Real as f**k! Optimism and hope in 2023

We’re seeing a rejection of polished materialism in popular culture

Frida Kahlo painted Without Hope in 1945, a period when due to malnutrition, she was being force-fed every two hours on the orders of her doctor. On the back of the painting, she wrote ‘Not the least hope remains to me… Everything moves in time with what the belly contains.

Few of us have had comparatively horrific and visceral experiences but there has been somewhat of a feeling akin to having been force-fed over the last few years. In our case, instead of food it’s been permacrisis. There is an overwhelming sense of a loss of control; ordered to stay home, to endure long periods of political instability, and the cherry on the top living through a full-blown economic crisis.

Frida Kahlo, Without Hope

This permacrisis force feeding has damaged our psyche of hope, indeed a recent study in the Journal of Health showed that 44% of us are consuming news problematically — in other words doomscrolling. So, what can we as marketers do to authentically raise spirits?

I wholly disagree with Dulux’s Bright Skies as its Colour of the Year statement: ‘The airy and refreshing shade perfectly captures the optimism and desire for a fresh start that is the mood of the moment‘. The embers of hope do not centre around optimism and bright sunny skies. Instead, there is a new face of hope, far more focused on realism and authenticity of self.

Hayley Doyle’s Instagram post on 1st January encapsulated this. She posted ‘This year is all about keeping my expectations low.’ Whilst this might initially sound a bit despondent, she explained that this is far from a negative outlook, instead it’s about reducing self-pressure and being more open to natural positivity.

The optimism in the air in 2023 is that we might finally give ourselves a break. Stop panicking over the fact our only side-hustle is napping (that might just be me…), kill our need for constant productivity and material betterment, and start to consider the alternatives.  There is hope that we’re moving towards opening our minds to a new era, one which is more creative, more authentic, more organically productive, and ultimately more human.  

As evidence of this we’re seeing a rejection of polished materialism in popular culture

Within the music scene authentic self-promoted artists are coming to the fore such as RAYE the Croydon born singer-songwriter. After being side-lined by Polydor for being too ‘real’ she broke out of contract and independently released her music. Her single Escapism raced to number 1 with its gritty, cautionary tale of a late-night descent into debauchery. Or take venbee, the drum ‘n’ bass artist who’s having her breakout moment after uploading an unfinished song onto TikTok one afternoon in her mum’s garden.

Although very different musically both artists are telling non-mainstream narratives raised up organically.

There’s also been a recent burst of cinematic satires, such as Ruben Ostlund’s absurd Triangle of Sadness (2022) which sees social hierarchies upended revealing the relationship between power and beauty. Or Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (2022) where a group of rich, Insta-focused twenty somethings spend a night in a mansion only to see the titular bodies piling up.

The Guardian called it a ’Lord of the Flies-style disintegration of social mores mostly lit by phone light and DayGlo jewellery.’ Again, hugely different genre of films but both set on highlighting the futility and tawdry nature of striving for polished materialism.

In line with this new sense of authentic optimism we’re also seeing change in who people are engaging with online with the Genuinfluencer having a moment. Genuinfluencers are creators more interested in sharing advice on topics they’re truly passionate about rather than being paid for every post.  Such as @aimeesong a fashion blogger that’s also honest and open with her mental health struggles, documenting her therapy journey. And over on TikTok, Unilever have taken to using scientific experts to launch their new skincare range, rather than employ over-filtered and under-qualified influencers.

Sure, people might watch Netflix’s Bling Empire (2021) for a laugh but now it’s not the wealthy vacuous socialites who are the most popular. In its latest New York iteration, the break-out star has been Tina Leung, who makes her own money and is shown working hard to be successful, failures and all. Over on Twitter a watcher said, ‘Tina is the best person on the show, trying to be really hard to be independent, honest, vulnerable, real as f***.

So, in my opinion optimism and hope in 2023 is not all bright skies and sunny optimism but being real as f***.

Featured image: Frida Kahlo’s ‘Without Hope’ / from

Emily Rich, Lead Strategist

Over the past 15 years Emily has encountered and tackled strategic challenges across virtually every category, working with numerous and varied brands, from Mercedes-Benz to Twinings tea.In recent years she’s headed up work for a number of UK Government clients including PHE and Home Office; from creating strategies to improve health behaviour such as Stoptober and Child Vaccination to devising innovative and award-winning approaches for improving diversity with Police Recruitment.With a passionate, and ever-growing, interest in all things human behaviour Emily continuously seeks to challenge and provoke accepted norms to create true behaviour change.

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