Over the past 10 weeks interning at Vogue Runway, I’veRead more...
Last winter, Britta Grace Thorpe was in bed at her parents’ home, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in the depths of a late-night TikTok binge, when one video broke the reverie. Soft harp sounds played, and then a female voice began a gentle but insistent monologue: “You have to start romanticizing 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.” Onscreen, an overhead shot showed a young blond woman sprawled on a blanket on the beach, looking up at the camera, surrounded by friends who are oblivious to the lens. Sparkles from a TikTok filter bedazzle the footage. The woman gazes serenely skyward, as if wholly satisfied with her life.
The ethereal video played the same role for Thorpe that an antique sculpture did for Rainer Maria Rilke in his poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo”: It instructed, “You must change your life.” “It was a wake-up call,” Thorpe, who is twenty-three, said, adding, “Everything made sense in that moment, and I was, like, Wow, I’m doing it wrong, I’m living my life incorrectly.” In the midst of the pandemic, she decided to move out of her parents’ house and quit her full-time job at a marketing agency. Now living in Philadelphia, in a stylish pastel-colored loft, she works part time as a social-media manager for a sunglasses company and the rest of the time as an influencer. On Instagram, where her bio is “CEO of #maincharacterenergy,” her account is primarily self-portraits: on the beach at sunset, shopping downtown, posing in front of a mirror. A trim figure with long, blond-highlighted hair who is often clad in athleisurewear, she is almost always in the center of the frame. “I make a pretty great main character,” Thorpe told me.
Over the past year, on the strength of that one TikTok video, which has more than three million views, the “main character” archetype has become part of Internet vocabulary, a sort of social-media update to the “Type A” personality. It describes any situation in which a person is making herself the center of attention, the crux of a particular narrative, as if cameras were trained on her and her alone. The term can be used appreciatively, acknowledging a form of self-care—putting yourself first—or as an accusation, a calling out of narcissism: a person dressing too extravagantly for a casual event, for example, is trying to be the main character. Main-character moments are those in which you feel ineffably in charge, as if the world were there for your personal satisfaction. As a TikToker put it recently, “Why does only buying the groceries I need for 2-3 days make me feel like the main character in an Italian summer memoir[?]” In the video, a woman carries a tote bag full of basil down a sunlit sidewalk, to a soundtrack from the lambent Italian-summer film “Call Me By Your Name.” “TikTok and social media has made it more attainable for you to write your own story,” Yasmine Sahid, a twenty-four-year-old actor and TikTok creator who began making her own main-character videos last August, told me. “You can kind of cast yourself in these mini-movies.”