In You Don’t Know Me, a 16-year-old named Rachel discusses how she started dieting after joining Instagram and scrolling through its pictures of “perfect” bodies. As the weight fell off her, she was welcomed into the popular gang at school. She drew up a list of “good” and “bad” foods, the “bad” vastly outweighing the “good”. She soon developed an eating disorder, but didn’t see it as a problem. “You know that whole thing about your goal weight that everyone wants?” she says, blankly. “Well, mine’s probably going to kill me.” Rachel, we learn, is talking from a residential recovery facility.
A frank, fascinating and fitfully scary investigation into teenage life, Podimo’s You Don’t Know Me is a 12-part podcast that reveals the innermost thoughts, fears and pressures experienced by Generation Z. It is structured around themes including body image, popularity, pornography, cancel culture and sex work. The presenter is Chloe Combi, a British youth expert and author, and her interviews with teens form the backbone of each episode. These are followed up with conversations with experts who bring added context and analysis.
Combi is a sensitive interviewer who knows instinctively when to stay silent and when to ask uncomfortable questions. The willingness of these teenagers to share is remarkable, and you imagine a lot of careful groundwork was laid by Combi and her team to gain their trust and get them to this point.
In the episode about cancel culture, we meet Laura, an American woman who felt alienated from her liberal-minded peers at school and, following Trump’s election victory in 2016, found kinship in far-right chat rooms online. She reveals how her more unsavoury comments on Reddit were unearthed while she was at college and she was eventually forced to leave. Referring to her online life, she says, “Nothing ever really goes away . . . I basically managed to fuck up my life with some dumb shit I said when I was 15.”
But just when you think the answer must be to ban teens from social media, the episode on popularity introduces us to Kayleigh, whose apparently well-meaning parents refused to allow her access to the internet or a smartphone, causing her to become a social outcast and endure relentless bullying at secondary school.
In talking to her interviewees, Combi doesn’t cast judgment, even though she often gasps at what she is hearing. The series expertly underlines the moral grey areas around issues that, in today’s discourse, are often viewed as black and white. Adolescence is tough but You Don’t Know Me leaves you feeling that today’s teens have it way harder than previous generations. Nonetheless, within this bleak picture, what also comes over is their emotional intelligence, bittersweet humour and resilience in the face of extraordinary pressure. Life is hard but the kids might be all right after all.