Got It From My Mama

Is The Secret To Going Viral On TikTok Having Hot Parents?

An investigation.

The archetype of the hot parent in pop culture is nothing new. Sometimes the perpetuation of those characters is blatant — like Stifler’s mom in American Pie in 1999 and Stacy’s mom in Fountain of Wayne’s 2003 hit song. In other instances, the hot parent character is a little more covert — hell, didn’t we all have a moment when we watched The Parent Trap back as an adult and realized Dennis Quaid is kinda… fine?

Mainstream media has been obsessed with attractive parental figures for some time, but on TikTok, people are showing off their parents in a new way. Perhaps it's in hopes of going viral and gaining a following since hot-parent content consistently performs on the app. Some users’ entire pages star their parents, like @ellapottersays’ (248,000 followers) who posts outfit checks with her mom and has even posted a full-on fan cam of her mom before. Each video they do together gets hundreds of thousands of views. Other people, like @olliemuhl, have had one-off success showing their parents — like his video with 1.3 million likes featuring his dad suavely entering the frame.

Some trends have emerged that work particularly well on video-based TikTok. Instead of the typical “happy birthday” Instagram posts, TikTok users brag about how many potential suitors their parent rejected back in the day set to Madonna’s “Material Girl” — like @mellieslc, who received 7.5 million likes on a March 1 video of her dad’s throwback photos. Rather than tagging their moms in Mother’s Day tributes, some TikTokers are dropping it low with their moms or swapping their outfits with them in the hopes of catching Yung Gravy’s attention. (Yup, the same Yung Gravy that took Addison Rae’s mom to the 2022 VMAs. He frequently comments or duets videos of moms he finds attractive.) The hot parent content can be vast, from throwback pics of parents in their younger years to current pictures of them looking good.

Underneath these sorts of videos, you can find comments asking for a skin care reveal or saying things like “Was he a model? Now we need a mom reveal” and “IDK how to tell you this, but I’m in love with your dad” or “Freud, you win this round.” In some cases, the comments are turned off — likely because they were getting a little bit too thirsty to deal with.

TikTok user @lplanet joined the app in March and immediately hopped on the “Material Girl” trend, sharing a short, recent clip of her mother juxtaposed with several photos of her during young adulthood. “The song was energetic, empowering, and I thought it was awesome to be able to share those vintage pictures with the world,” she tells Bustle. “I knew how stunning my mom was when she was young and that she would be perfect for this trend. I also knew that the transformation before and after would be spectacular.”

That video now has 2.4 million likes and hundreds of comments ranging from “She could’ve rejected me and I would’ve said thank you” to “Aging can be so cruel.” While @lplanet did not anticipate her first-ever TikTok video to reach such a broad audience, she was well aware that online commentary can be unforgiving.

“Some comments were a bit mean, although realistic. I was cool with it and so was my mom. My mom is 70, never had surgery, she aged naturally and that's OK,” she says. @Lplanet thinks that people, in general, are anxious about aging so when they see it so clearly laid out in a TikTok trend it can be jarring, while also giving them a place to flesh out those complicated feelings in the comment section.

“We should all embrace [aging]. It's essential to appreciate the beauty in every stage of life,” she says. “It was funny to see some younger people react [to my videos] with thoughts like, ‘Wait, my parents were once young too?’” These trends can make parents — whether our own or strangers on the internet — seem more human.

In the several videos following that first one on March 8, @lplanet answered questions about her dad, shared her parents’ love story, and showed other old photographs of her grandmother and great-grandmother. For her, the TikTok trends were a fun way to share stories of her family history rather than chase clout from throwback photos of her parents, though she hopes to eventually start using the app to share content about her own life rather than just her family once she feels comfortable enough to do so.

For other users, though, these trends of showing off their young parents are a surefire way to get attention from the masses. Viral TikTok sounds plus photos of your conventionally attractive parents — throwback pictures from decades ago or footage from just the other day — seem to be a no-fail formula for hundreds of thousands of views. The short video-sharing format of TikTok lends itself to this sort of attention-seeking in a way that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram doesn’t, explains Brian Pendergast, a psychoanalyst and author of The Curtain: Tales of Human Love and Personality.

“Video gives us more ways to see and be seen,” he tells Bustle. “We want to be known, and posting a video (whether sharing or oversharing) gives us some sense of control and safety in how we’re known.”

Creating content starring one’s parents can feel like an easy place to start if you haven’t found your TikTok niche yet — it allows users to share an important part of themselves without revealing anything too personal if they don’t want to yet (just ask @lplanet). Putting together videos that compile photographs of your parents can make you feel nostalgic, and make for content that will ultimately charm FYPs.

“Parents are a vital part of our psyche. No matter the relationship we have with our caregivers, they impact us, and we internalize them because we’ve had a dependent relationship with them,” Pendergast says. “The viral outcomes of these videos seem to suggest some element of sentimentality.”

It’s clear that these videos are fun to watch, which is why a new trend seems to pop up every few months giving users the opportunity to show off their hot parents — though on TikTok, you don’t need a trending sound to have your hot parents go viral. And despite what some comment section warriors might say, Pendergast doesn’t believe there’s anything deeply psychological behind these trends, even if some people like to reference Freud in their reactions. (For example, one user wrote “All y’all calling your mothers hot no way he wouldn’t have been all over this #freud” in response to a trend centered around young-looking parents.)

“Maybe these online [Freud] commenters are trying to say ‘People really *are* attracted to their hot, younger parents in various ways, and Freud was on to something in his Oedipal theory,’” he says, while noting that this is actually an old-school way of thinking.

Instead, a modern, more widely accepted take on Freud’s theory is that kids simply like to get a lot of attention from their parents, which is understandable. Perhaps on TikTok, children like getting attention because of their parents, and when thousands of likes and a micro following start rolling in, who can blame them?

So if you want to go viral on TikTok, you might be able to do it by showing off your hot parents. Just be prepared for some trolls (or Yung Gravy) to pop up in your comments section. You’ve been warned.


Brian Pendergast, a psychoanalyst and author of The Curtain: Tales of Human Love and Personality

TikTok user @lplanet