Ethan and Grayson Dolan, identical twins from New Jersey, fit the typical Generation Z influencer aesthetic. They sport California sun-kissed skin and defined abdominal muscles that resemble ice cube trays. But the content the Dolan Twins have released on their YouTube channel, and now on their weekly podcast, ventures into mature and vulnerable territories often left unexplored by other male influencers their age.
At 20 years old, the Dolan Twins have accomplished more than most could in an entire lifetime. Originally known for their goofy content posted on the six-second video-sharing app Vine, the brothers currently release videos on their YouTube channel, where they have amassed over 11.1 million followers since its start in 2014. In addition, the Dolan Twins have toured all over the world, created a fragrance company and, most recently, started their podcast, “Deeper with the Dolan Twins.”
Seeing Double: Success and Criticism
Like their vines, the Dolan Twins frequently use comedy in their YouTube videos, which often involves outlandish and expensive challenges and pranks typical of most influencers their age. Despite being mostly based in comedy, they have also used their YouTube channel to discuss more serious topics, most of which deal with burnout, facing criticism and their struggles with mental health.
The Dolan Twins also use their podcast as an outlet to be vulnerable with their audience, where they often discuss their personal lives and beliefs with more nuance than they typically do on their YouTube channel. On the podcast’s teaser, which was released in February, Ethan Dolan said he and his brother decided to create the “Deeper with the Dolan Twins” to have a place to talk more openly about the things on their minds.
“We strongly believe in talking about things when they are weighing heavy on your conscious,” Ethan Dolan said. “We feel it’s really healthy.”
While Ethan and Grayson Dolan have their whole lives ahead of them, don’t be mistaken, the two certainly have a lot to talk about. For influencers who have experienced more success than most people can even fathom, they have also faced an enormous amount of adversity.
In January of 2019, the Dolan Twins lost their father to prostate cancer. A year later they created a documentary to honor his life and give a candid look into their grieving process. The documentary, which has almost 11 million views on YouTube and has helped raised over $200,000 to help fight cancer, portrays the brothers as they have never been seen before — crying and embracing each other in complete despair.
In the past year, most of the Dolan Twins’ hardships have resulted not from uncontrollable events, but from public criticism. In a video called “My Struggle with Acne and Self-Confidence,” Ethan opens up about how an acne outbreak destroyed his mood and self-confidence when people took to social media and expressed contempt about his facial experience, ultimately causing #ethandolanisugly to trend as number one on the platform.
Dolan, who has since come to terms with his acne and outwardly spoken about it to help others feel less alone, posted a picture of himself on Instagram using makeup to cover up his blemishes. In his caption, Dolan commented on how wearing makeup has changed his beliefs on masculinity.
“Why forfeit my confidence and quality of life just to fit the cliché reputation of a ‘man?'” Ethan Dolan captioned the post. “What I’ve learned is that it’s definitely ‘manlier’ to just do whatever makes me feel like the most confident version of myself.”
Grayson Dolan has also experienced his own share of criticism on social media. At the end of July, he tweeted about a misinterpretation about content in a recent podcast episode, which ultimately caused him to open up about his struggles with eating disorders.
Masculinity as Vulnerability: Will the Trend Catch On?
Creators who have amassed millions of followers on social media platforms are called influencers for a reason. With so many people watching what they do and hearing what they say on a daily basis, a platform inevitably rises, one with the power to change the way people think and act in their own lives.
In a culture where social media has ruled how we express ourselves and receive information, this concept sounds obvious; we all know today’s influencers have a disproportionate amount of control on the social media landscape.
But with the ease of availability, the enormous volume of content we can consume on a day-to-day basis has become second nature and often goes unnoticed — with hundreds if not thousands of tweets scrolled through, Instagram photos liked, captions read and Snapchats opened. In the Gen Z era, these tiny snippets of information often emphasize aesthetic and self-centeredness.
With their number of collective Instagram followers reaching beyond 18 million, calling the Dolan Twins popular among people in their early 20s and teens would be a massive understatement. The twins, who shake up the mainstream with vulnerable content posted on social media, have the ability to refocus the social media landscape, especially when it comes to portrayals of masculinity.
By talking openly about topics like grief, acne, mental illness and eating disorders, the Dolan Twins break down typical male stereotypes, which often revolve around being emotionally closed off as a means to exhibit toughness. While they may be some of the only ones doing it right now, just like a popular TikTok dance, it very well may become a trend that more male Gen Z influencers hop on in the not-so-distant future.