The Reaction To Molly Marsh’s TikToks Highlights A Problematic Attitude Towards Being “Cringe”

Black iPhone displaying TikTok

Can a gal not have a boogie now without being called cringe? 

“Cringe”. Verb.

“If you cringe at something, you feel embarrassed or disgusted,” understands the Collins English Dictionary. The Cambridge Dictionary agrees. To cringe, it says, is “to suddenly move away from someone or something because you are frightened” or “to feel very embarrassed.” The Oxford Dictionary feels quite the same and says to cringe is “to move back and/or away from someone because you are afraid” or “to feel very embarrassed and uncomfortable about something.”

Disgust, embarrassment, discomfort, fear. All very dramatic connotations for a gal just having a good time dancing, lip-syncing, and strutting her stuff on a social media app, which was, quite literally, designed for that. 

Molly Marsh, 21, was a contestant on this year’s summer series of Love Island. As with most Love Islanders these days, Marsh already had a considerable social media following before she entered the villa. As an “influencer”, she regularly posted content to her TikTok account pre-Love Island — including an extensive array of dance videos with her sister and parents and sponsored content for brands including Femfresh.  

While Marsh was in the villa, viewers flocked to her TikTok page to comment on existing videos, expressing heartfelt sympathy for Zach (her villa beau, now-boyfriend). “Zach didn’t see this side in the villa, so ran”. “Zach must be regrettinggggg”. “Zach ran away after seeing this video.” “Absolutely excruciating watch”. “Poor Zach regretting this”. It’s giving me “Boys don’t rate girls for funniness” (if you know, you know) vibes. One comment says: “she’s so pantomime”, which is a niche attempt at an insult considering TikTok as a whole concept is “pantomime”? 

Tabloid-style youth news site The Tab, published an article titled “Ranking Molly Marsh’s worst TikToks, from slightly toe curling to all out cringefest”. Again, the author seems concerned about what Zach will think about Molly’s “cringe side”. “Imagine cool and laid back south London Zach sitting at home and watching this? Ummmm.” It is 2023, people; why do we care what the cool boys think of us? What does being cool even mean? It’s giving me “Boys don’t rate girls for funniness, Georgia,” vibes. If you know, you know. 

Now, we all know people love to jump on the comment section bandwagon on social media, especially TikTok. I got my first TikTok hate comment just this week, actually. Under a video I harmlessly, and rather helpfully, I thought, posted about restaurant recommendations in Split from my holiday, somebody took great offence. “You didn’t even tried [sic] one tipical [sic] Croatian food 😅I was there 4 days ago and only eat tipical [sic] and it was such an amazing choice. So sad for you!” Aside from the shudder-worthy grammar and spelling, I found it quite funny. Because actually, we did try Balkan cuisine while we were there. These were just some places we had enjoyed in the evening, one of which was a small family-owned local seafood restaurant. You can sample some local cuisine without renouncing pizza for a week. A flurry of comments soon followed, agreeing how much of a tourist I was. Which is exactly what I am? It’s giving “What a sad little life Jane”. 

It seems Molly Marsh has, quite rightfully, had enough of the attacks on her character and apparent sympathy for her boyfriend. She has now turned off the comments for an ad she did for Femfresh, which she was absolutely villified for. “I cannot escape this video” and “Pls let me and my family go”. It is this video that ranked top on The Tab’s cringe list. The author acknowledges removing the taboo from feminine hygiene isn’t cringe but argues Molly’s facial expressions and execution of the video are hauntingly so. The problem with ranking lists like these is they justify — and often galvanise online trolls, reinforcing wider attitudes about how people, particularly women, should present themselves.

It seems anything that doesn’t fit into society’s set idea of “cool” is deemed cringe, and in Molly’s case, has, in many ways, been used to shame her. 

Maybe Molly doesn’t even care — she’s just hit one million followers on TikTok and is clearly raking it in. But the reaction to her TikToks shows we are far from comfortable with and still use the idea of being cringe against people. 

Journalist and poet Chloe Laws has previously written about the beauty of being cringe, and how joyous it can be when not used as an insult:

So if someone ever tries to tell you that you’re cringe, know, deep down, it’s a compliment. Do those silly dance routines, tell those dad jokes, and wear whatever the heck you want. Life is far too short to worry about being cringe. 

Words by Hannah Bradfield

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