Extremely Online

Is TikTok’s “Villain Era” Trend Just An Excuse For Bad Behaviour?

“I can’t help but wonder whether it encourages a ruthless individualist attitude that will ultimately work against us.”

Marissa Milam/TikTok

After our obsession with being the main character, the bimbo, and the hot girl, now comes theVillain Era. Popularised by TikTok creator @padzdey, this new “vibe shift” is seeing young women abandon the desire to be liked by everybody and embracing prioritising themselves. From the outside, this seems harmless. Of course we should be able to abandon the chokehold of “niceness” that makes us accept inadequate treatment and often leaves us putting on a smile when we are, arguably, being disrespected. But does this need to position ourselves as villains encourage a ruthless individualist attitude that will ultimately work against us?

What it means to be a woman online is now changing as how we think about ourselves are shaped by trends. As chartered psychologist Kimberly Wilson says: “You can’t just say, ‘I’m learning how to set boundaries for myself’, you have to be like ‘I’m entering an era’. It very much speaks to how young women feel as long as they have to be a brand; they have to be on sale at all times.”

“There are a lot of people who try to push past boundaries or make you feel like you’re being a problem for not complying with their wishes. I think the ‘Villain Era’ term encompasses our desire to not take any more flack from anyone who won’t respect our words or limits,” says Ami Nicole, a content creator and writer. “If you’re someone who is viewed as giving, it’s an indicator to narcissists that you can be a provider for what they need. Many of us who have difficulties asserting boundaries are worried about looking ‘mean’ or ‘hard to deal with’, which could be viewed as a ‘Villain Era’. We avoid getting our energy zapped by these things.”

TikTok user Marissa Milam speaks highly of how this approach has impacted her. “[The Villain Era] has helped give a name to being selfish and has allowed me to embody that. I think it’s a healthy way for people to explore their power which is sometimes needed; to own your boundaries fully.” There is also a spiritual element dubbed Dark Feminine Energy. “The dark side holds our trauma and any unhealed parts of us, so by healing that side of ourselves and using it to power us, we become more confident,” says TikTok spiritual practitioner Jacqueline Wraith. “The Villain Era is about putting your self-worth over other people’s self gain; people are tired of being walked all over and used. That Dark Feminine Energy is there to help support you in that process and gives you the strength to break out of that people pleasing mentality.”

The commodification of this trend is very prevalent among the hashtag where people share their #amazonfinds or #journals that people can purchase to grant them access to their Villain Era. “What people don’t realise they’re doing is that they’re putting a kind of psychological edge on a very economic idea, which is ‘all about me’,” Wilson says. She explains that these self-centred trends do not exist in a vacuum. “Trends in society and trends in psychology actually follow the overriding economic framework; neoliberalism. It’s individualistic and capitalism driven.” She likens this new trend to the re-popularisation of manifestation or the Law of Attraction. “It’s not learning to be more virtuous, patient, and deepening your spiritual knowledge. It is about how you can attain more things.”

The Villain Era is not learning to be more virtuous, patient, and deepening your spiritual knowledge. It is about how you can attain more things.

The Villain Era stems from the idea that many of us are people pleasers, which I put to Wilson, who agrees that some people are; but not all. “There are a group of people who absolutely find it difficult to advocate for themselves and say no because of certain developmental dynamics. That’s often because there have been literal punishments when they have refused to do something for someone in a position of power over them,” she says. The labelling of titles like “people pleaser” is happening because of the plethora of information shared online and the lack of discernment in internet users.

“People will read ‘Here are 10 signs you’re a people pleaser’, and actually, what you’re describing are basic characteristics of most humans. Most people then assign themselves the label of a people pleaser and start seeing pathological traits in their normal, perfectly healthy behaviours,” Wilson continues. One of the most harmful things to come from this is that your friends trying to have normal interactions with you can be painted as overstepping boundaries. “Our social relationships are social contracts, which involve a degree of reciprocity, and so I worry that when people go to the extreme of saying, ‘I’m in my Villain Era’, or ‘I’m setting boundaries’, actually what it does is weaken and undermine the very thing that’s going to keep them emotionally well, in the name of self-care.”

Although I am all for women taking control of their time and energy, while embracing a more self-serving stance, I worry about us doing it to the detriment of our wider communities. If you’re going to embrace this new era, then think about how you can still show grace and compassion for the people who actively add to your life, instead of placing limits on that care.