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Soleil E. Golden ’24 has at least one thing in common with the average Harvard student — her room is her sanctuary. Covered in posters of Studio Ghibli films, Lana Del Rey, and Phoebe Bridgers, it functions as Golden’s place to grind out problem sets and care for her guinea pigs Esmée, Aspen, and Charlotte. But, unlike most Harvard students, the neuroscience concentrator’s room also serves as a set for her social media page.
Golden, alongside her research at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is an influencer with over 520 thousand followers on TikTok (@toxicthotsyndrome) and 68 thousand followers on Instagram (@goldensoleil). In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, the Pforzheimer House resident shared more about her experience at Harvard and beyond.
In the spring of 2019, before her Tik Tok fame, Golden’s high school newspaper wrote a profile on her, focusing on how she never brought her phone to school.
“I have never really been concerned with other people’s lives through social media… I care about what’s going on in the world and Harry Styles, but other than that, I don’t spend much time looking to my phone to check Snapchat,” she said.
Three years later, Golden says she “can’t believe [she] used to be like that.”
By the fall of that same year Golden had downloaded TikTok and became an active user during the global shutdown in spring of 2020. Her entrypoint to the online space was through her love of “Criminal Minds,” where she found a virtual community with nothing but free time.
Golden’s eccentric fashion, makeup and lifestyle helped her create a fan base of her own — a phenomenon that still feels hard for her to wrap her mind around.
“My phone is my lifeline in many ways, but it can be a source of a lot of stress and a source of a lot of anxiety,” Golden said.
“It’s nice to know that people, before they meet me… know I exist,” said Golden, explaining how TikTok has changed her relationship with social anxiety. “It does definitely make me more aware of what I choose to share,” she added. “I do want to be an authentic person online.”
And she does exactly that. While Golden’s posts center beauty and lifestyle content, she often talks about her mental health, shares her hobbies such as writing poetry, and provides an honest look into life at Harvard. Golden hopes to present a genuine persona online, but she remains concerned about how TikTok can push users to over-consume for the sake of imitation.
“Nowadays you can literally buy a person’s life,” she said in regard to the rise of Amazon storefronts and Linktrees, where many of today’s online stars commercialize every part of their look for their followers. “There’s no authenticity to that.”
Golden has not let the TikTok trend cycle police her style. Her personal style derives from fashion across the decades, adding late ’70s and early ’80s influences to her closet. During the interview, she flipped through “Girl Pictures,” a 2018 photography book by Justine Kurland and credited movies like “Empire Records,” “Almost Famous,” and “Meet Joe Black” as some of her favorite places to find new looks.
“The internet has created such a weird divot in that kind of plan,” Golden stated, referring to the process of finding oneself, “where it's no longer about building your life, but it's about building your life based off a template you see on the internet.”
In an attempt to break away from this pattern, Golden banned the words “where” and “from” in her Tik Tok comments to encourage followers to break out of the loop of seeing, liking, and immediately buying items promoted by influencers. Instead, Golden tries to engage with followers through her original jewelry line, Made by Soleil, supplied through deconstructed personal jewelry and vintage passed down from family members.
Given the challenges that come with having a platform, Golden credits a need for representation as one of the reasons she continues to post.
“We are more than deserving of a seat at the table… and it is not for lack of trying” she said, arguing that TikTok’s algorithms are complicit in the lack of visibility of Black women in beauty. “Why aren’t you showing me videos of people that look like me?” she asks — the you being her TikTok For You Page.
Furthermore, as a Black woman at Harvard, Golden faces more invasive comments online about college admissions, including ones questioning her admittance to the college in light of the unfolding SFFA case.
“It’s so hard to not let it get to you.” she said. “I’m not going to lie, some days it can be exhausting. The way I rationalize all of this in my head is: I don’t want to stop doing what I’m doing because I remember how badly I wanted to see a person like me when I was younger.”
Golden tries her best to respond to followers interested in learning about her college application experience and the rigor of S.T.E.M. classes at Ivy League colleges.
Golden sees her TikTok as a part of her post-Harvard plans alongside becoming a doctor. While she was once a girl disconnected from internet culture, Soleil E. Golden finds herself at the core of what it means to be a force online today.
—Staff writer Marley E. Dias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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