Think Forward 2024: Post Representation


Yesterday, we held a LinkedIn Live to discuss Post-Representation – a trend in our recently released report, Think Forward: The Social Reckoning. As notions of identity compound and deepen, communities want to see messy complexity over neat narratives – to hear more about the trend, click here to watch Research & Insight Analyst Amni Raihan, and Strategist Lorenzo Perosino discuss the meaning of Post-Representation, and its significance in shaping social in 2024.

There’s no question that a mediascape that platforms diverse voices is crucial – and in many places, still radical. But in contexts where diverse voices have been normalised, people are paring back their faith in the power of representation alone.

Its limits ring true across pop culture and corporate culture alike. Lizzo brings body positive narratives to the big stage, but is accused of fat-shaming behind the scenes. Record-breaking audiences are watching the Women’s World Cup, but female footballers still aren’t treated with the respect of their male counterparts. Budweiser uses its brand heft to normalise all gender identities, yet trans activist Dylan Mulvaney has to brace against a wave of trolls (without the beer brand’s help, we might add). 

With this tempered enthusiasm for representation, people – whether minorities, disempowered groups, or just users writ large – are taking a new approach to identity-building and self-expression. The preference is shifting from active representation to passive, as people seek to explore their identities without proudly putting them on display.

Communities are rewriting the rules of engagement with brands, seeking storytelling and partnerships that complicate representation, rather than simplify it. Brands, recognizing the wealth of originality within these communities, are increasingly making space for these messier stories to come through.

the behavioural change

People are asserting multifaceted identities.

Internet icon Aliyah Bah made waves because her aesthetic, aliyahcore, is a mashup of racialised and subcultural identities that aren’t typically lumped together – making it a complicating of Black and ‘alt’ identities. It leans into a wider trend of r #altpoc and #blackalt movements on TikTok that reframe white-dominated music genres, from punk to nu-metal, to make space for more complex identities, from POCs to female, trans, and disabled fans.

Internet humour is complicating ideas of femininity.

On social, jokey micro-trends that explore different archetypes of womanhood are everywhere, from ‘tomato girl summer’ to ‘coastal cowgirl’. Users have reclaimed the term ‘girl’ – a word once used to patronise adult women – as a tongue-in-cheek way to find community amongst women who share similar mindsets, vibes, aesthetics and auras. Girls of the internet are “eating my girl dinner, taking my hot girl walk, listening to my sad girl music, reading my feral girl books, going out dancing with my girlianas, getting bevvies with my girlipops”, and even explaining how men from Pedro Pascal to Succession’s Kendall Roy embody ’babygirl’ energy

People are using social to explore identity, not put it on display.

Some of the most celebrated, appreciated, and fast-growing places on the social internet are spaces that enable people to collectively explore their identities, rather than represent them. On Reddit, people are using spaces like r/AskBlackGirls, r/AskTransgender, r/AskGayBrosOver30 to help people gain a more nuanced understanding of marginalised groups’ lived reality – but through exploratory, anonymous storytelling, rather than loud ‘representation’.

Read more about Post-Representation and the four other trends in Think Forward: The Social Reckoning.