This post is the first in a 3 part series. The next two posts will be published over the Easter weekend. Here in part 1, I’ll set out my research and talk about the performative aspects of TikTok “Day in My Life” videos – a great example of how users play with and curate specific identities on social media. 

I did this ethnographic study as part of a masters degree in Digital Anthropology at UCL. A key theme on the course has been social media’s impact on social collectives and selfhood, focusing on how individuals express themselves and form identities online, and how social media affects or is affected by different social and cultural groups. Within this, social media algorithms and tools like hashtags are subject to a lot of academic research.

In their 2022 paper, Why’s Everyone on TikTok Now?, Aparajita Bhandari and Sara Bimo propose the term “algorithmized self” to describe how people are creating identities in new ways through interacting with the algorithm on TikTok.  As part of my coursework, I spent a few weeks researching “Day in My Life” TikTok videos to see how networked and “algorithmized” selfhood work in practice.

What are Day In My Life videos?

“Day in My Life” (DIML) TikToks are short (up to 3 minutes) video blogs covering one day (or parts of a day) in the life of a TikTok user. Because the TikTok algorithm serves up ideas, DIML TikTokers overlap and duet with each other, using one another’s sounds and images. There are various formats and templates to help users create DIML TikToks. 

The Day in My Life hashtag currently has 4.7 million posts on TikTok. This hashtag is a sub-category of the “Day in The Life” tag which first became popular on TikTok in summer 2020, picked up by certain influencers in New York as the city was coming out of its first Covid-19 lockdown (more backstory on Buzzfeed News). While “Day in The Life” is a broader category, often containing broadcast quality, documentary-style footage of other people’s lives, DIML TikToks are more intimate and immediate, concerning mainly self-shot and/ or self-narrated content. 

My own experiments involved both a self-shot and narrated DIML and a pre-recorded video edit using this voice-over (created by another user) which was a trending sound at the time. (My video has since been removed because it contained a shot of ABBA Voyage – jeez, they don’t miss a trick)! For the main study, I spent hours scrolling on TikTok, observing and writing notes on all DIML activity. Most of the research was carried out while logged into my own TikTok account, so the content was algorithmically tailored. Although on the two days I scrolled through TikTok’s website via my desktop browser without logging in, the content was different but not dissimilar.

The presentation of self

In his still relevant book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman uses dramaturgical principles to analyse how individuals behave in the presence of others. He shows how people in everyday situations think consciously about impression management and how others receive the image they’re projecting. Although written in the 1950s, decades before the advent of mainstream digital media, Goffman’s theory of self is relevant to TikTok (and all social media) because it describes the performative nature of recording, editing and publishing personal content for others. 

Day in My Life TikTok Example 1 - repeated imagery. Images show a man waking up, a woman blowing a kiss goodnight and a woman talking directly to camera

Repeated imagery: waking up, blowing a kiss goodnight, talking directly to camera


During my research, I came across many repeated tropes in DIML TikTok that show how creators are acutely aware of their performance and their audience. For example, the exaggerated stretching when “waking” – or blowing a kiss at the camera before saying goodnight. Like actors on a stage, many creators talk directly to the camera within their DIML TikToks (although most prefer to add a voice-over). 

Central to Goffman’s framing is the distinction between “front” stage  and “backstage”. The front is a public space where we all perform (consciously or unconsciously) for groups of others we want to impress, or affect in some way. Backstage is private – a more relaxed area where, according to Goffman, we “can drop [our] front, forgo speaking [our] lines, and step out of character”. This backstage space is not necessarily without an audience – but the people there are trusted and supportive: it’s a more intimate place where we can try out different roles and aspects of our character. 

Merging front and backstage

The “Day in My Life” TikToks served up in my feed were virtually all conducted in “backstage” mode: I saw repeated footage of creators getting ready in their pyjamas, tidying the house, feeding the cat, doing the washing up and taking out the garbage. For celebrities and major influencers, DIML videos seemed to have a confidential, behind-the-scenes vibe – showing “exclusive” content I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. 

Day in My Life TikTok Example 2 - backstage mode: everyday tasks (getting ready, tidying the house) and behind the scenes (chef Shereen Pavlides using a hairdryer to melt butter on pancakes during a photoshoot)

Backstage mode: everyday tasks (getting ready, tidying the house) and behind the scenes (chef Shereen Pavlides using a hairdryer to melt butter during a photo shoot)


But, despite this backstage informality, DIML videos are very much “front” stage productions. In this way, the distinction between front and backstage is blurred. The DIML TikToks I saw were mostly aspirational and made for an audience – ideally as large as possible – with enormous attention paid to the shots, framing, lighting, surroundings and mood. On DIML TikTok, I found many  recurring motifs that show how a specific language and aesthetic is being built. The colour palette is often light, airy and bright. Ideally with trending sounds (music) to match – for example, Jazz Bossa Nova or Pink Plus White. People move seamlessly through wholesome daily tasks: wake up early, meditate or journal, coffee, gym, shower, healthy snack, study and bed. This TikTok by Danny Ha is typical of the genre. 

Day in My Life TikTok Example 3 - recurring motifs: images showing a light, airy aesthetic and wholesome daily tasks (early rising and journaling)

Recurring motifs: light, airy aesthetic and wholesome daily tasks (early rising, journaling)


While on one hand, I saw prominent consumption of familiar global or luxury brands: from Starbucks and MacDonalds to Balenciaga and Valentino – there was an equally loud DIML contingent rejecting consumerism in favour of a simpler life. In these TikToks, the DIML hashtag often appeared alongside others like #slowliving, #vanlife, #offgridliving or #cottagecore.

In this group of TikToks, brands are replaced by homemade and homespun off-grid living. The vibe is folksy, cosy and highly photogenic. For example, see this TikTok by Laura and Aaron (@parkingonthewildside). Note that, however simple the lifestyle, production values stay consistently high.


Day in My Life TikTok Example 4 - @Parkingonthewildside's profile page

The simple life: videos on @parkingonthewildside’s TikTok profile show a folksy, cosy aesthetic


In Goffman’s theory of presentation of self, the individual is central. They have agency – they’re in control of everything – setting, actions, appearance and mannerisms. As I’ve said, Goffman was writing in the 1950s, before the world wide web or social media were invented. In my next two posts I’ll look at how the social media platform and then the algorithm gained agency as we moved first to the networked self and then on to something more complex – can we call it algorithmized selfhood?

Read part 2 to find out!

Main photo: iStock

Part 2 – The networked self and networked publics