Why everyone is so sad to see their younger self

A Tik Tok filter makes people sad to see their own young faces. But what are they really nostalgic for?

Colin Horgan


“There’s this filter on Tik Tok that makes you look young, and now Tik Tok is just full of middle-aged folks being confronted by this and trying to come to terms with — trying to understand where their life went,” the user, @memo_akten, says to the screen in a video posted on February 21 — only his second video ever. “It’s quite, quite emotional.”

The video hasn’t gone viral — on Tik Tok, anyway. But on Twitter, it’s been seen 8,500,000 times. Akten, a “multi-disciplinary artist, musician, researcher, and computer scientist,” posted the video atop a long thread of other Tik Tok videos like his. Each one is a split screen — one frame featuring the Tik Tok user as they are today, and the other showing a real-time filtered image of their face, programmed to make them look like a teenager.

“I turned this filter on, I’m crying because I haven’t seen myself like this in years,” one woman whispers to the camera. “And I was so pretty, we were so pretty. I was pretty when I was younger. I was mean to her, though, I didn’t treat her right.”

“I think my feelings are about to get hurt. Let’s do this teenage filter,” another woman says, as she turns the camera toward herself, becoming almost instantly distraught. She smiles, holding back tears. “God, there’s so much I want to tell that person,” her older face says, as she points up toward her younger ‘self’. “Okay, this is messing me up,” says another woman. “Oh man, I miss you. Come back. Fuck Tik Tok.”

“This teen filter is making a lot of older people sad,” a man says, using the filter, posing as his young persona. “I don’t necessarily think it’s because we miss our teens, because teen years were wild. But the world — like the energy of the world — was just different back then because it wasn’t, y’know, ending.”

As soon as they activate the filter, time and space collapse.

Looking at images of yourself from years ago naturally prompts an emotional response. But there’s something particularly striking about the emotional journey through which…