What is a niche meme? Most Instagram users have probably encountered niche memes on the explore page at one point or another, but few people know exactly what they are and how popular they have become.

A simple search for #nichememes launches 2.5 million posts that display a quirky, perfectly mod-podge form of 21st-century artwork. By scrolling down, you’ll start to notice trends. Bright yellow Kanken backpacks from the Swedish company Fjallraven are particularly popular, as are Glossier makeup products, Takis chips, Ariana Grande, slime and mom jeans.

The colorful collages are usually headed with phrases like “Keep On Truckin’” or “Bubblegum,” advertising posts titled “Things I bought recently!” or “Who Would You Be Friends With?” But what does it all mean?

Niche memes are reminiscent of old trends like the ever-popular “starter pack” memes or the Polyvore-outfit mood boards that dominated the free time of artsy pre-teens around 2011. Like these trends, niche memes are intended to offer an insight into the creator’s corner of the world and serve as a creative and, in some cases, emotional outlet for artists. Thus, a niche meme can be defined as a meme that is intended to resonate with a small audience or even just the creator themselves.

Despite this definition, it’s safe to say there’s no right or wrong way to make a niche meme. There’s such a wide, unique and ever-changing variety of niche memes, giving creators limitless bounds in their thoughts and designs.

When, about a year ago, I first discovered this hidden world, it looked completely different than it does today. Now, in addition to personal memes, more general topics such as fashion and self-care can be found under the umbrella of “niche” more frequently.

I’ll be honest. At first glance of the hashtags, I was quite intimidated by the community, which consists largely of high school girls who are most definitely cooler and funnier than I’ll ever be. Take a closer look and you’ll soon realize the community is actually very positive and accepting.

In fact, the supportive environment is what compelled British creator, Cece, who memes under the account @worriedavocado, to join the meme community — and the prospect of using Instagram as a creative outlet, no drawing or painting skills required.

“I’d always wanted to do something creative on Instagram for a while, but me, being very bad at art, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to,” Cece, whose account has racked up 16,000 adoring followers, told me over DMs. “I’ve also wanted to create a blog since I was younger but never really got the inspiration to do it as the lengthy writing seemed pretty time-consuming … but the niche style seemed much more fun!”

An interesting thing about the niche meme community is the feeling that there is no wrong answer. Do you want to rant about your day using pictures of puppies? Go ahead! Want to get nostalgic about your childhood with pictures of vintage clothing items? Why not?

Cece mentioned a unique creative venture on her account: “I do a series where I create characters and their personalities that my followers can use for character inspiration in creative stories and edits because I’ve always loved to create characters for stories to write but never got around to the story bit.”

Needless to say, there is no shortage of creativity present in the niche meme community. When it comes to fonts, colors, themes, filters — you name it — no two niche memes will ever turn out the same. Well, most of the time, at least.

Like any artist, musician or writer, niche memers often face the inevitable fate of stealth. Nearly all creators will take precautions against plagiarism by adding a watermark of their username to their post, but sometimes a watermark isn’t enough. Both Cece and another creator I spoke with recalled several times where accounts have covered original watermarks and then added their own, making it appear as though the post was theirs all along.

Aside from the occasional bumps in the road, niche meme-ing provides a plethora of benefits. “I feel like having this account has actually boosted my confidence a lot,” Cece says. “Mainly because being on my main (account) was so toxic: scrolling through and basically comparing myself to others, as well as being terrified I’m gonna be judged.”

The niche meme community seems to capitalize on being one’s truest self and celebrating everyone’s individuality. Most accounts are kept hidden from those “irl” or “in real life” and instead, shared within an online camaraderie, far away from the face-tuned world you find yourself scrolling through each day. In this world, the more you stand out, the more you’ll start to see your following rise. Cookie cutters need not apply.

You may be sold at this point. Turns out there’s just a little more to niche meme-ing than meets the eye. You’ll have to download a few apps in order to make your meme, Phonto being one of the most widely recommended for collage-making. You’ll have to familiarize yourself with “pngs”, which are basically photos with no extra background space. Lastly, you’ll have to know where to find them or how to make your own using a separate background erasing app. Confused yet?

I’m just about the most technically challenged Generation Z-er out there, so I’m obviously the perfect candidate for testing this niche meme thing out.

First, I came up with an idea that’s fun, simple and can stand out. I happen to be the pickiest eater anyone has ever met, so I decided to go with that idea.

After gathering stock images of hamburgers, donuts and sushi, I was well on my way through the frustrating process of erasing intricate outlines on a tiny phone screen. About an hour later, I emerged with a post that somewhat resembles what a rough draft of a niche meme might look like.

Upon completion, I felt a rush of satisfaction and pride, thinking “I made that!” But, for now, I’ll stick to admiring the unique, accepting community from afar.

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