DO you believe that you have a doppelganger? A twin stranger out there somewhere in the big, wide world that is your spitting image, someone in whom you can see your very likeness?
Of course, it’s not a new concept — the idea of alter egos and evil twins have been a part of folklore and mythology for centuries.
However, throughout history, the doppelganger has had a paranormal and sinister bent, as if finding your exact double was more cause for concern and terror than celebration.
Not anymore. The advent of social media culture means that nowadays, the idea of finding someone who shares your exact facial features is seen as exciting.
So much so, in fact, there are thousands of people who are using the internet to seek out their twin stranger just for fun.
British-Lebanese journalist Sophie Robehmed started the craze back in 2011 when she began researching a feature on the wide reach of the world wide web.
She wondered if she could track down somebody who looked just like her using Twitter and Facebook. With help from high-profile people like Caitlin Moran retweeting her pleas, she soon had thousands of people involved in her quest.
However, interest soon dwindled and according to her Twitter bio now, Robehemd is still searching for her doppelganger around her work as a broadcast journalist and author.
This year, a young Irish woman took up the challenge.
Freelance TV presenter Niamh Geaney found herself on her own quest to meet her doppelganger when she was approached by a production company with an idea for a show. The 27-year-old, based in Dublin, was intrigued.
“The whole area of lookalikes and dopplegangers was something I always had an interest in,” she explains.
“But it really kicked off when Irish media company VIP approached me for a development project with Channel 4 to see if it was possible to find a doppelganger, and if so how much time would it take.
"We spiced it up by making it a challenge between my friends Harry English, Terence Manganza and I over the course of a month.
"The first day, news of our search had spread across Ireland and Britain and by day two it was global with media outlets from America and Australia wanting to share our story and help us in our search.”
It only took a little over a week for Niamh to find her first lookalike, and only an hour away. She went to meet Karen Branigan in Drogheda to see if they really were twin strangers.
“The video of our meeting went viral on its release in April and has amassed over 7.5 million views. It really captured the imagination of the the world.
"I appeared live on CNN International, Fuji TV in Japan and Globo TV in Brazil — the list goes on. A-list celebrities Ashton Kutcher, Zoeey Deschanel and Sofia Vergara wrote about and shared my doppelganger meetings online.”
Right away it became clear that the general public wasn’t just interested in helping Niamh find her doppelganger, but also in finding their own. She was getting calls from fans all over the world asking her to help them in their search.
“The website www.twinstrangers.com was born so we could try and help others share in the same crazy wonderful experience I’ve had… twice!”
Niamh has indeed met a second doppelganger. “I met Luisa Guizzardi in her hometown of Genoa in Italy.
"Our likeness reached an even spookier level as we moved the same, had similar hand gestures and facial expressions. Watching her speak to someone was like watching myself — bizarre!”
In recent weeks, the Twin Strangers website has had some similar success stories, so striking that they’ve been shared by global media.
In the past month, Niamh was on morning television in America talking about the remarkable encounters that have come about as a result of the project, and says she feels more well known in the States than she does in Ireland.
But why the emphasis on finding someone with a similar face? What do people hope to get from such an encounter, and why is it so trendy right now?
“The internet has turned the world into a village where time zones and languages are all blurred,” says Sean Earley, an account director with digital media agency New Slang.
We are just looking to find a common ground with each other more these days., he says.
“People are using the web to connect in surprising ways every day, and finding your face twin is just another way. We’ve all searched our names online — finding your twin stranger is the selfie equivalent of giving yourself a good Google.”
Sean says humans have always been interested in self-image, and now thanks to selfie culture it’s more accessible (and acceptable) than ever.
“There are 350 million pictures tagged on Instagram with #selfie, but with self-portraits dating back centuries, we’ve always been obsessed with how we represent ourselves to the outside world. Is this vanity? Maybe, but mostly curiosity.”
Consultant psychologist Dr Louise Clarke believes our search for the digital doppelganger points to a heightened sense of self-awareness.
“It’s an unconscious search for identity and a quest for wholeness and integration, and social media has given people an outlet to project themselves into the self they fantasise about or strive to be.”
Niamh has been accused of vanity and narcissism since her quest began, but doesn’t let it bother her.
“Well, I am looking for people who look like me at the end of the day! But the Twin Strangers project is all about something fun and light-hearted, and not meant to be taken too seriously.
"It started as a bet between three mates and then grew to what it is today because of the interest in it.”
Niamh says the experience has changed her life, and taught her about the true meaning of individuality.
“It’s about so much more than outward appearance, and meeting Karen and Luisa has shown me that it’s both nature and nurture that makes one unique.”
Now Niamh is planning on seeking out five more twin strangers.
“It’s said that we all have seven lookalikes in the world, so I’m on the hunt. It would be amazing to make a myth fact and even to make history.”
Consultant psychologist Dr Louise Clarke on why we want to search for another version of ourselves:
“Research has shown that, in facial recognition studies, we like people who look like us which shows that we are naturally drawn to ourselves. This, coupled with the fact that nowadays media is image dominated and highly influential, could be why young people are compelled to search for a doppelganger.
“This search may be driven by a narcissistic pursuit to explore and search for the ‘whole self’ and ‘idealised self’, evident in selfie culture.
“Humans have long demonstrated an interest in self-exploration, a desire to find meaning and to be accepted. Social media has led to an increase in self-image, self-expression and self-obsession.
“However, social media also provides a ‘false self’ where individuals are much more likely to portray a desirable self-image, and are largely reliant on feedback and validation from other people.
“Psychoanalytic theories suggest that there is a longing for self-synthesis, wholeness, and an unattainable perfect internal state.
“This desire, curiosity, and search for wholeness may be driving the need for people to find their ‘twin stranger’ and to find a perceived or ‘perfect and whole self’.”
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