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The Influence - Identity, Vulnerability, and Expression

Updated: May 22, 2023

FarmTok, Pregnancy Posts, Cat Videos, Breakup Announcements, and the ‘Day-in-the-Life’ trend that doesn’t seem to go out of trend anytime soon; social media has become a place for artistic expression, weirdly. Just like how art is subjective and objective simultaneously, and there is no such thing as bad art, social media has enabled people to share snippets of their lives, the good and the bad, all in one place. However, being vulnerable on social media

isn’t happening across the board, as clearly stated by the D’Amelio Show, where the amount of hate that Dixie gets on social media for just being herself engulfs her. Many influencers are starting to promote the idea of realness through vulnerability on social media, whether coming to terms with their cultural identity or expressing their sexuality uniquely. This has become beneficial to many people, including but not limited to Millennials and Gen Zs, by letting them reach their fullest potential and embrace the ideas of acceptance, forgiveness, expression, mourning, and kindness through the search for stories within themselves and others.

A man and a woman posing

Creators of the BIPOC community are still underpaid for their contribution to the creative economy. While the expectations for them to create the “usual” kind of content still prevails,

the experiences of each individual from the community leads them to having a different set of expectations from themselves and from people in their community. There is also an expectation to make content that actually lets them present their stories and experiences to the world, while representing their identity the right way, unlike how western media stereotypes them to be.


First, we have Tiffanie + Connor. Tiffanie is the creative strategist and a dancer at the Steezy Dance Company, a dance community for people from various backgrounds trying to narrate their stories through dance. Connor is the co-founder of Steezy Dance Company.

Their passion for storytelling and expression can be vividly seen through their social media pages, which are a mix of self-portraits and breathtaking dance videos.


“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been interested in photography. My dad always took our family pictures using a film camera and taught me how to develop film photos. This was all in my old house, and that’s where my fascination with photography originated, because it was simply so cool to see moments of the past reappear in the present. So, that was always so captivating to me, and that’s how my desperation to capture moments began,” Tiffanie tells me as she beams with pride.


She recalls when she was in high school, taking a couple of Photoshop classes where she discovered she could capture moments and adjust them to express whatever she wanted. “I took a picture of a house that I liked and Photoshopped it to make it look like it was floating among the clouds, in a very surreal way.”


Connor’s journey with social media content creation started very differently. “I started shooting specifically for Steezy. We needed to produce quality content, but we didn’t necessarily have a budget, so I learned to do it all myself. I started photographing people at

dance competitions instead of hiring someone else, and that’s how I immersed myself into

learning all of the technical skills and business tactics.”


Man posing on chair

The re-blossoming of moments in storytelling is what Tiffanie and Connor’s social media content is all about, which brings a new perspective to “being an influencer.” “I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a creator, but I enjoy shooting and taking photos. There was a stage in life where I kept shooting. I love learning new things and being good at them. Certain aspects of what I do would make me look like a creator, but I just look at it as a creative outlet,” says Connor. As humble as that sounds, the meaning that he brings to the pursuit is even more humbling.


Many beautiful aspects of creating something new, purely out of passion and the sole intention of inspiring oneself, seem to have gotten lost in the world’s expectations for content creators.

Tiffanie’s Instagram is so aesthetic in a unique way, because she doesn’t stick to a single color palette or a set of even covers for her story highlights. Still, one would be able to see the meaningfulness and purpose of her soul through her posts. The best part is that her Instagram has pictures of people that she is friends with, people she met not too long ago, people she professionally photographed, random affirmative signs, and soulful sceneries. It is the kind of chic that brings out the best in you by letting you immerse yourself in nostalgia.


“As random as my content is, I like mixed media storytelling. I love the idea that I am a chronicler. I am not just capturing for the sake of having an occupation. I am not just creating for the sake of making money. I rather capture because those moments are part of the story

I am trying to tell.”


While Tiffanie’s Instagram is very nonlinear in a brilliant way, Connor’s Instagram is all about raw creativity, and much of his content goes hand-in-hand with Tiffanie’s. “The theme of my content mostly revolves around pushing boundaries. I help Tiffanie with some of her content, which would be a simple way to phrase it.”


Having (or building, for that matter) a social media presence is not always the most accessible, especially for people of color. For folks, there can be are generational, communal, or self-determined expectations, rooted in the need to represent our communities correctly. “I do take a lot of pride in my Asian background, but I don’t think about it a lot when I present myself on social media. I am aware of and very connected to my identity, but I don’t necessarily talk about it a lot on social media. Recently, the mass shooting in Monterey Park was near where I grew up. I spent a lot of time understanding the niches of the Asian American community, and my grandma always danced in the place where the shooting took place. When the shooting happened, I posted something about it and talked about watching my grandma and other old Chinese people dance there, which was such a core memory of mine. I didn’t hesitate to post this, and I’ve never thought of people not “understanding” my content and people not reading what I post. I don’t necessarily think of how my audience would perceive my content; I just post what I want to post because that’s a way of expressing myself and narrating my story,” claims Tiffanie.


The vitality of discovering things about yourself and your community is what defines our purpose, and social media might have made that more challenging. As an entrepreneur that has Chinese roots, Connor knows the weight of being underestimated due to certain stereotypes essentially created by Western media.


“I run a company, and in many ways, I am the face of that company. I think a lot about what that means. I remember in the early days, some investors did not understand the business and told me there were not many Asian people in this business. So, in that way, I’ve thought a lot about not coming across as ‘too Asian’ because if I did, people that are not Asian wouldn’t understand what I am doing.”



Woman posing with her hands up

Not too long ago, Tiffanie performed in an AAPI drag show called ‘Send Nudes.’ All the money collected went to flying a family from China to the US to go to the funeral of a victim of the mass shooting in Monterey Park. She believes that acts of pure kindness and empathy like this define your attachment to your cultural values rather than what you post on social media.


Kelah, also known as ‘The Polished Lady, is a Black social media influencer who loves spreading positive stories regarding Black-Owned Businesses and creating a ray of hope via her lifestyle. While Kelah maintains a certain kind of consistency regarding the type of content she posts, she uses a variety of styles and aesthetics to present herself. She believes BIPOC creators’ content varies significantly compared to those not belonging to the BIPOC community. “I don’t make the standard “Get Ready With Me” videos because, as a person of color, I have certain expectations from myself and society to fulfill. I have much more pressing issues to talk about. It is hard not to talk about those things.”


According to the pattern on social media platforms, not many creators of color make the standard videos that White creators make. One such piece of content, recently sparking great controversy is the “day in the life of a stay-at-home girlfriend/wife” videos.


Many people of color claimed that these videos are not realistic at all, and the pressure of being a stay-at-home partner in communities of color is at a whole other level. “I think that the world has given us a much different environment and lifestyle than that of people that are not a part of the BIPOC community, which never enabled us to do the chill content that you usually spot on TikTok and Instagram.” The expectations that content creators of color have for themselves come from the systemic oppression they’ve been facing for years. This is not spoken about, even though we live in the age of social media.


“Being a Black mother and content creator is a unique experience for me and isn’t comparable to the lifestyle and experiences of any other content creator. I believe that I should put my lifestyle out there digitally,” shares Kelah’s.


Social media started as a means to build connection, and somewhere along the way rules and dreamy visuals became the standard online. Now, as we return to making and seeking more personal connections, these creators are opening the door to show more of who they are, and it’s time we show one another who we are.

 

Interviews with Connor and Tiffanie Lim and Kelah Mckee and article written by Prathika Sukumar. Photos by and courtesy of Connor and Tiffanie Lim.

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