Humans are social beings. We were not designed to be cooped up and cut off from our respective tribes. Even the most introverted among us yelled, “Mercy!” as the quarantine dragged on. As my husband, four teenagers and I prepared to start our fourth week of self-quarantine, I found myself remembering how naïve I was in the early days of our lockdown. Back then, I imagined perfectly organized closets, eight years’ worth of family vacation photos organized into glossy hard-covered albums and, at long last, my finished manuscript.
One thing I never envisioned, however, was me, a woman in her late 40s, starting a TikTok account, yet here we are. And it turns out I'm not alone.
When TikTok first launched in late 2016 it did not register on my radar because I was more than twice the age of its target market: teens 18 and under. The app gave kids exactly what they wanted; a space in which to create and share funny videos of themselves singing, dancing and lip-syncing to their favorite tunes. TikTok is all about entertainment and keeping it light. And those are things we all need right now, not just teens.
So, while some people are deep into their banana bread baking phase of quarantine, plenty of women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond have embraced TikTok for the same reasons that it appeals to teens: because it's accessible and a departure from the harsh reality of the daily grind.
According to a report published by Statista in February 2020, 19.4 percent of TikTok users are ages 40-50+. Compare that to 37.2 percent of users who are ages 10-19 and you get a sense of how strong our numbers are on the app.
A couple of months ago BC (before corona), I was at a bar mitzvah and there was a talented magician who'd been hired as the entertainment. He was an entrepreneur with a decent social media following so I took the opportunity to pick his brain. We debated the merits of hashtag use and audience engagement, but ultimately, he had one clear message for me.
"Get on TikTok,” he said.
"But that's for people my kids’ ages, not for people like me,” I scoffed.
"Trust me,” he persisted. “In a year from now, everyone you associate with on Instagram will be on TikTok, too. Don't be late to the party.” And off he sauntered.
Did I run home that night and sign up? Of course not. But when I started to see some of my fellow content creators from Instagram and Twitter migrate over to TikTok, my interest piqued. I finally decided to try it out for myself because —well, quarantine. I didn't have the headspace to work on my book or learn a new language, but I had just about enough bandwidth to play around on TikTok and learn the ropes.
And I am hooked.
I asked social media expert Rachel Pedersen why she thought middle-aged women were flocking to TikTok and she said she'd been thinking about this a lot herself. Here's what she had to say.
"People are tired of the highlight reels on Facebook, tired of the polished perfection of Instagram. On TikTok we see a more authentic side of people. We see people without makeup, including celebrities, and seeing the real side of life is addictive.”
Pedersen, who has 192,000 TikTok followers and many more across other social media platforms, offered this next theory, which rang truer than anything I've heard in a long time.
"I also think that this is about personality repression. All our lives we are told how to be in order to be accepted in society and that image may not truly reflect who we are. We are told to wear a blazer to be taken seriously, not to do things that are age inappropriate lest we make fools of ourselves. So, for women in their 40s and 50s and 60s who've been told by society that they're too old to rebrand themselves as the dancers, comedians or singers they've always wanted to be, TikTok gives them the perfect platform to stop repressing their personalities and ambitions and to find a welcoming audience."
This thinking is in line with the liberating phenomenon that many women experience when they hit their 40s and 50s and suddenly stop caring about what people think of them and are now ready to live on their own terms.
Fellow writer Paige Kellerman, who inspired me to make the jump to TikTok, shared her thoughts on why it's so popular with an older demographic.
"I think it's because it's more inclusive than Instagram, which is staged and pretty. And age doesn't seem to matter as long as you're entertaining.” You need not look any further than the many grandparent accounts with more than 1 million followers each for confirmation of this point.
Lori Parker, a 51-year-old TikTokker from Arkansas with 35,000 followers, said that at first she was hesitant to join TikTok, but once she started posting videos a couple of years ago, she realized that this was “the perfect platform for an introvert like me! If you knew me in person, you'd never expect me to be on TikTok…. TikTok helps me be more outgoing, I think it's even spilled over into real life to some extent."
Parker said that around 50 percent of her following are in her same age bracket and, because they grew up in the ‘80s, had never seen anything like TikTok so now they are just having fun with it.
An app that allows us to feel youthful even as we watch our hair go gray and the dewiness of our complexions evaporate for lack of access to any beauty technicians while we quarantine? I, for one, am enjoying it.