'We glamourise everything on social media': Is 'Main Character Syndrome' making you self-absorbed?

Depending on how you present yourself or impact the lives around you, it can be either empowering or invalidating

By Anjaly Thomas

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Published: Fri 5 Jul 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 5 Jul 2024, 8:25 AM

There’s a party next door. You float into a crowded room with sunshine in your eyes. You become the centre of everyone’s attention. Your main character energy is at its best.

In moments like these, when the main character energy stacks up to a series of presumptuous behaviours, main character syndrome is born.

A term made popular by TikTok, the Main Character Syndrome describes self-centred people (especially true of social media enthusiasts) who typically see others in their life as supporting actors, and themselves as stars. They create fictional versions of themselves and live their lives through it. However, experts believe this syndrome is often a response to feeling out of control in one's life.

And depending on how you present yourself or impact the lives around you — this can be either empowering or invalidating.

Psychologist Susan Albers PsyD (Cleveland Clinic) simplifies this syndrome by explaining what makes such behaviour a viral topic of discussion in today’s social media. She says that this syndrome can also bring toxicity to relationships because the person affected with this is not thinking about the other person’s needs.

Maintaining neutrality is important

Derek A Issacs, managing editor, Phoenix Media & Publications, Abu Dhabi, sheds light on the current trend of Main Character Syndrome.

“I actively engage with several influencers on Instagram, finding inspiration and diverse perspectives in their content,” he explains. “While this term is relatively new to me, I appreciate influencers who offer more than just glimpses into their lives. Many of them provide valuable insights, ideas, and recommendations that add value to my feed and help me discover new things.”

However, as a consumer, he feels that social media has enabled each of us to become the protagonist of our own stories. “Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have empowered individuals to share their lives, passions, and interests with a global audience, creating a rich tapestry of diverse narratives and experiences.”

“While some influencers may exhibit behaviours that align with main character syndrome, it's important to recognise that social media encourages self-expression and self-promotion. Many users, not just influencers, showcase aspects of their lives, achievements, and interests online, seeking validation, connection, and recognition in a digital space where visibility is key.”

Believing in your own significance

Dr Reena George, a faculty member of the Tourism and Hospitality department at Amity University, Dubai, argues that influencers have become the key forces in shaping trends and consumer behaviours in the digital era. “They receive attention from their followers, reinforcing a belief in their own significance,” she adds.

According to her, it is not uncommon to see some behaviours symbolic to ‘main character syndrome’ where individuals prioritise self-centredness and personal glorification over contributing to a genuine engagement leading the way of unrealistic achievements.

This, she says, may be due to the nature of its social media segment itself that encourages self-promotion and creates an environment where individuals feel pressure to present an idealised version. For instance, beauty influencers may carelessly spread consumerism by flaunting luxury products, while fashion influencers might prioritise perfection over authenticity, unintentionally setting unrealistic standards.

“Although this may be correct for some sects of influencers, it is a fallacy to paint all influencers with the same brush. Few of them act as mentors, educators and cultural ambassadors inspiring others and are the exception to the rule. In summary, while main character syndrome may linger, it is not inherent to all influencers; it is a phenomenon observed in some, they represent the minority rather than the majority.”

There is a 'Sasha Fierce' in us

Once upon a time, Main Character Syndrome was reserved for the truly famous, but nowadays the level of self-importance has notably trickled down into some influencers, says Pamela Hogan, content director at TishTash Communications, Dubai. “With growing audiences and large-scale followership, some influencers who were previously humble have begun to exert unrealistic demands and become increasingly difficult over time.”

“However, it’s important to recognise that while many influencers today are affected, not all of them have fallen victim to extreme or unhealthy levels of these behaviours. Many are genuine and use their platforms to share valuable content, promote positive messages without exhibiting high levels of self-importance. It's unfair and inaccurate to make broad generalisations about an entire group of people based solely on their profession.”

Pamela says that like Beyonce’s on-stage alter ego, Sasha Fierce, influencers have online personas to make their lives seem more interesting. “Often majority of us curate our feeds based on how we want to be perceived, rather than showcasing the realities or the mundane aspects of our daily life. We attempt to glamourise everything - highlighting our showreel and leaving the bloopers and BTS [behind the scenes] on the floor.”

Being an influencer is often a full-time job and a source of income, she adds. “My family and friends really know the reality of how my dinner is usually served. Depending on their audience and niche, it can even drive what they wear, where they go and who they socialise with. It’s a career that often revolves around self-promotion and cultivating a personal brand, meaning that influencers are more likely to succumb to the pressures of larger audiences. The trouble is knowing when to turn off that ‘Sasha Fierce’. Some people ultimately become it.”

As a consumer, showing humility is key, and for some influencers, success can easily direct them onto a path that is a slippery slope, says Pamela. “Being surrounded by brands and people who constantly ‘want you’ and demand your time can exacerbate that feeling of personal importance. I am personally put off by following or working with influencers who come across as rude and self-obsessed on social media, and I give a wide professional berth to influencers with a reputation for being demanding, rude, and difficult to work with. However, I try not to judge them. For many, it’s a career, and their persona is a put-on act. When that curtain drops and the Main Character Syndrome mask falls off, who am I to say who they really are?”

Perception matters

Popular RJ and Instagram star Lokesh Dharmani relates Main Character Syndrome with the type of content one is creating on social media.

“Sharing personal stories puts content creators in the centre of things, making them the main characters. It focuses on their personal lives, like their daily routines and sundry,” he says, adding that because of this relatability, it enables them to reach bigger audiences. “But some content creators focus on their talent -- recipes, travel stories, fun hacks. And though the focus is on creating content that will help, the main character energy still looms large. It is that personal touch in a recipe or an experience in one's personal travel story that makes the content unique,” says Lokesh.

Drawing from his own experience, he explains that when creating content, he chooses to focus on what he wants to say and not on himself or what the followers want to see. “The idea is that every piece of content that I create comes from an honest, authentic place and not be based on trends. For instance, if an avocado recipe is going viral, I might not even touch it because I don't like or eat avocado.”

Relatability is the main reason why content creators slip into the Main Character Syndrome, he argues. “Take the example of that young boy from a small city in India who came to Dubai to work in a café. He went viral by just sharing his daily life. He posted everything – from catching a bus to work, cooking in a tiny room to having fun at work. It's real. It's raw. It's relatable. Plus, it gives such a great insight into life in Dubai to millions of people planning to shift to the Middle East.”

“Some of the influencers might want to show off and I see no harm in that. Instagram and Tiktok are their own billboards, giving people the platform and the freedom to splash their lives, the way they wish to. As a consumer and content creator, I feel each to their own.”

“There is no one-size-fits all rules on social media. We all use the platforms the way we see or want it. The mediocrity that exists on social media is as much a reflection on content creators as much as it is on consumers.”


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