Columns, Opinion

Burning Out: The consequences of being ‘relatable’

Everything is #relatable these days.

In many ways, the idea of being “relatable” is great for our society. Relatability validates our experiences, and it comforts us. It gives the individual a connection with the vast, confusing world.

It’s not like the simplification of the human experience is anything new. It’s really a concept as old as mankind. Thousands of years ago, ancient Greeks created stories about humanoid gods to explain natural phenomena — their gods fell in love, felt greed and sought vengeance the same way humans do.

But throughout history, we never quite leaned into the idea of relating with things as much as we did when virality became an important aspect of internet traffic.

All media needs virality in order to profit, which requires the retained interest of a mass audience. The media that we consume capitalizes on relatability by creating easy-to-consume content that will catch the most users’ attention.

The media throws around the word “relatable” a lot these days. If a public figure does something innately human, we call them relatable.

If a joke or meme hits home with us, we call that relatable too. “Relatable” has become the easy default. We apply it to everything to add meaning. We seek relatable topics as a surefire way to fit in, and it’s become my new fill-in word to avoid awkward silences. Ha ha, very relatable for me to say.

But we can’t just put the word “relatable” on everything, and we especially can’t on mental health, which happens frequently.

It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, it destigmatizes a long-stigmatized issue. On the other, we’re carelessly creating an atmosphere that normalizes poor sleep schedules or poor coping mechanisms, such as overeating.

A well-known consequence of this was when Netflix created the show “13 Reasons Why” in an effort to encourage relatability and empathy for its viewers regarding depression. Instead, it ignored several of the National Recommendations for Depicting Suicide, and was associated with a 28.9 percent increase in suicide rates among adolescents 10-17 for a month after its release, according to a National Institute of Health-supported study.

We seek relatability so much that it’s becoming a cheapened way to understand complex ideas. We cannot continue to fall back on relatability as a go-to just because it’s familiar in today’s pop culture.

This goes for media and individuals alike.

There’s no doubt that we can relate to one another. It should be a given after the international pandemic that we all collectively experienced: the slow descent into insanity, counting individual kitchen tiles, suffering from social isolation and stressing about the state of the world.

It’s just a little too familiar, if you ask me. I need some space.

I feel exhausted from the constant push for relatability — I feel forced into the cookie-cutter ideal, as if any other version of a human being would be too out of touch, clean-cut and obscure.

Our efforts to encourage relatability are always centered around embracing our faults, our errors and our imperfections so we can be more happy with ourselves. But the “we are all the same” mentality pressures us to abide by that ideal to not feel ostracized.

Our experiences mean more than just commonplace ordeals that everyone shares.

Relatability has become overrated. Our similarities — especially the unhealthy ones — aren’t always worth celebrating, yet we do so anyway because we’re used to it.

We must escape the familiarity of being relatable. We deserve to celebrate our differences and even our strengths, which we often don’t dwell on when we use the word “relatable.”

So can we bring our individuality back and explore our own self-expression?

As we collectively exit this pandemic, I hope we can recognize that relatability has become a shallow concept. I’m excited for the in-person conversations I will have, when hopefully we will show more of our individual personalities and opinions than what Buzzfeed listicles have taught us to show.

One Comment

  1. this article is so good!! speaks to an issue ive been having for so long but didnt have the words for. thank you for writing it!