In the world of TikTok, Shockey Sanders stays true to herself

In the world of TikTok, Shockey Sanders stays true to herself

SU neuroscience and psychology sophomore Shockey Sanders says her social media presence has made her more comfortable with herself.
Published: May 11, 2021
TikTok star Shockey Sanders in Syracuse

Shockey Sanders sits on her dorm bed contemplating whether she should skip sociology 101. It’s her fourth class of the day and she’s exhausted from working in labs. Having recently joined TikTok, she decides to make a video. Using the trending audio “Shawty in Love” by Playboi Carti, with her vinyl collection behind her, she jokes about being too tired to go to class.

Luckily, she finds the motivation to attend class, but first, she uploads the 15-second video. 

Turning off all notifications, she ignores her phone during class. So when she walks out of the lecture hall and the video has over a million views, she is flabbergasted. What was so special about the video that made it blow up, she wonders. Was it my looks? My joke? My room decor in the background? After reading the comments, she realizes that people like the video because it’s relatable.

A neuroscience and psychology sophomore at Syracuse University, Sanders found it relatively easy to grow a following; research shows that people prefer influencers who are relatable and authentic. Known as @strawb3rryswitchblad3 on TikTok, she strives to create raw, uncut and real content. 

“For most of my videos, I do everything in one take,” Sanders said. “And I think that has a lot to do with keeping it genuine.” This authenticity is why her followers love her so much. Over the course of 14 months, she has gained more than 281,000 followers. As her following grew, she also discovered a newfound gothic techwear and cyberpunk fashion aesthetic. 

Although she often gets recognized at home and on campus, the fame hasn’t gone to her head.

“She’s the same person in our little 20-foot by 20-foot dorm that she is on TikTok and Instagram,” said Sanders’ best friend and roommate, Kathryn Voler, a SU public relations sophomore. “She’s just a big personality all the time.”

If anything, the fame has made Sanders more comfortable expressing her style and interests because of the support she receives from her followers. It has also made her more open to other styles, ideas, and identities. She enjoys having people around her who have different perspectives and life journeys.

Many people who meet Sanders are surprised by how kind and down-to-earth she is because of the popular misconception that those with a social media following are out of touch with reality. Several times people have told her that they expected her to be stuck up or shallow when the opposite is true. In fact, she mostly keeps to herself and hangs out with a small group of four friends.

As a woman in STEM, Sanders also tries to empower and support other students pursuing STEM careers. She runs a Discord server called STEM Potential with a few other STEM TikTokers to help students strengthen their academic and life skills. She also hosts a TikTok series called Science With Shockey where she talks about anything from vaping to microorganisms on Venus.

But as we know, popularity breeds haters. So it’s no surprise that Sanders has her fair share of critics. When she began changing her style, people called her a trend follower and poser. But even when people come at her with negativity, she doesn’t let them bring her down. Of course, countering hate isn’t always that easy. At the beginning of her social media journey, negative comments left her feeling upset and stressed. At one point she even considered deleting her social media because of the hate comments and the emotional effort it requires.

TikTok star Shockey Sanders

Talking with her mom about how to handle trolls helped her realize that no matter what she did, people are always going to leave snarky comments.

“I think it really kind of set the stage for how she was going to handle negativity going forward,” said her mother, Tracy Sanders.

Now Sanders thinks such comments are funny. She believes any publicity, positive or negative, grows her social media presence.

“They’re pushing my video to get more views,” Sanders said. “That’s just how I’ve ended up looking at it.”

Attacks on social media have also helped her develop a thick skin. Recently in a Zoom class, one of her classmates forgot to mute her microphone, resulting in the entire class hearing her say Sanders looked like Dora the Explorer. Most people would have been upset, but for Sanders, it just meant that she had a good story to tell. She embraces negativity, letting it fuel her mission to help others find their style through looking at her own.

Although Sanders loves being a social media influencer, it’s not something she wants to do long-term. Her dream is to pursue psychopharmacology and perform psychotherapy and drug research.

However, she will always be grateful for the creative outlet TikTok has given her, as it has allowed her to confidently strut in public wearing a black knit sweater with white skulls, black techwear pants with 10+ pockets, and black platform boots.

“People should accept that no matter what they do or how they dress, they’re going to get judged, so you might as well do what you want and be happy in the present moment,” Sanders said.