At fifteen, I knew little of fashion. What to match and what not to, but specific beauty standards were always prominent. Elle Magazines stuffed into newsstands, Slimfast ads in every supermarket entrance, and the It Girl dominating media. It was scraping the roof of what aesthetic culture has evolved into today.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: it’s not all about beauty, and while I am inclined to feel the same, aesthetic culture does encourage you to become ‘that’ Girl.
Think of every Bratz, Mean girls, or Gossip Girl character. The sense that every Girl, no matter how preppy or grungy her fashion sense may be, is ‘that’ Girl. It all boils down to the same principle.
That Girl cannot be emulated. In the words of Cher Horowitz, “As if!”
Unfortunately, I did not have this mentality at fifteen. I was sitting on my bed, Pinterest out, scrolling endlessly, absorbing as many Selena Gomez outfits as I could, thinking fuck, why do I not have a small nose?
News articles at the time told me to wear checked mini skirts and cashmere sweatshirts, eat acai bowls, drink iced lattes, buy the “cutest” clothes, have the perfect hair, have my goals in order, be on the grind while also being zen, and, oh, the list goes on.
None of it worked out. But I still wanted to be Rachel from Friends, Mia from Princess Diaries, and Sophie from Mamma Mia! So much choice, but who was I meant to be?
Or this Girl?
But maybe this Girl?
Perhaps this Girl as well?
Trick question, none of them. At twenty-one, I know that aspiring to look and act like someone else doesn’t really work out. For one, I tried shapeshifting (it didn’t work); two, there is no greater satisfaction than looking in the mirror and feeling comfortable with who you’ve become, not a media-conspired version of you.
Marginalization within Aesthetic Culture
In a TikTok, blogger Grace McGrand takes notice of the restrictions within the aesthetic culture and its limited representations.
“As part of this clean Girl, there is this that Girl aesthetic, where you do Pilates and you have your acai bowl and you wear your Lululemon’s; matching leggings and jacket. …If you’re not doing that then you’re not that Girl,” McGrand states in an interview.
Trends like the Clean Girl Aesthetic “marginalize people of color and also appropriate. So, for instance, my hair type doesn’t go into a slick bun without a lot of work,” McGrand says.
Marginalization within aesthetic culture goes beyond a lack of representation, stepping into exclusion. McGrand voices, “I really have to put a lot work in, a lot of gel in, a lot of slicking back my hair, kind of doing these tighter hairstyles, which aren’t suited to my hair type, and could potentially damage it to fit into that aesthetic.”
“If I had my afro out or I don’t look like the girl next to me, I don’t feel “pretty”. But obviously pretty comes in all shapes and sizes and races and hair types, but when one thing is being pushed at the forefront of being pretty and clean, it doesn’t feel good.”
Grace McGrand draws attention to an internalized pressure to keep up with today’s trends. Even if you know “what you have is enough…you feel like you’re always chasing the trend.”
Social media wants you to crave to become someone you are not. The media should not dictate your every fashion choice and hobby. It will not make you happy.
Take inspiration from aesthetic culture, but don’t allow it to influence how you see yourself. As difficult as it may seem, don’t hope to look like ‘that’ Girl. You already are her (p.s. there is no such thing as a side character).