Jonathan Estrada, 21, sits in the driver’s seat of his Nissan Rogue, waiting for his takeout order outside a West Hollywood restaurant. He’s with his two middle school best friends, Mya (in the passenger’s seat) and Katie (in the back). Shifting in and out of frame, they take turns roasting one another.
“It’s the unemployment fraud for me,” Katie starts, singling out Estrada.
He hits back: “It’s the $14 in your bank account for me.”
“It’s the body dysmorphia for me,” Mya says.
And so the trio goes, tête-à-tête, to see who can hit the hardest. Mya wins, going in on Estrada: “It’s the unprotected sex with herpes for me,” she says.
There are hundreds of these videos making the rounds online. They feature friend groups treating each other like Real Housewives stars at a reunion special. Except these Zoomers know better than to storm offstage. They post the drama to TikTok and go viral — then laugh together.
If shade is the art of the insult, then the new Gen Z phrase “It’s the ___ for me” — aka #itstheforme — reveals the beauty of bullying. This is what happens when a generation raised on anti-bullying campaigns discovers the skill of reading, distilling the craft to its least recognizable yet most memeable format.
“It’s the ___ for me” is rooted in acceptance: You harass the ones you love. Bryan Kotulek, a 19-year-old in Fort Worth, Texas, picked his mother, Amy, to verbally attack. “She’s the one I’m most comfortable with joking around,” he tells me.
Bryan starts strong. “It’s the divorce for me,” he says.
Amy retorts, “It’s the homosexuality for me.”
Bryan: “It’s the mustache for me.”
Amy with a hand demonstration: “It’s the blond, frosty-tip bangs for me.”
Bryan: “It’s the gray hair for me.”
Amy: “It’s the 6-foot-5, 110 pounds for me.”
Bryan: “It’s the cheetah print glasses for me.”
Amy: “How about, it’s the boots during the day and crop top at night for me.”
Bryan: “It’s the ‘I don’t know how to color-coordinate’ for me.”
Amy: “It’s the big ears and buck teeth for me.”
Amy wins, and Bryan happily lets his mom rag on his ears. “We can kind of go back and forth and can be comfortable saying stuff like that,” he says. “Everybody has their flaws.” As platitudes like “love yourself” and “be who you are” are repeated to the point of meaninglessness, a joking acknowledgement of one’s insecurity can actually help remove its weight and power.
Unlike Twitter and Instagram, where most content is consumed in small, familiar social networks, TikTok audiences are vast and unknown. When creating a video, the goal isn’t to make a friend laugh. It’s for the stranger across the country who sees your content on their “For You” page.
This anonymity breeds freedom. Estrada can roast Katie, saying “It’s the bejeweled vibrator for me” and not worry that his mom is going to stumble upon the video and chastise him for bad behavior. “I feel more comfortable because I don’t actually know these people that are watching it, and I’m not thinking of what those people are going to think of me,” he says.
Of course, now that he has the spotlight, Estrada would like to clear his name. He is not committing unemployment fraud, for example; he’s just on unemployment. “There is so much out there, and people are posting millions a day. You just kind of have to exaggerate,” he says.
The “for me” trend has since taken on various interpretations. Users have begun calling out celebrities for problematic behavior. Earlier this week, user @hellokoddy used the meme earnestly, calling out Kylie Jenner (“It’s the not paying your workers in Bangladesh for me”), Awkwafina (“It’s the building your career around your blaccent for me”) and Jeffree Star (“It’s the racism, supporting pedophiles and this fucking hairline for me”).
You know a meme has legs when you start using it in daily life. Estrada recently had a friend compliment his outfits by telling him, “It’s the all-white outfit for me.” There’s something youthful and joyful about seeing a bunch of teens goofing on one another when they have every reason to be wary of the world.
It’s the everlasting teen spirit for me.