. I think most people do. We often talk about people being stuck in a bubble or echo chamber and, whilst everyone should be open to new ideas and differing opinions, it can sometimes be a blessing to have a group of people who are supportive and give you a sense of belonging. When I look for or need some inspiring words about loving myself and feeling confident in my body, I look for someone who looks like me or someone I can identify with.
Representation is something we have heard over and over again, a concept that many people still feel is unnecessary or isn't worth getting upset over. However, feeling represented or seen in the media we consume is something everyone wants, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes what makes a funny story funny or a cute outfit cute is whether we can envision ourselves in that same scenario or style.
When discussing social media, influencers and the impact they have on us, I think it is important to remember that there are people behind our screens. Even the most wholesome content creators are still people like you and me. If we expect people to do things the exact same way we do things and expect them to live their lives exactly like we do, we lose the diversity and differences that make life -and social media- as interesting! How we interact with and internalise social media has become a big part of our lives, for better or for worse. Maybe I'm alone in this line of thinking or maybe you've thought of this too. All I can say is we should be careful about the expectations we put on others and the influence they have on us. We all experience different pressures in our lives to do things or think a certain way. When we put pressure on others to act in a way we ourselves can’t live up to, it's bound to lead to disaster or, at the very least, disappointment; which is again something we can all relate to!