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It’s okay to set boundaries, but let’s not call it the ‘villain era’

It’s okay to set boundaries, but let’s not call it the ‘villain era’

“Sometimes, it’s about me, okay? Not all the time but once in a while, it’s my time,” snaps Emma Allan (played by Anne Hathaway) at the conclusion of the iconic rom-com, Bride Wars (2009). The meek, submissive middle-school teacher of fore is nowhere to be seen as she continues her acidic riposte while adjusting her veil in a gilded mirror. “If you’re not okay with that, feel free to go. But if you stay, you have to do your job, like smiling and talking about my bridal beauty and most importantly, not making it about you. Okay?” The last word is delivered with the force of a high-calibre bullet discharged from a machine gun, singeing everything in its path—but for people-pleasers all over the world, it was a call to arms to step into their self-worth.

While it has been over a decade since the young Emma Allan decided to stop putting other people first, look around and you’ll find that her words and her wisdom live on. They live on in Rani of Queen (2013) who cold-heartedly rejects her ex-fiancé’s overtures in favour of concert plans made with her friends. They live on in Julia Fox’s almost nonchalant insistence on living her best life after a highly-publicised breakup with Kanye West.

And now, the bountiful world of TikTok has offered a term for this brand of me-first behaviour: the villain era. However, unlike young Jenny Humphrey’s goth phase in Gossip Girl, there aren’t copious amounts of eyeliner involved. Instead, the villain era urges you to choose yourself, establish boundaries and assume the driver’s seat in your own life. Ghost the guy who’s keeping you on the backburner on Tinder before he has a chance to leave you on read. Take yourself out on a date. Clock out from work on Friday along with your boss, instead of slaving over a presentation on the weekend. If you are ready to place yourself first after a lifetime of allowing others first dibs, welcome to your villain era.

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What is the villain era?

Yesha Mehta, therapist at The Mood Space, traces the catalyst for this movement back to our childhood. “From a young age, most of us have relied on external validation to estimate our self-worth,” she explains. “Having always sought our parents’ approval and praise, this people-pleasing tendency may have continued into adulthood. This is especially true for those with low self-esteem who find themselves seeking external validation from friends, family and even strangers on social media. It stems from a basic need to please others, be seen as a ‘good’ person and be liked by all. As a consequence, people often fear that if they say no or set healthy boundaries, the world will view them in a negative light which will, in turn, push people away.”

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