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9 Sep

What TikTok’s confessional GRWM videos say about our culture

From sharing stories about fentanyl addictions while applying concealer to make-up routines for funerals, ‘Get Ready With Me’ videos have gotten deeply personal

“Prepare with me and let’s discuss my fentanyl use,” begins a TikTok posted by model Mae Van Der Weide last month. The video, which has since been watched 4.5 million times, sees her candidly discuss her addiction, eating disorder and depression while dabbing spots of concealer on her face. 

Sharing deeply personal experiences like this has change into commonplace on TikTok. Whether it’s concealing tear-stained cheeks for a funeral, applying soft glam for a reunion with an ex and even touching up eyebrows before going to prison, creators are turning their beauty rituals right into a vehicle to vent information once considered private to an audience of tens of millions. These ‘Get Ready With Me’ (GRWM) videos have change into the default for sharing stories and monologues otherwise reserved for encoded voice notes to shut friends. 

27-year-old make-up artist Tilly Ferrari stumbled upon this confessional format when she posted a video on the brink of see her ex, who was en route to choose up his belongings from her flat. “I needed to check with someone. I used to be flustered and I hadn’t had anyone to bounce this stuff off,” she says. “So, I just put my phone on and pretended I used to be on FaceTime.” Within the video, she litters make-up suggestions (“I’ve really been having fun with lining my lips with my brow pencil”) in between sporadic admissions of tension. It quickly went viral, her fleeting moment of panic now immortalised through a comment section as inquisitive about the bronzer she uses as the small print of her break-up. 

But what’s it about preparing that triggers a desire to reveal? There’s a way of intimacy inherent to our beauty routines, paying homage to dimly-lit makeovers in teenage bedrooms or foundation touch-ups in club bathrooms. These sacred spaces see lipgloss swapped between strangers and territory on the mirror claimed to primp, preen and trade enthusiastic compliments. It’s essentially the ‘backstage’ of our lives – a spot to unload probably the most troubling (or mundane) thoughts, with an in-built excuse to avoid eye contact.

This comfortable, yet deeply confessional, aspect of GRWMs feeds into what Dr Melanie Kennedy, a media and communications lecturer specialising in femininity in popular culture on the University of Leicester, describes because the digital evolution of “girls’ bedroom culture”. “Girls have all the time used the space of the bedroom to disclose very personal things to their friends,” she explains. Although GRWMs long predate TikTok and the pandemic, going back to the golden days of YouTube beauty gurus, when accessing physical environments became not possible through the lockdowns, digital outlets cropped up as replacements. The pandemic exacerbated all of this because people turned to social media after they were stuck of their homes as an outlet for a way they were feeling, and to remain connected with people.”

Three years later, hyper-confessional GRWMs have change into a staple of the TikTok landscape. The app’s ever-changing algorithm means any video has the potential to be swept in front of audiences of tens of millions, even when the creator hasn’t established a big following prior. It’s a pointy contrast to the 2010s influencer era, where follower bases and communities were grown more progressively over more prolonged periods, and there was a chance to construct trust with an audience before sharing intimate information. “What’s modified is that it’s now hyper-visible,” Dr Kennedy says. “The very boundaries between what we traditionally understood as private and non-private have change into blurred.”

In January, 17-year-old Sophie Thomas posted a video on the brink of break up with her boyfriend during which she details the downfall of their relationship as she blends a soft layer of liquid blush across her cheeks. She suggests that the familiarity of her routine lays the inspiration to reveal all. “I’m doing something that I’m already comfortable with, in order that’s a protected spot to share a story,” she says. “It’s also the culture of connecting on TikTok. Since I’m not the just one sharing my personal life, it isn’t an enormous deal.”

This fight for connection in an increasingly digitised world appears to be a standard sentiment. Having posted a video of the wonder routine she follows when recovering from a depressive episode, ​Rufaro Zimbudzi, 19, says the ​phantom presence of the viewer conjures a way of community during a component of her day often mired in solitude. “It becomes a shared experience,” she says. “Feeling alone can perpetuate my depressive episodes, so after I prepare and invite others to affix me, I do know that somebody, somewhere in the same position is feeling less alone.”

YouTube tutorials within the 2010s were distinctive of their aesthetic of flaw-absorbing lighting, studio backgrounds and skilled editing. TikTok’s take, however, often sees creators barely awake, pushing a scarf through a tangled bed head and revealing a constellation of pimple patches applied the night before. On a platform where this level of authenticity (performed or real) is championed, content creators are keen to spotlight the – often painful – realities of each day life. It’s why Maggie Nowers, 24, filmed her make-up routine the morning of her granddad’s funeral

“I need to share the bad days in addition to the great days,” she says. Despite admitting an initial apprehension to click ‘post’, she says that weaving her personal life into her content and appearing on camera pre-grooming is integral to establishing a bond with viewers. “It’s that FaceTime effect,” she says. “In the event you can capture that on video, individuals are more likely to have interaction.”

Starting from mundane oversharing to confessions that eclipse even probably the most scandalous reality TV plots, GRWMs set the tone for a recent digital era where oversharing is synonymous with connecting, and where social media encourages us to show our lives into content for consumption. Ferrari thinks so, reflecting fondly on the sorrow of her initial video. “I’m definitely a greater person having documented it,” she says, adding with fun: “besides, what higher method to recover from heartbreak than to monetise it?”

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