This Is TikTok For The Over-40 Crowd

My relationship with TikTok started as research about how a 16-year-old character in my next novel would spread information. I downloaded the app two days before the world went into lockdown.

I liked TikTok right away because a lot of TikTok is lip-synching. I went to elementary school in a small town in the 1980s. Airbands were a school wide past-time. We had regular competitions. In fourth grade, my twin sister and I placed third for our take on “Manic Monday” by The Bangles. This was a big deal.

I also liked how short TikToks are. I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old so everything I do on my phone has to take less than ten seconds. TikToks take 15… but I manage.

If we had not begun the endless days of social distancing, my fascination with TikTok would probably have passed quickly. But the app came at the right time for me.

If I had to draw a pie chart of how I’ve been spending this time, it would be ninety-eight percent taking care of my children.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

My kids are with me 24 hours a day now. Though they are the most beautiful things I know, they go into regular seizures of anger. They feel so sad and so alone. They miss everything. So do I. This is all so hard.

I needed a new way to connect with people. I was lonely. Facebook was empty. Twitter made me feel terrible about myself. After weeks in isolation, my Instagram feed—which was usually a source of happiness— had become depressing. Instead of my kids, forests and mountains, I now take photos of sourdough.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

Right now, making bread and caring for my kids gives me pleasure but no joy. I am desperate for joy. I know I’m not alone in this.

My sister lives half a country away from me. She texted me two days ago: “I miss new”

TikTok is my new. I am 40 years old. This is my TikTok journey.

There are three types of TikToks that capture my attention. That is not to say that there are only three different types of TikToks. Like other social media, there is a rabbit hole for every rabbit. As I scroll and select, my feed becomes roughly composed into three categories which I call transformations, confessionals, and dance challenges.

Transformations are when people appear on camera looking one way then transform into something else. Confessionals involve lip-synching to spoken words like air-bands without the music. But it is the dance challenges which are the best part of TikTok. They start when someone posts choreography to a snippet of a song. Others copy the dance in their own TikToks. Some people post themselves watching the dances. Others contort themselves into strange shapes or weird costumes. The end result is a series of uniquely different and impossibly fun copies of the original routine. It’s like an Andy Warhol painting in action.

I decide that my first TikTok will be a dance challenge.

I choose a user name that seems cool, tentative and slightly meta, which takes some time.

I pick an easy routine for my first performance. If I’m honest with myself, the choreography I really want to do is a sexy little number called #savage by MeganTheeStallion but it’s racy as hell and overly ambitious for my first attempt. Instead, I choose a jazzy dance to #blindinglights that’s a lot like an aggressive aerobics class. It looks fun, simple, and I like The Weeknd.

On TikTok, one can record themselves alongside another video. It’s called a duet. I decide to make my first dance a duet with a father-and-sons trio of some acclaim. They have over 100,000 followers and their moves are sharp and cool.

In the morning, while I’m doing the dishes, I move my body in semblance of the choreography. This makes me feel like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance doing moves while working on the factory line. I am not Jennifer Beals but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters on TikTok. Everybody is there to have fun. It’s like a party in the summer.

It’s tricky to decide what to wear. My husband is a head brewer at a microbrewery which has been deemed an essential service. This means I am the sole childcare provider and we have a steady supply of amazing beer which is not a slimming combination. I settle for a pair of black leggings with a heel cuff and a loose fitting top because it makes me feel like an off duty ballerina. I throw on red flats because it feels like something a cool dancer would wear. And that’s what I am.

Backyard TikToks are fun and I desperately need to get the kids outside so I can set the camera up in the yard. I hope that when they see me being a cool dancer, they will want to join me. They laugh as I rehearse the same moves over and over. This suggests I am not a cool dancer, but I don’t care because I’m having so much fun.

Full disclosure: I suck at this. I have no formal dance training. My style can best be described as “goofy.” I chose this choreography because it seemed simple, but it turns out that it is not simple enough for me. The first move is a dab with an associated side leg step and everything is moving very fast. Dabs are not a move I am familiar with, but no matter. I throw myself into it. My daughter tells me it looks like I am just bouncing up and down. I delete TikTok after TikTok. I dab and dab and dab. I am ruthless in my pursuit of okay.

Then, it happens. I bounce into the frame, dab, step, hop, and swim. I do a move that closely resembles Irish Step Dancing, which is not part of the choreography but it is working. At the end of the dance, I kick at the camera with pure unbridled pleasure and something inside me shifts. I have done it. I have found my new.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

The last frame is the best one. There is a smile on my face I haven’t seen for a long time. Before I post it, I add the hashtag #over40. There are many of us on here now, and we are all here for the same reason. TikTok is joy in a time of isolation. We don’t have parties any more, and might not for a long time, but we can still dance.

Now, on to #savage.

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