IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Her cringiest childhood moments made her a TikTok star today

Riley Collins’ old Instagram posts may not have succeeded in making her crushes swoon, but years later, they fascinate millions online who are now laughing with her.
Collage of TikTok creator @ryelejean and screenshots of text from her videos
Leila Register; NBC News / @ryelejean via TikTok

Most people can probably recall a time they tried desperately to grab a crush’s attention. But few can recount as many cringeworthy attempts as Riley Collins.

Millions of TikTok users are by now familiar with Collins, 23, who regularly posts screenshot evidence of yet another humiliating way she tried to impress her childhood crushes through social media. Nearly 200,000 people follow her on the platform, where she goes by @ryelejean.

“A lot of people ask me how I’m able to post without being embarrassed,” Collins, who lives in Ardmore, Oklahoma, said, “but I think there’s a lot of people that relate to my posts and they feel seen through them.”

The examples show a variety of social media posts she made in her teen years, all in response to something a crush did.

After a crush wore a shirt to school stamped with the words “sorry I’m awkward,” she went home and posted an Instagram selfie captioned, “Let’s be awkward together. ❤️”

After a crush expressed needing a date for their aunt’s wedding, she immediately posted a photo of herself in a sparkly yellow dress, emphasizing in the caption that she hasn’t had an occasion to wear it yet.

After a crush lamented online that they wished somebody would see them for who they are, she uploaded a close-up of her eye 20 minutes later with the caption, “I see you!!!(:”

One commenter joked, “girl im convinced ad a certain point they just started saying random things to see what you’d post 💀,” racking up more than 100,000 likes.

Personal stories have become one of the most effective content and engagement generators on TikTok, creating a culture of confession that encourages turning diaries into guestbooks. It’s a risky line to toe: Be just vulnerable enough and the masses will relate, but go too far and you might become the next viral laughingstock.

Internet users have long confessed their worst moments on text-based platforms like Tumblr, Reddit and X, the website formerly known as Twitter, which offered users some semblance of anonymity. But on TikTok, where an emphasis on visuals meets an appreciation for unhinged humor, more people than ever are comfortable publishing their full faces online when divulging personal secrets.

The most extreme of these confessions might spark hundreds of judgmental responses or end up on an X account dedicated to “wild (tiktok) screenshots.”

For Collins, showing the internet her most mortifying middle-school-era Instagram posts has built her dedicated following on the app, but even those who don’t follow her have likely seen tidbits of her lore. Commenters often remark that they thought her crush series was a trend until they realized they’d been seeing the same face on their “For You” page the whole time.

Each video she serves generates renewed astonishment that there’s still more. Many viewers simply enjoy laughing with her, and some say her videos gave them comfort in knowing that at least someone else out there was just as unhinged as they were at that age.

Collins has been steadily rolling out these videos since the start of 2022. So far, she has shared nearly 90 embarrassing moments — and the well is still far from running dry.

Every screenshot she shares is sourced from a public Instagram account she’s been locked out of since 2017. Not all of the account’s 2,000-plus posts revolved around her crushes, she said, but she’s got more than enough of them to fuel her content.

Some curious sleuths have managed to find the old profile, now an online time capsule of Collins’ social media presence all through her childhood and teenage years.

“At first it felt pretty intimidating to have everybody go search through my old life, but now it’s kind of funny because my following on that account has gone up so much since the last time I was able to get into it,” Collins said. “So now it’s kind of like a secret society of the people that do find it.”

So, did her not-so-subtle social media hints ever work?

The vast majority didn’t, she said, but her attempts did land her one of her crushes — he became her first boyfriend.

In 2012, he posted a selfie captioned, “normal is boring.” Ten minutes later, she uploaded her own selfie showing her staring wide-eyed into the camera while biting the ear of a stuffed bear. The caption read: “I will NEVER be normal!!! ^_^”

They had never interacted much in the Spanish class they shared, she said. But he seemed to notice that hyper-specific post. He gave it a like, and after that, the two started getting to know each other.

“Most of my other crushes were pretty oblivious, so I don’t think they would know my posts were about them even if they had seen them,” she said. “But I have a couple that have messaged me and just been like, ‘Hey, is this one about me?’”

She said she never expected to build such a large platform off touting her cringiest memories, but they just kept going viral. It soon became big talk in her small town as old friends from school recognized her on their For You page.

“At first I felt so anxious, but I think that I’ve really grown to just be excited for it,” Collins said. “My page has become a safe space for everyone to share their own experiences with their past, and I love that.”