Extremely Online

The Case For A Hard Launch Summer

“They look at your internet life every day and think they know you and then, boom! A baby.”

Strauss/Curtis, Kelvin Murray, Peter Dazeley/Getty Images, Leah Flores/Stocksy
By Morgan Sullivan

Four years ago, Ariel made a promise that the next man she posted on her Instagram would be the one she's engaged to. She wanted privacy during the early, intimate stages of dating, allowing the relationship to mature at its own pace without social media observation. The D.C.-based content creator kept her promise while dating her boyfriend, Jackson, who she met while interning at a nonprofit in Colorado. When the two got engaged in April 2022, she celebrated by hard-launching the relationship on Instagram: posting a photo of this never-before-seen man proposing. The 21-year-old remembers thinking: “What do I caption a photo of my fiancé I never posted as my boyfriend?”

“To this day it’s the most engagement I’ve ever had on a post,” she tells Bustle. (No pun intended.)

If the summer of 2021 was defined by the “soft launch” — think, an Instagram story of two cocktails on a table, with your anonymous love interest’s arm in the background — the trend of this summer is its opposite. Hard launches are the type of social media feed posts you immediately screenshot for the group chat with a “WTF? When did we miss this?” From Rihanna’s several-months-along baby bump photo shoot to Issa Rae’s partner reveal on the day of their wedding, the hard launch looks a little different for everyone, but its core remains the same: it’s big news in an even bigger way. As one recent TikTok video with over 260,000 likes puts it: “From here on out, every big life moment? It’s only going to be big. I want everyone to know nothing about me until it’s far too late.”

There's been a noticeable uptick in hard-launch content, from people praising the trend to others partaking in it. TikTok videos hashtagged #hardlaunch have over 3 million views. TikTok influencer Kennedy Eurich, known by her 1 million followers for her honest storytelling on the app, considers her whole life a “hard launch,” but thinks people love the move right now because messiness is way more digestible than overly filtered content. “So many people want to post a curated highlight reel and they don't want to acknowledge any of the sh*tstorms they're going through, but what they don’t realize is that showing those moments of chaos makes you real and relatable.” Consider hard-launching an offshoot of the blurry, unfiltered anti-aesthetic trend, led by hashtags like #MakeInstagramCasualAgain.

A hard launch isn’t necessarily about bringing big drama. For some, it’s an opportunity to have some fun with a major life event. Kerrari, 35, had posted monthly baby bump pics for her first child, but for her second, born in December 2021, she posted a single photo of the newborn in January. Caption? The egg-hatching emoji. The absence of prior intel, she says, is what made it so hilarious: “It’s so shocking for people because they look at your internet life every day and think they know you and then, boom! A baby.”

As funny as Kerrari, who owns a housecleaning business in British Columbia, Canada, found the announcement, there was also a privacy benefit. “[A pregnancy] is just so personal and I didn’t want to be raided with questions about sex, due date, birth plan — you name it,” she tells Bustle. “People feel so entitled to that information once you share, and it’s really none of their business.”

For others, the adrenaline rush that comes from a larger-than-life drop is part of the appeal. (Cue the roaring iPhone notifications.) Casey, 22, recently decided to come out on Facebook while boarding a plane to Disney World. “At this point, I was out to my immediate family, but not my distant relatives, hence the reason I posted on Facebook,” the New York-based writer and advocate tells Bustle. “Honestly, I didn’t want to think twice about letting it slip that I was gay.” Despite knowing those closest to her were supportive, while her phone was silent in airplane mode for five hours, part of her thought about those outside her inner circle: “What if they see me differently? What if they don’t accept me?” But when the flight landed, she opened her phone to texts of congratulations and “stereotypical rainbow emojis.”

If you're considering a hard launch, the question you have to ask is: Do you have the guts to pull it off? Right now, in a small town in Virginia, there’s a photo of two people in drafts: Lauren, 29, hugs her partner from behind, her head on his shoulder, with a wall of pine behind them. It’s an intimate look at a couple who hasn’t announced their wedding to anyone but immediate family and close loved ones. She’s decided on a hard launch because, as she says, it’s “the best way to get the best out of social media — a large announcement, shared celebration, love, and praise — without being overly self-indulgent.”

She’s set to hit post this week. And for the caption? Lauren’s thinking something like: “Hi — we just got engaged — and eloped.”