DearDidi-HERO02-min

Dear Didi: An End to the Epidemic of Online ‘Big Sisters’

Tired of the trite, phony advice of nearly every South Asian influencer, Pranjal Jain wants to have some real, honest conversations about growing up in this new monthly column

Words by Pranjal Jain

Dear Didi: Dear Didi is a monthly column where Gen Z writer Pranjal Jain shares her big sister advice and lets us in on the ups and downs of adulting. Submit your questions here!


It seems like every 20-something woman online claims to be “your Internet big sis.” Or, in the very niche but pervasive part of the Internet, your Internet big didi/appa/apu.

These didis/appas/apus usually have a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn or Queens. They work at a Big Four consulting or finance firm and spend their weekends meal prepping and going on hot girl walks. They claim to be their “ancestors' wildest dreams”but did my ancestors really dream of me spending my days behind a desk at J.P Morgan and dating a gaslighter?

The online big sister is a dangerous epidemic. They’re the Gen Z extension of the millennial-loved and -lauded beige-fluencerexcept online big sisters are seemingly driven by purpose rather than aesthetics. They push narratives packaged as wellness and aspiration, therefore, convincing young girls to adopt lifestyles that hinge on a very narrow brand of feminism and extreme capitalism.

Big sisters (Internet, or otherwise) should be giving us less advice on material objects, and more on our emotions and well being.

Ankit Sah

For example, at least 70 percent of these big sisters’ content pushes product: a hairspray to give you the perfect ponytail, a brown lip-liner that you can’t possibly live without, a pot that will kickstart your big-girl kitchen. In general, I’d like to believe my big sister would focus less on material objects and more on my emotions. I don’t need my “big sister” to bombard me with fashion and beauty tips as another vehicle of perpetuating exhausting beauty standards and molding me to seek outer validation and support what are likely patriarchal companies.

Furthermore, in online Big Sister Land, everyone lives without their parents, hooks up and dates around, and values financial freedom more than anything. From the tone of their content, it is implied that anything less doesn’t match their definition of an independent and feminist woman.

The idolization of this one type of lifestyle that focuses on hyper-individuality, strays us from the ideals of feminism, robbing us from free choice and community.

As a result, this specific lifestyle becomes the mark of success for so many young women, inhibiting us from realizing deeper or other unique desires. Why aren’t there more women online dreaming of Pulitzers, of cultivating robust friendships, of living on a farm? Even here, why is the Internet, at the behest of women, controlling our desires? The idolization of this one type of lifestyle that focuses on hyper-individuality, strays us from the ideals of feminism, robbing us from free choice and community.

But, my largest bone to pick is with the South Asian big sisters, who in addition to all of the above, also play a part in distilling culture due to their representation plights. Every video they start off with “as the eldest daughter of immigrants” and end with a sob story does more harm for the community than good. Is our culture and sisterhood really just doling out advice on how to beware Raj with the gold chain, wearing jhumkas with your Western outfits, and trauma dumps? This is not the representation I want.

South Asian sisterhood to me is about healing generational cycles, fostering a mind-body-spirit connection (which with our cultural practices, we are more equipped to share than most), and living full and nuanced lives together. When these online big didis/appas/apus only share their trauma or Airpods Baljeet drama, they paint such a shallow picture of themselves, their families, and our larger culture.

Unlike the fictional world of Mindy Kaling’s media, online big sisters do have the burden of representation on them. I would never expect Kaling’s stories to represent us all because they are, after all, just stories. But, content creators are different. They are real people, who have more control of what they share online, and who I assume, live complex lives.

I want to see all the nuances of South Asian big sisters' liveswhich I understand is tough with short-form content. But at the very least, thoughtful portrayal of South Asian issues without the lens of trauma would be a step away from Jhumka-Mango-Lehenga culture—or the most unsubstantial form of South Asian culture.

To make unequivocally clear, I’m all for young women growing followings and getting their bag from brand sponsorships. I also have no problem when women share dating advice and fashion life hacks. But, when they entangle the sacred bond of sisterhood so closely with consumerism and honestly, bad life advice, they commodify it.

Sisterhood is powerful and political, and online big sisters reduce it to a two-dimensional storytelling ploy for views and followings.

When in actuality, sisterhood is a term entrenched with politics and feminism. Sisterhood feminism is the idea that women should support each other, because we are just as capable as men are of sexism. Bell hooks and feminist thinkers alike, through the test of time, have spoken on women caring for one another as sisters would because that brings us closer to a world of equality. Sisterhood is powerful and political, and online big sisters reduce it to a two-dimensional storytelling ploy for views and followings.

This is where I enter the chat.

I am not a victim of short-form content. So in all my life’s experiences and long word-count allowance, I want to be your online big sister. Ironic? Maybe, but it’s even more proof that I critique, not criticize, in hope for better.

Am I qualified to be your ubiquitous big sister? I’ll let you be the judge of that. But I do promise to be authentic as I navigate all the ups and downs of my newly entered big-girl life. I just moved to London two weeks ago. I have no friends, family, job, or even a real plan. Just a lot of delusion and a vision. It’s going to be a wild ride, and I’m excited to bring you along.

Am I qualified to be your ubiquitous big sister? I’ll let you be the judge of that. But I do promise to be authentic as I navigate all the ups and downs of my newly entered big-girl life.

Once a month, I’ll be narrowing in on one topic, either submitted by you or resonant with the happenings of my personal life. I hope to share my thoughts on the topic, anecdotes, advice, and when needed, to call in the expertsinterviews and advice from other iconic women.

No topic is off limits, but I am quite firm on going beyond the basics. I feel so grateful to be breaking the tired repertoire of similar columns in the past that are usually by and for white audiences. Therefore, I think it is my moral duty to speak to experiences that those previous columns never could, and that our short-form online big sisters don’t have the luxury of addressing.

This column will not be a place for fashion advice, nor will I dole out gimmicky, girlboss-era phrases of empowerment. I’ve spent far too much of my adult life in therapy, healing and mending intergenerational curses for that. It’s time that deep work reap its dividends in helping you!

So, let the flood of “how do I maintain male friendships” and “how do I get my mom off my back” pour in. I’m here to listen, help, and answer it all. Write to me!

Xx,

Pranjal

Published on October 4, 2023

Words by Pranjal Jain

Pranjal Jain is the founder of Global Girlhood and Praali. She writes at the intersection of culture and gender and her previous works have appeared in Teen Vogue, PopSugar, The Established, and more. Stay connected with her, @pranjalljain everywhere.