I don’t think I’m a Karen, but I do eat taco salad.
I hadn’t been thinking about my tendency to order taco salad when dining at Mexican restaurants until a recent Saturday morning when I received a text from a friend. Her daughter had sent her a screenshot of a TikTok video that had been viewed by millions. Featuring my picture. And taco salad.
After I alerted my family that my likeness had, once again, been used on social media to mock middle-aged, suburban moms like me, my 21-year-old son told me he and his girlfriend had been watching TikTok videos the previous night. The algorithm fed them this particular TikTok video made by a young woman who looked into the camera with a deadpan expression and told viewers she’d show them, via photos, who typically orders which dish at a Mexican restaurant. When my son’s girlfriend saw the colorful image of taco salad, she said, “I like taco salad.” The two were dumbfounded to see my photo pop up on the screen as the stereotypical taco salad orderer.
Over the next few hours, I received texts and messages from friends telling me that either they or their Gen Z offspring saw the video and said, “Hey, isn’t that Meredith?”
However it was the comments on the TikTok video that made my kids, my niece, and my nephews lawl, comments like:
“LAWL MY MOM IS TACO SALAD AND IT LOOKS SO CLOSE TO HER.”
“I just knew the taco salad was gonna be a middle age ‘Sandy’ she’s so pure and truly thinks it’s a healthy dinner choice.”
“I just started getting into taco salads [crying/laughing emoji] I knew I was getting old.”
As my friends continued laughing and threatening to nickname me “Taco Salad,” I was relieved that, for the most part, I wasn’t being lampooned as the face of entitled, Gen X Karens.
The last time something like this happened, I wasn’t nearly as sanguine. That time, the author photo accompanying my 2007 collection of humor/parenting columns, “A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum,” did not cast me in a goofy, sitcom mom light.
On Christmas Day 2020, I received an e-mail from one of my students telling me she’d seen my photo in a YouTube video, where a then-teenager with millions of followers used my picture to “infiltrate” neighborhood Facebook groups. The teen recorded a video of himself searching for a photo for the “mom de plume” he’d use to create a phony Facebook account. “Oh my God, wait, wait!” the YouTuber, Duncan Joseph, said when he saw my headshot on Google. “She looks super reliable! Like, I would trust her.”
Joseph then uploaded my photo and a “typical mom name” to Facebook and proceeded to wreak all kinds of havoc. This account bearing my face offered increasingly bizarre and disturbing comments in various groups, including accusing one individual of stealing her cat and falsely besmirching the reputation of a McDonald’s drive-through employee whom the fake me claimed, “She said I wasn’t pretty enough to eat there.”
Although I wasn’t particularly thrilled that my image was being used to harass people and spread misinformation in Facebook groups, it was the comments on Joseph’s YouTube and TikTok videos that stung.
“She looks like my 6th grade science teacher that nobody liked [skull emoji].”
“When I looked at you I saw her … Karen,” one commenter said.
At least this time around, as my photo has gone semi-viral on TikTok, it’s because I’m the new face of taco salad, which is way more preferable than being likened to a Karen who’s going around saying unhinged things on Facebook. Plus, I actually like taco salad.
Author Meredith O’Brien teaches journalism and writing at Northeastern University and Bay Path University.