"Does anyone out there look like me?"
It's a question shouted multiple times a day into the void of the 120,000+ member Facebook group 'Find My Doppelgänger/Twin Stranger'. Everyone in this group, populated by a global community, is in search of their lookalike. From celebrities to regular folk like you and me.
With the power of the internet and social media connecting perfect strangers across the world, this kind of search for the alternative version of 'the self' has been brought into the mainstream more recently by viral TikTok videos of Kylie Jenner and Scarlett Johansson impersonators.
Our uncanny fascination with finding our lookalikes is something of a cultural phenomenon. There are multiple appearances of doppelgängers throughout history but, usually, they aren’t here to play nice.
Folklore dictates that when we are faced with our doppelgänger, we are also faced with our impending doom. This narrative is often visited culturally, from recent tellings like Jordan Peele's 2019 thriller Us to early 19th century novel The Devil's Elixirs, by the German writer of fantastic tales E.T.A. Hoffman. Even the late '00s Vampire Diaries had a hand in popularising doppelgängers.
Each visitation of the story speaks of a wraithlike apparition that slowly consumes the 'original' in all aspects of their life until, eventually, they are replaced by the doppelgänger.
Truly the stuff of nightmares.
These fears aren’t as intangibly whimsical as we think, either. It happens every day. Identity fraud, theft — even catfishing — show how these impersonations can manifest themselves in our daily lives.
And yet in spite of this, thousands upon thousands of us actively search for ourselves in other people every day. Why? What is it about seeing ourselves echoed (or not) in strangers that gives us comfort?
Erin Heany, member of the Find My Doppelgänger/Twin Stranger Facebook group, told me that her search started when she was lightly compared to YouTube content creator Eleanor Neale.
"It was mostly out of curiosity as I had never been compared to anyone before, except once. Someone said I looked a bit like Eleanor Neale but that was all. Turns out that the majority of people that commented on my post thought the same thing."
She tells me: "It doesn’t bother me if I look like a celebrity or a normal person. When I posted my pictures on the group, I got a mixture of responses, with some comparing me to their friends. Had I looked exactly like someone, though, that would probably have scared me. And if they had knowledge of my personal life I would be terrified that they could replace me and completely take over all my accounts, too. But at the same time it would intrigue me because statistically that would most likely be my long-lost twin."
"That being said," she continues, "if there was someone out there who looked exactly like me, I think I would want to get to know them. See if we have had a similar life, or outcomes. It would also be kinda fun to live out my 'princess and the pauper' fantasy. But I have to say that there is a comfort in knowing that nobody really looks like me. It makes me feel unique."
Ultimately, I'm looking for a version of myself. I don't have a lot of stabilising factors in my identity. So I'm looking for something, or someone, to resonate with.
This search for uniqueness is echoed in Ansh Hemanya’s experience, too. "For me, searching for my doppelgänger stemmed from not having an accurate perception of what I looked like," she explains. "I don’t know anyone who looks like me. And nobody’s ever told me I resemble anyone."
"Growing up in a place that was very white is difficult in its own vein," Ansh says. "People know where I’m from, know I’m Indian, just by looking at me. I’m referred to as 'the Indian girl' constantly. Everyone knows, like it’s written on my forehead. I’m so easily distinguished by my race so it’s strange to me that I don’t get told I vaguely resemble anyone, even from within my own culture and community."
"Ultimately, I’m looking for a version of myself. I don’t have a lot of stabilising factors in my identity. So I’m looking for something, or someone, to resonate with. But in many ways I’m looking for something I hope doesn’t exist. Because I’ve spent years learning to love aspects of myself I don’t like through their uniqueness. By not looking like other people, I don't have to compare myself. Perhaps it would make me critical of them, and myself, if they did."
It begs the question whether there is truth in the old tale of impending doom. But instead of cinematic moments, are we quietly examining our most vulnerable parts — our insecurities — in the hope that, against the odds and despite the whole world telling us that we are not special, perhaps we are?
To see oneself in the face of a stranger with another life — a better life than yours — could be a bitter pill to swallow. Especially if you feel lesser, or are compared by parts of yourself that you don't desire or accept.
It’s a dangerous gamble to dangle self-esteem like a carrot into a void filled with uncanny potential. If you gaze too long into the abyss, doesn’t it stare back? And, heck. What if it blinked and took with it all your hard work of self-improvement and confidence, just like that?
Perhaps the search is about feeling less alone. More connected. Perhaps it is about representation and a soothing notion that maybe someone out there shares your pain somehow. That your long-lost twin is a force of good who reminds you of the best parts of yourself. Parts, even, which are coveted by others. Ultimately, what we’re searching for is belonging.
Dr Naomi Murphy, a clinical and forensic psychologist and honorary professor of psychology at Nottingham Trent University, tells me that this quest is part of our human programming. We cannot escape it. She explains: "Visual information is displayed much more readily, which is why we tend to judge people upon appearance. We can’t help it."
She continues: "How we look is part of how we sense we belong and also how we attract belonging. Not looking the same runs the risk of being forgotten, not receiving resources, or being treated as 'other'. This can cause us to dislike the various aspects of ourselves that symbolise 'difference', leading us to experience self-loathing."
"This is how earlier humans survived. We lived in groups where some hunted and protected while others nurtured and tended to children, thus enabling them to grow into the healthiest adults, ensuring survival of the species. It's an innate drive within us, to want to belong and to avoid feeling ashamed."
This makes sense. Searching for our doppelgängers is clearly not an act of vanity but a humanistic endeavour. One that falls under our hierarchy of needs. We seek ourselves in others because we feel we don’t belong, feel alone or want to know if people see potential in us.
"The thing is," continues Dr Naomi, "that we also all want other people to 'get' us and that may be most enhanced when we see people who look visually like us. We assume that they will understand who we are and that perhaps we can understand ourselves through them, through some mirrored symbiosis. Equally, by looking like someone famous it allows for others to project their (usually accepting) thoughts and feelings onto us."
Despite the fearful origins of the doppelgänger as a harbinger of some kind, really what we are seeing is our projected self, unapologetically. An omen whose presence, or lack thereof, only signifies our need to belong in a global culture where inequalities and inequities affect our levels of care, friendships, education, social status and safety.
"Maybe our obsession with doppelgängers is because of the mystery surrounding them," suggests Dr Naomi. "That sense of elusiveness somehow embodies our inability to truly know every aspect of ourselves. Maybe it’s that, that captures our imaginations?" She admits: "Truthfully, I don’t know. In some ways it's not dissimilar to the desire to be a twin and have someone that we are connected to and bound with forever."
To never walk alone is a worthy pursuit indeed. And so without further ado: is there anyone out there who looks like me?