We’re in the era of eras. A certain kind of video has gained traction among disaffected young people on TikTok. That of describing things straight, white men will never understand and categorizing these feelings into eras inspired by pop culture.
For example, take this video from @bbcprideandprejudice. The text reads: “Men will never understand what it’s like to be in ur fleabag era. To seek vengeance for fun. To wash ur bangs in the sink. To be a glossier boy brow same doc martens since 10th grade fuck i cut my knee shaving again sorry i’m literally five minutes away but i actually am not showing up crying to silk chiffon in my prius girl. To be a WOMAN BORN WITH PAIN BUILT IN.”
Beginning with the flop era, a concept that originated on stan Twitter to describe an album cycle that didn’t meet expectations, using the word “era” as a way to define oneself has proliferated in online spaces. Previously reserved for artists or significant periods of time, eras have been democratized on social media. Any person and anything has the potential to be an era.
“There is something empowering about the idea of rebranding yourself and calling it a new era,” Eli Rallo, better known by her TikTok handle @thejarr, tells Mashable. “It’s a fun, easy, relatable way to frame self-improvement.”
On TikTok, a specific set of eras has taken hold: the “Fleabag” era; the “Marianne from Normal People” era; the “unnamed narrator from My Year of Rest and Relaxation” era; the “any character from Little Women” era; and the “[insert Taylor Swift album title here]” era (most commonly, the Reputation era). These eras span the spectrum of media, from music to film, but they have one thing in common: At the center is a complicated, discontented white woman.
There is something empowering about the idea of rebranding yourself and calling it a new era.
Like being a main character, defining yourself by an era is another way to make sense of your life on the internet. By segmenting our lives into eras, we create a coherent narrative — one with a beginning and an end. Being out of one era and into another is a marker of growth and resilience.
Rallo demonstrates the Reputation era on TikTok through a series of suggestions. To embody the Reputation era, Rallo instructs her followers to “purge your social media” and start working on that creative endeavor you’ve been putting off for months. According to Rallo, eras are a more fluid concept. You can make any era work for you.
“It’s not like the whole ‘that girl’ concept, where you have to be skinny, white, and pretty, Rallo says. “Anyone can just decide to drop into a new era.”
It’s a notable shift away from the “I am not like other girls” rhetoric that once defined being a woman online in the early aughts and 2010s. The comments on Rallo’s videos are filled with funny, self-aware statements like “I am exactly like other girls” and “I have never had an individual experience in my life.”
On one hand, these eras have become shorthand for certain feelings: the Fleabag era is chaotic; the Jo March era is lonely; and the Reputation era wants to burn everything to the ground. By being used as a meme, these dynamic narratives lose some of their complexity. Take the Reputation era: Yes, Taylor Swift completely rebrands after her fall from grace, but the album is more than a clapback; it’s one of her most romantic works, which is completely lost when its era is shorthand for being a bad bitch. Not to mention, when used flippantly, these eras run the risk of glorifying depression and trauma.
Still, it’s undeniable that there is something about these stories and the eras they evoke that make young people feel seen at a time when everyday existence is so muddled by current events.
Emily Bernstien, a 22 year-old, psychology research assistant at Yale, posted about being in her “Jo March ‘I’m so lonely’ era” on TikTok in December. “I am at a time in my life where I could be advancing my career or going to grad school. In the Jo March monolog I referenced she’s talking about how women have minds and souls as well as hearts, but at the end of the day you just want someone by your side, someone to help you through and that is a really relatable feeling for a lot of us right now,” Bernstien explains to Mashable.
The Fleabag era and My Year of Rest and Relaxation eras have been criticized for their passivity and romanticization of self-destruction, but in many cases TikTokkers aren’t idolizing their behavior. Rather, they’re using these characters to acknowledge and understand their own struggles.
Kadija Moulton, a 24 year-old influencer otherwise known as @sativadiva1997 on TikTok, recently analyzed the difference between the prospective Fleabag and Russian Doll eras, which speaks to how these eras transcend meme status and look inward. “The Fleabag era is going through something extremely traumatic and not taking the healthiest high road about it, and instead embracing grief through chaos and absurdity,” Moulton tells Mashable, who spent a solid three years in their Fleabag era.
“That resonates with a lot of people who are coming of age right now in this pandemic,” they continue. “They’ve lost so much, and they are currently embracing doing whatever they want even if it brings chaos their way.”
Meanwhile, Moulton describes the Russian Doll era as “when you are aware of your trauma, and you have this sense that you’re stuck in your ways, but you have this understanding that you’re the only person who is going to get you out of that loop, which is a really isolating realization.”
These eras both grapple with trauma and depression, and by framing them as eras it’s an acknowledgement that those negative feelings won’t last forever. Eras end. They’re finite moments in time. Eventually, you will move on to a different era.
Zoe Jackson, a 23 year-old journalist and Booktokker, posted a TikTok about being in her “unnamed narrator from My Year of Rest and Relaxation” era. “I relate to the [narrator’s] general listlessness and depression,” she tells Mashable. “I mean, I’m not hot or blonde, and I’m not self-medicating away [the] year, but I can see how she got into that situation,” Jackson describes.
“I posted that in December, and I am already, like, ‘Maybe I am moving on from that era into my happy Frances Ha era,'” she adds.
It’s no surprise that Jackson already feels like she’s in a different era. On TikTok, the trend cycle is brutally short, which puts pressure on users to constantly evolve and rebrand in order to appease the algorithm. “The era is a temporary way of branding yourself and claiming your interest or passion for whatever is captivating you at the moment, and these internet obsessions move so fast,” explains Jackson.
The era trend is far-reaching, and those who participate in it all see it a little bit differently. But they all agree that these complex stories provide a new framework to make sense of your life.
Since the pandemic began, time has become warped. It’s hard to know if something was two days, two months, or two years ago. Without the usual markers of time, eras provide a way to make sense of the time loop we’re currently living in. So whether you are entering your Reputation era or settling into your Frances Ha era, embrace it because it’s only temporary.