You are NOT the Main Character (at least, not all the time)
By Dani Molloy (she/her), illustrated by Longheng Tan (he/him)
If you've ever spent a Friday night scrolling through TikTok, then you may have come across the concept of ‘main character energy.’
This TikTok trend consists of creators encouraging their audiences to romaticise their lives by acting like the main character in a movie. Actions that creators take in order to ‘be the main character’ include waking up early to watch the sunrise, wearing cute outfits and – for some unknown reason – drinking iced coffee. The main character trend has taken over TikTok in 2020 and 2021 and, at the time of writing, the hashtag #maincharacter has 5.5 billion views on TikTok, while #romanticizeyourlife has 219.2 million.
A common soundbite for ‘main character energy’ content comes from TikTok creator Ashley Ward. Over twinkling harp music, Ward states, “You have to start romanticising your life. You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character. 'Cause if you don’t, life will continue to pass you by, and all the little things that make it so beautiful, will continue to go unnoticed. So, take a second and look around, and realise that it’s a blessing for you to be here right now.” This sound has been used over 80,000 times.
While there is definitely nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses or appreciating the small things in life, the issue with ‘main character energy’ content comes when people turn this appreciation into obsession. ‘Main character’ content relays the message to followers that your life has to be aesthetically pleasing in order to be valuable, and may cause viewers to value aesthetics over truly living their life. Fixating on becoming the main character has resulted in people on social media compulsively attempting to make their life appear aesthetic – perhaps to a detrimental effect.
My problem with ‘being the main character’ is that it encourages people to look for a narrative or plotline in their often very random life. When we watch a movie, we’re watching a predetermined narrative that occurs during a short fragment of the main character’s lifetime. We don’t watch eleven years of Harry Potter being abused by his aunt, uncle and cousin, we watch the part where he finds out he’s secretly been a wizard the whole time. We also don’t watch the years after Harry’s storyline of defeating Voldemort to see him enjoy marital life with Ginny (unless you count The Cursed Child, which I don’t – but that’s a hot take for another day).
Likewise, when we try to make a narrative out of our own lives we may become disappointed because there is no overarching storyline or message and there are often long periods of inactivity. Events may seem disjointed and disconnected because they’re not strung together by a director, but are instead just mundane fragments of everyday life.
YouTuber Leena Norms states in her video ‘you are not the main character’ that, “the reason good stories make good stories are because you join a character in a very small window of their life usually, and in that small window of their life they don't have their needs fulfilled and they usually move towards having their needs fulfilled.”
Movies are enjoyable because they provide a sense of catharsis. You watch a character experience a tragic, stressful or even comedic event and you relate to them as a means of releasing your own pent up sadness, stress and desire for humour. This isn’t always how life plays out though, and trying to become the main character in a movie will often only leave you feeling disappointed. There may be years of inactivity in our lives, or one month where life is so eventful that you don’t have time to romanticise individual events because you barely even have time to sleep.
In real life, you may find yourself eating two-minute noodles for breakfast and cereal for dinner every day during a particularly stressful week. You may also spend the next week in Bali taking pictures in front of waterfalls. Neither of these actions make you any more or less the ‘main character’ because you were never a ‘character’ to begin with, you’re merely human. You’re also not the only person that life is centred around, and the majority of the time your friends and family will be too wrapped up in their own lives to notice you’ve been wearing the same hoodie for three days.
So feel free to enjoy the aesthetics of ‘main character energy’ but don’t worry if your life isn’t always as aesthetic as TikTok creators present life to be. ‘Main character energy’ has turned into another trend where creators can show off that their life is better than yours – at least for the few seconds that you see through TikTok videos.
You don’t need to live an aesthetic lifestyle to be worthy of being loved, and your meals don’t need to be Instagram- worthy in order to fill you up – even if it’s just another round of two-minute noodles.