In this conversation with Pittsburgh Allderdice senior Amaya Dorman, she discusses her observations of lifestyle content on social media; its effects on teens’ aspirations and values; and the challenges she faces to maintain her individuality.

Jourdan: Hey, y’all. I’m your host, Jourdan Hicks. Welcome back to From the Source podcast. This week we’re looking at the link social media has to teen aspiration, culture and behavior. Let’s check in with one another. We’re four episodes in and each week, no matter the topic — be it youth violence, teen activism, or mental health awareness — social media has been brought up in every single conversation. 

Jourdan: Social media can help us find community, share art, music, events, advice, recipes. But as it brings some of us closer together, it also deepens a divide across age groups. If you’re a teenager, it could be hard for you to imagine your email account being the entirety of your digital profile. Like the whole thing. That’s everything. Your e-mail. For adults, creating a new profile on the newest platform, keeping up with the newest dance trends and lingo may feel far too overwhelming, creating a tension between adults and teens over social media engagement and activity. Is it time well spent or is it time lost? 

Jourdan: This week, Amaya Dorman will help us to parse out the use and outcomes of teens consuming entertainment and lifestyle content, and how Amaya’s personally using her social media page to immerse herself in a lifestyle that’s curated for her, by her. 

Amaya: My name is Amaya Dorman. I’m 17 years old. I go to Allderdice High School. I work at Tsaocaa in Squirrel Hill. It’s a bubble tea place. 

Jourdan: Although Amaya may be known as the bubble tea connoisseur and taste expert at Tsaocaa, you ain’t hear from me, but you heard it from the streets, her professional goals include studying law and becoming a civil rights attorney. Amaya lives in Swisshelm Park with her mother. When we first met, Amaya struck me as a little serious, a little reserved. But when we started to talk favorite foods and hobbies, she opened right up. 

Amaya: Like sushi’s like my top, and then everything just, like, falls beneath it. Like, I love a good burger, love a good burger, I love a good burrito. 

Jourdan: I met Amaya through her mother. Her mother recommended she respond to our callout for teen guests. 

Amaya: I think that definitely, like in my family as a whole, I’m definitely seen as the smart kid or the kid that is going places. But then at the same time is this, like, very opinionated individual and like, does things that we do not understand. 

Jourdan: Like, pierce her septum and build themed Lego sets. 

Amaya: When you think of Legos, you think of, you know, the little toy Legos with the slides and building houses and stuff. There’s like different genres of the kind of Legos you can get. So there’s like flowers, bonsai tree nature, that kind of thing. And you can also make  a car or a piano, a typewriter that works, a TV that you can, like, play on. So it’s more like it’s more complicated and interactive than the younger ones, which is why I it. I know you’re judging me, but it’s fine. 

Jourdan: Not judging you. 

Jourdan: From the Deahmi and Jaia in episode one to Cayah and Tierra after we’ve explored how teens process external pressures internally in secrecy away from their peers. Amaya’s here to help us translate how the consumption of lifestyle content and entertainment on social media is linked to what teens believe about themselves and what they show externally, and what they’re thinking about internally. 

Jourdan: How did you come to decide that this is something that you wanted to speak about for our season of teen voices, issues and things shaping teens impacting teen culture? 

Amaya: Like, initially, I was like, this is really interesting to me because like social media affects a lot of different aspects of our lives. So you have to talk about like how is all of this that you’re consuming, how does that affect you as a person? Especially like so that more so in real time, like during quarantine because like, you know, you’re on your phone every day, you’re on some kind of social media every day because there’s nothing else to do. 

Jourdan: And every week there’s a new trend. In TikTok world, a video will gain popularity, then be reduced to a sound or a phrase. 

TikTok video: Aoop! Jump scare.

Jourdan: That phrase is repurposed

TikTok video: To the salon…

Jourdan: and stitched in new TikTok videos

TikTok video: Holy spirit activate, holy spirit activate.

Jourdan: to reference the original video’s point. 

TikTok video:   I hope you’re hungry

Jourdan: Point being that something is good,

TikTok: a negroni.

Jourdan: something’s funny,

TikTok: It’s enough slices.

Jourdan: something’s ironic.

TikTok video: Nobody’s gonna know. They’re gonna know.

Jourdan: It’s why people are using a person raving about a chicken salad from 81st Street Deli to promote their products, services and goods that have nothing at all to do with chickens or salads. 

TikTok video: Ya’ll better come up here and get one of these. 

TikTok video: Was that?

TikTok video: It’s a chicken salad. 

Amaya: You see it like become big and then like slowly dissipate. 

Jourdan: And then a new video comes along with a new message, a new phrase, and the cycle begins all over again. 

Amaya: And so that for me, I was like, wow, like social media, what people do and like who you look up to, you can really affect like what we want to do, like how we craft ourselves, how we behave, how we dress, things like that. I know my mom calls me like a parrot a lot because I do like, say things or like repeat like a little meme little vine sounds. I don’t know why I do it. It’s just something that I do. So that and like, I guess, like you saw it a lot with like like “Euphoria.” Did you see “Euphoria”? 

Jourdan: “Euphoria” follows high school students navigating love, friendships in a world of drugs, sex and trauma through the lens of social media. 

Fezco from Euphoria: I just feel like people be sharing way too much on there. 

Lexi from Euphoria: Online? 

Fezco from Euphoria: Yeah, they be ruining the mystery. Like, say if I like a girl. 

Jourdan: About, 90 million people tune in each week to see characters use DM’s, Insta stories, status updates, Snapchat to unveil their deepest fears, secrets, cute style moments and personal motivations. These characters inspire teens and the teen scene themselves inside of the characters. Amaya says that the impact of the show goes far beyond how teens are spending their Sunday evenings. 

Amaya: And like when it initially comes out, you know, middle of the school year, and you see people kind of like change, like how they look, how they speak, how they carry themselves based off of like that personality because they feel like, you know, whatever personality they are reflected in the show is like, cool. They admire it or they want to be like that, and then they change that. 

Amaya Dorman sits in Schenley Plaza and scrolls on TikTok on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (Photo by Lilly Kubit/PublicSource)

Jourdan: This is especially alarming to Amaya because this is a sensitive time for her and her peers. And I don’t think I’m going too far by saying that she knows that adults know that it’s a sensitive time for her peers and her and that they’re deciding who they want to be and what they want to do. And they’re watching shows like “Euphoria,” they’re using social media and the digital universe that emanates from that to their teen culture to refine their personal ethics and beliefs about themselves, too. 

Amaya: Because we also see with social media like how easy it is to fall down like the rabbit hole of becoming like a very hateful individual. While you definitely see social media like crafting certain beliefs that reflect like this one character or this one thing that is constantly being blasted on social media, like the creation of a lot of very, very young boys where they have access to TikTok and it does, you know, starts out cars, you know, Andrew Tate and his Bugatti and like, you know, he’s rich or whatever. 

Andrew Tate: Once you identify and accept that you are broke, because you are not on my level, then we must work out why. 

Jourdan: Andrew Tate is an influencer, former professional athlete and podcast host. 

Andrew Tate: We have to do everything we can possibly do, as much of it as possible, and spend all of our human hours, waking hours,  doing Aikido and buying super cars. Going here, going there. 

Jourdan: This summer, his social media page and use of social media came under fire for promoting extreme misogynistic views that were capable of getting men and boys riled up, radicalizing them and then encouraging them to commit harm offline. This content is among the most followed on TikTok. And you know, Andrew has framed himself as a life coach, offering his guidance, his perspectives on what it takes to attain the spoils of independence, wealth and influence. 

Andrew Tate interviewed: I’ve escaped the matrix. 

Interviewer: Yeah. 

Andrew Tate interviewed: I’ve literally escaped the matrix in nearly every form, so any form of oppression no longer applies to me. I can’t be cancelled.

Amaya: What you don’t even notice as you’re scrolling through his videos, like within the Bugatti and you know, the trips and whatever he comments very harmful things. And then you have people that follow him in the comments that are like, you know, this is what Andrew Tate supports. So how to support, like surface level it’s maybe like cars and things like that. And then you delve deeper and it becomes these very harmful and misogynist things that like you’re not aware you’re consuming until you’re like this, like intensely misogynist, like hateful person. 

Jourdan: I just like cars and it’s like, no, you don’t just like cars. 

Amaya: Yeah, cars was like, cars was the tip of the iceberg, but there’s the rest of the iceberg. And it’s not cars. But you think that because he’s successful and because he embodies that, that you need to do that as well, because he is like what successful should be on social media. 

Amaya: It’s like, you know what, I want to live that life like they seem happy, I want to be happy. But you’re only getting small bursts of videos or you’re only getting a picture and like that’s happiness for them. But we also have to think about, like, what’s happiness for us, like as our own people. Social media creates a really, like, unrealistic, high expectation of how you should be enjoying your life when you see everybody like going to Dubai for their birthday. 

TikTok video: Me and my girl we in Dubai

Amaya: I’m not in Dubai. I can’t afford for everybody to go to Dubai. Unfortunately like you work a 9 to 5, working 9 to 5 in a regular building. You can’t really afford to go to Dubai. I feel like it’s kind of hard to have accountability in the sense of like like social media reflects the standards that we have. And then like as a society, we reflect social media. So it’s like one big like reflective mirror, which kind of sucks because like, well, who do you hold accountable if everybody is like bouncing back and forth between like where they’re getting their ideas from. So I think that’s kind of hard. 

Jourdan: What are you talking to your friends about? What are you watching on TV? What are you listening to? What things are you saving to come back to later in your Bookmarks section on social media? 

Amaya: So we usually talk about like the like whatever social thing is happening or like whatever we see on social media because that’s kind of how you like gauge what other people are doing and like people’s actions and like how they’re feeling about certain things. And in my like, in my saved on like TikTok I have like memes, like funny sounds and, and then also other stuff. Like there’s this thing that this lady did a little while ago that was like, things that I wish I knew when I was like 25 or in my early twenties and it’s about like, you know, like pleasing yourself and like things you should do. And I say that because I thought it was really interesting because like you gain knowledge when you’re older, but then it’s like, I want to have that knowledge like when I’m younger, so I can craft things around that. So I just thought that that was really interesting. And also I like the, like the self-care stuff and like the, like Black girl luxury like that thing. Not because I really like, want that for myself, but because I enjoy, like, I enjoy seeing Black people in luxury. I enjoy, like seeing what other people are doing with their lives. And like, it’s also kind of satisfying to me, just like watching it all played out. It’s like, edited nice, it looks nice. It’s very visually appealing, which I really like too. 

Jourdan: What is the dream that you have for yourself that is amongst all of the messages and media and sources around you telling you what you should want?  

Amaya: Um. Honestly, my ultimate goal is just like be able to travel and eat good food and have like nice experiences outside of, like, the United States or even outside of, like Pittsburgh. It’s just, like, experience more things and go to new places. Which I guess in a way is influenced by social media, because you see people like going out all the time. But at the same time, like I feel like for me personally, like I just, I like food. I just wanna eat good food. 

Jourdan: Me too. 

Jourdan: But would you say there is a connection between your goals of becoming a lawyer and your passion for ethics and rights and the defense of those rights and this conversation that we’re having about media? 

Amaya: Yeah, I think like we were talking about it and you said and I definitely realize that that’s how I am. Like, I do have a very strong, like morality of like, you know, what’s right and what’s wrong or what I consider right and what’s wrong. So I feel like that. And like I’ve said, like I always, the media never really or like social media never really, I guess, like influence me to like want to be a lawyer or like want to do that kind of thing. I think that like we more so saw the injustices and the things that are happening because of media.  So yeah, like the whole, things are more pronounced because everbody can take out their phone and record it, which I feel definitely kind of had a little bit of an effect on it. 

Jourdan: I asked Amaya how much credit does she give to outside influences and on her decisions and goals that she has for the future for herself. The outside credit being her family, her mom, her peers and social media’s representation in trends. 

Amaya: I’m at a stage where it’s like you’re like now picking like, I mean, you can change it, but you’re kind of picking like who you want to be, what you want to do. And like, I struggle with that a lot because it’s like, that’s such a broad thing to say. Like, what do you want to do when you grow up? And I have an idea, but right now I’m like stuck on like, well, what major will, you know, bring me to where I want to be and like what I want to study and what I’m interested in. And also I’m trying to focus on like doing things that benefit just myself and nobody else, because I spend a lot of time, you know, taking hard classes, piling up on work because I feel like I have to meet this expectation of me. So I’m trying to work on like, you know, lessening my workload and being more like doing things that make me specifically happy and benefits nobody else. 

Amaya Dorman sits in Schenley Plaza and scrolls on Tiktok on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (Photo by Lilly Kubit/PublicSource)

Jourdan: Do you think about like where these motivations have come from? Is it you in your desire to achieve or is this more social factors, family factors, influences that are kind of shifting and shaping these motivations? 

Amaya: I think it’s kind of both in a way like I have these expectations for myself, but also like they kind of come from like, you know, societal stuff and like familial stuff. I think it’s just like a mixture of both and like the outside expectation, and then me kind of like internalizing it and being like, okay, like this is what I want to do. This is how I want to achieve things. This is my version of like success and happiness. 

Jourdan: My takeaways from my time with Amaya were this. One: Social media affects teams in how they develop their self-esteem and their aspiration. 

Two: That there’s a thin line between lifestyle representation, you know, showing what’s out there, and indoctrination. 

Three: Because of the influential and immersive experience and nature of social media, teens are going to need help. They’re going to need help defining their likes, their interests, and their ethics and their beliefs and what they want for themselves, offline. 

Jourdan: Adults, this is where y’all come in. 

Jourdan: We talked about support, allyship, mentorship. We’ve talked about that over the last few episodes in episode one and specifically in episode three, if you want to check back and check those out. 

Teens are processing their feelings. They’re going through a very unique, vulnerable time, figuring it all out, asking all the questions, feeling all the feelings secretly away from their peers and friends in private — and on social media. 

Jourdan: If you want to connect with a teen in your life, share your social medias. Show them what’s trending on yours, ask them what’s trending on theirs. Ask what videos or influencers, followers, are funny or cool from their feed and don’t judge them. Take notes. In your own time, see if you want to shadow-follow any of these profiles and see if there’s messages that are coming up that are alarming to you, that you feel like you should address directly with your teen. 

Jourdan: Teens, the life you create for yourself offline is the most important. Your integrity. How you treat yourself. What makes you happy. Knowing what makes you happy. How you define success. That’s what’s important. 

Jourdan: Season four of From the Source podcast was produced, reporting and hosted by me, Jourdan Hicks and edited by Halle Stockton. Liz Reid of Jeweltone Productions produced and mixed this episode. We continue to interview young people for this podcast as we speak. If you’re curious to learn how you can share your story with us, or nominate a young person ages 13 to 18 to appear on an episode of From The Source, you can get in touch with me by sending me an email to PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit newsroom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can find all of our reporting and storytelling at I’m Jourdan Hicks. Stay safe, be well.

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Jourdan is a senior community correspondent at PublicSource. Previously, Jourdan was engaged as a community-based educator in the Hazelwood section of the city. A lifelong Pittsburgh resident, she’s...