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Going to the cinema alone isn’t ‘an act of self-love’ – no matter what the internet says

Last week, an elderly woman went to see Barbie on her own. When the film finished and the credits started rolling, the woman, wearing a navy-blue coat with her peppery hair cropped short, walked down the auditorium aisle and left the cinema. Was I there? No. But a person recorded her and posted the clip on TikTok. “Saw this queen leave the theatre alone after Barbie,” read the video’s caption, which now has more than 10 million views.

Some of those watching left comments praising the woman for being “empowered” enough to visit the cinema by herself. “She is the beauty of loving yourself enough to go out alone,” commented one person. But many other people who watched the video thought differently. Because… well, isn’t leaving the house alone a pretty standard procedure?

In sections of the internet populated by my generation – Gen Z, meaning those born between 1996 and 2009 – solitude is being celebrated as a triumph for self-love. It’s part of a larger trend where TikTok users (mainly women) advise others to “romanticise their lives” in order to view the common and everyday more positively. In these videos, the answer to a happy life is not about fostering glamour, exciting company or continuous enjoyment. Rather it’s about turning mundane tasks or solo activities – such as doing laundry, cooking dinner or leaving the house alone – into an aesthetically pleasing, camera-ready routine. By simply lighting candles, buying yourself flowers, or even “listening to music”, people believe your quality of life can be elevated by “romanticising” the little things.

In one video that encourages you to “romanticise your life”, a young woman buys herself flowers and tells her followers she is “putting herself first”. In another, a woman pours her Pepsi Max into a wine glass as she recommends romanticising… hydration, I guess? Meanwhile, a video that cuts together pretty shots of a woman doing her weekly chores also recommends “going to the bookstore” and “making a playlist” to perk up your existence.

First: a disclaimer. There are many things I love about my generation. There’s our knack for internet memes. Our inside jokes. Our general openness. But there is nothing that makes me want to decry my 2000s-baby identity more than the tendency to frame the most tedious of activities as revolutionary acts of self-love. On the internet now, a walk is branded “a hot girl walk”. Eating leftovers for dinner is known as “girl dinner”. Waking up at 5am and going to bed at 9pm is aspirational. Sure, doing things for yourself is fulfilling – but when did going to the cinema alone, or just cooking yourself a pleasant dinner, become seen as a triumph of independence?

Dr Briony Hannell, a sociologist and university teacher at the University of Sheffield, tells me that Gen Z’s “romanticise your life” trend is tied to already existing social media behaviours. “Everyday life has been heavily aestheticised for over a decade on Instagram,” she explains. “That laid the foundation for other social media platforms [to centre] visual and aesthetic communication based on daily experience.” Hannell tells me that social media content is built on individual and collective “memory-making rituals”, and it’s something that Gen Z do extremely well. We have a special skill for making the most hapless of tasks look glamorous.

But, as Hannell adds, it’s not just about the content curation, nor is it about making your life look more glamorous. To some, adopting the “romanticise your life” approach might make day-to-day activities more meaningful. “It ritualises everyday life and imbues it with emotional resonance, making the most perfunctory of tasks more interesting and meaningful,” she says. “Within the sociology of the everyday, we refer to this as ‘everyday poetics’. The trend is, or should be, about celebrating the routines and rhythms of daily life, however mundane, banal, and ordinary they might be.”

The “romanticise your life” trend has not come out of nowhere, either. Noël Wolf, a language and TikTok expert at the learning platform Babbel, tells me that there is a wider culture of self-care and “slow living” that is being pushed online. “The ‘romanticise your life’ trend draws upon other [ideas], such as adopting a ‘soft life’, meaning seeking stress-free, day-to-day experiences and making decisions to benefit your wellbeing,” he says. “Romanticising your life involves focusing on the small things that bring you joy, often things you might do by yourself, such as taking a morning walk before work, going to see a film by yourself or practicing a relaxing hobby, such as painting or writing.”

Being an independent, self-sufficient woman who can buy herself flowers and not feel embarrassed to do things alone is central to this trend, too. “It also encourages people, and women in particular, not to rely on a partner for a positive experience,” says Wolf. “Essentially, you should feel able to buy yourself flowers or go out to eat by yourself without needing company.”

Wolf says that being alone is celebrated in different cultures, too. “In Sweden, the phrase ‘ensam är stark’, which means ‘alone is strong’, is used to describe the belief that solitude is not always the same as loneliness and that it is okay to spend time being mindful by yourself,” he explains. “The Japanese term ‘ohitorisama’, loosely meaning ‘party of one’, refers to the rejection of social stigma around spending time by yourself. Many people embrace going to the cinema or going for a meal on their own.”

While so many lifestyle trends are well-intentioned, and usually adopted in search of a more positive outlook on life, the hyper-documentation of the smallest of things is making them seem revolutionary. Wolf isn’t sure that’s a good thing, though. “An over-eagerness to document all aspects of life could prevent you from finding this self-led sense of contentment if you’re analysing all of your activities as subscribing to an online lifestyle trend,” he says. “As much as I enjoy watching and making TikToks, perhaps the lesson to take from the ‘romanticise your life’ trend is that it’s important to take some time away from social media to get some perspective on daily life.”

I have many questions about the video of the elderly woman leaving the cinema. But my guess is that her outing to see Greta Gerwig’s new movie wasn’t about self-love. Rather, she had the misfortune of being spotted by a Gen Z-er. And the fatal flaw of my generation is that we are born content creators. We can make a cup of gone-off milk look aesthetically pleasing on camera, and I watch in awe at any content creator who can make their morning routine look like a Wes Anderson movie, because mine certainly doesn’t. Doing things alone feels great, and definitely freeing at times, but marvelling at what is essentially nothing makes the silliest of things suddenly feel hyper-pressurised. But it’s okay if a walk doesn’t feel like a “hot girl walk”, or if cooking dinner alone doesn’t feel like a romantic solo date, either. Fundamentally, it’s OK if the mundane doesn’t excite us.

Xural.com

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