Thando Hlophe is a groundbreaking digital storyteller who went from telling harrowing and humane stories behind the camera, to sharing her own journey in front of the camera. She’s used her platform raise awareness about issues like queer rights in Africa and access to pads for school girls, while sharing her own life, the highs and the lows.
What does authenticity mean to you?
Authenticity to me means being yourself when everything on the internet tells you to not be. People buy followers, hire outfits, homes, cars etc just to post content on line, get the clicks and the likes. I cannot imagine the exhaustion and financial strain that comes with putting on that show everyday of your life. So authenticity for me means freedom. Sure I’m putting on a show to some degree but it’s not an act. I only gain from it. I lose nothing, especially not myself.
What was the journey like to finding your authentic self?It’s never been an active, intentional journey for me. I was just raised to be accepting of what I have and what I don’t. So when other kids had the latest toy and we started to badger my mother to get it for us too, she would be quick to remind us to be appreciative of what we do have and be happy with it. Such teachings have made me secure in my flaws and therefore not shy to expose them, even as a means to protect myself from anyone using them against me. This allows me to be more free with myself as a whole, good and bad.
You work in media, but you also choose to share a lot of your personal life on social media. How do you create a sense of authenticity with your followers while still maintaining a sense of privacy?
This is incredibly difficult, because whether I like it or not, I am tied to the brand of my employer. I’ve seen people lose their jobs for silly things that I would regard as forgivable but the employer deems it as putting the company into disrepute. I try by all means to lead with kindness and goodness. That way even if I get a pang to troll or post anything negative I guide myself back to examining whether anything I’m putting out there is adding fuel to the fire or helpful in any way. That way even if I come under fire with my employer I know it’s for something I stand for and isn’t going to change just because they disagree. I try to be respectful and open to being wrong in whatever opinion I’m trying to communicate.
How do you know when you’re falling short of your own authenticity?
If everything I do starts to become a chore, I don’t enjoy it. Then that means I have to perform an authentic version of myself, which leaves me exhausted and not wanting to produce any content. A huge chunk of my content is created out of fun and a need for creative release. So if what I’m doing doesn’t yield those result I can immediately tell it’s because I’m doing it for reasons outside of genuine fun. For instance if a brand reaches out and it doesn’t align with the kind of person I am, then I have to pretend to like it just because there is a paycheque at the end of that video, it makes me feel like a fraud real quick.
I’ve built a lot of solid relationships with people who would have never reached out if they didn’t feel an authentic connection with me through their cellular devices.
What rewards has striving to be your most authentic self-brought to you?
It is externally validating to get interaction with people that watch me. Particularly when they compliment me on something that I don’t work to put on, but is an integral part of who I am. I often get compliments on my looks but that doesn’t feel a quarter as amazing as when people compliment my energy, or vibe or how I make them feel joy, cheer them up on a bad day or help them sort through a thought process they have had but never knew how to articulate before watching a video I posted that they relate to.
It’s also helped a lot with my casual existential angst. It makes me feel less like I’m just breathing oxygen, eating, sleeping and having to pay for every waking minute on this planet. I feel like I’m giving back in smiles and spurts of laughter. It’s incredibly rewarding to help people who feel alone feel less alone. I’ve built a lot of solid relationships with people who would have never reached out if they didn’t feel an authentic connection with me through their cellular devices.
It is also helpful when you finally meet people in person that they can still relate to you because you’re the exact person they have been connecting with on the screen.
During this time of a lockdown and social distancing amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when our world’s feel upside down, what in your life has proven to be most authentically you, and how are you holding on to that part of yourself?
To be honest I’ve had moments where I feel guilty because the lockdown has been a delight for me. I’m getting everything I’ve wished for, for a long time. I am still going to work as per usual so that hasn’t changed for me which is a blessing because I don’t feel the stress of being cooped up the house most are getting tired of.
My weekends were dedicated to spending time with loved ones and I have been longing for a month of uninterrupted sleep. A burn out was looming and it was stressful considering we just came from the holidays. Now that time I spend by myself and I am so grateful. I would have had to quit my job if I wanted the amount of rest I am getting 10 hours of sleep each day on the weekends.
I am doing most things I couldn’t do because I was too tired or had a baby shower, wedding, funeral to go to on Saturday which mean really the only time I have to myself is Sunday Afternoon then I prepare to start the rat-race again the next Monday. Ninety percent of my life is about showing up and it feels good to show up for myself without any guilt of not showing up for loved ones when they need me to.