Still Got It! (On TikTok, At Least)
3 minute read
My most popular TikTok to date, as determined by the number of views, is a high-effort transition video set to a Beyoncé song. It begins with me post-workout, in a unitard and ponytail, stretching theatrically and lip-syncing. On the line, “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker,” I fake-sneeze into my elbow. When I raise my head again, I’m in the same position but showered, in a tie-dyed tank top and jean shorts, with my makeup done and my hair down.
TikTok loves a transition, or at least I do; my feed is full of them. There’s just something compelling about watching women (and the ones on my FYP are almost exclusively made by women) transform themselves via cosmetics, hair tools, wardrobe, and, yes, effort. I came of age in the ‘90s, in a milieu that prized “natural” beauty, so I find it downright refreshing to see these women show their work.
But I’ve made plenty of transition videos, and most of them were not hits. The man I was dating when I posted this one—like me, a forty-something recent divorcé who’d downloaded the app during the dark early days of the pandemic out of sheer boredom and, maybe, loneliness—offered another possible reason for this clip’s relatively popularity: the butterfly pose I’d held throughout. “So many crotch people,” he said.
I told him to cram it, but for all I know, he was right. In my time as a so-called creator, it has become very clear that I am terrible at predicting what people, or the algorithm, might like. For the better part of a year, my sister has written a version of the same thing in the comments section of every TikTok I post, because I once asked her to comment on a particular video in the hopes that it might help it go viral. “This is the one!” she writes, even though it never, ever is. I’m not sure if she’s really trying to help me, or roast me, or both.
These days, I’ve given up on going viral. I mean, I say I have. Deep down, I still believe that it could happen, because technically it could. But I assume that it won’t, and I keep posting regardless. Even a little bit of attention is, apparently, enough. I could get more on Instagram, where I have five times as many followers. But TikTok plays a different role in my life. My Instagram account is private and has been for years, ever since I had my daughter; most of the people I’m connected to there are people I’ve at least met IRL. On TikTok, the opposite is true—aside from my sister, a few friends who rarely log on, and various assorted ex-boyfriends, the people who follow me are strangers, and that’s the way I like it.
And not just because my TikToks make me look like a conceited dork, although that is a consideration. (I should clarify, for the unfamiliar, that almost everyone’s TikToks make them look like conceited dorks. The FYP is full of full-of-themselves try-hards. The medium is the message.) It’s more that, for me, TikTok serves as a replacement for a kind of notice that I never imagined I’d miss, that I was barely even aware of, until I’d mostly lost it: The low-key, passing notice of strangers on the street, or on the subway, or at the supermarket.
We all lost that in quarantine. But a few months into the pandemic, I relocated—temporarily, I thought—to the country, and that was when I really began to mourn it. Like, if I looked cute and nobody saw me, did it even matter? It was the proverbial tree falling unheard in the forest, which was ironic, because the one thing I see plenty of in Vermont is trees.
I separated from my husband in 2019, and I’m sure that’s a factor, too. There are two TikToks on my Tinder profile—I think they give a better sense of both looks and personality than still photographs—and I’m pretty sure that at least a few of my followers have migrated over from the dating app. I’ve also been known to send TikToks to boyfriends in lieu of selfies. Most of these are purpose made and don’t end up on my feed, but sometimes they do. My most recent ex claimed to have been “a little crushed” when he saw, early in our relationship, that a clip I’d sent him to show off my new shag haircut had also been posted; he’d hoped that the Sky Ferreira song that played over it, with the lyric “You make my heavy-metal heart beat beat,” were directed at him. (In fact they were, but I didn’t want him to know it.)
Is this all a bit childish? Perhaps. But the last few years have left me feeling both much older and much younger than I did before. Like most everyone on the planet, I have lived through some shit. But I’ve also found that some very big questions that I once thought had been definitively answered—questions like, where do I want to live, and who, if anyone, do I want to grow old with—have been unanswered again. Since I filmed my first TikTok, in May 2020, I’ve moved to Vermont, cut my hair, gotten stronger, and had my heart broken, twice. If it were somehow possible to stitch every single clip I’ve posted together, they’d amount to one long transition video, albeit one that’s (hopefully) still in progress.
Go ahead, you deserve to