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The Aesthetic Epidemic

Credit: TikTok/@amelia.l1fe and TikTok/ @marywllq

As “coastal granddaughter, tomato girl” summer transitions into a “Nora Ephron movie” autumn, I beg the question: why are we so obsessed with aesthetics?

In an age seemingly defined by hyper individuality, we could not be further from it. 

More so than ever are people eager to prescribe to a trend; the only variation lies in the trends’ nicheness.

Trending aesthetics push beyond trends of the past. Unlike trends from previous decades, modern trends not only tell us what to wear, but how to live.

Aesthetics have become a set of rules, dictating our choices.

Aesthetic Obsession Taking Over TikTok

TikTok is perhaps the biggest pusher of the aesthetic epidemic.

Which aesthetic are you?

Credit: TikTok/@girly_things240
Credit: TikTok/@girly_things240

Videos of this nature are commonplace on most women’s ‘for you pages’. 

Consider the content: it aims to describe a fictitious tripartite categorization of women, depicting them with generic traits such as “you love makeup and skin care” or “you love beachy clothes.” 

Alongside these descriptions are a series of traditionally feminine images that assemble some aesthetic when collaged together. 

What the TikTok ultimately suggests is that every girl who watches must identify as one of these three fictional characters. This is a strange phenomenon.

Perhaps, you watch this and feel seen! Perhaps, you really like the “Greta” or “Ella” aesthetic. 

Or maybe, you look and find that none of these describe you at all. I’d imagine the latter is more likely. 

This TikTok embodies one of the many problems encompassed in the aesthetic epidemic – the notion that women must appear to be categorizable, in order to be digestible to society. 

A woman’s meaning and value is hence directly intertwined with their aesthetic presentation, an idea that spans far beyond dress sense or social media presence 

Categorization Obsession: Why Must You Be One?

In a similar vein, and arguably more common, are videos like this:

Credit: TikTok/@clemenceinspos
Credit: TikTok/@clemenceinspos

The TikTok highlights the current trending aesthetics, rather than making its own. It asks its audience to choose which one fits them best; out of the “different types of girls,” who are you?

What may first perplex you is that the girls don’t appear to be much different at all. Each different “aesthetic” seems to center around thin, white, traditionally feminine women with money. 

Credit: TikTok/@vidasmood

You are pressured to subscribe to a very non inclusive aesthetic, and be someone, or try to be someone, you most likely are not.

And the trending aesthetics are not attainable for most. Instead, they become unattainable aspirations. It moves beyond merely wanting something you can’t have; it is being someone you can never be. 

Credit: TikTok/@clemenceinspos

Take “the coastal granddaughter.” If you are not the grandchild of a person owning a coastal property, you can never fully partake in this aesthetic. Sure, you can dress how you perceive them to dress, and act the way you think they may act, but what you are really searching for, you can never achieve. 

It encourages TikTokers to engage with a fantasy. And while some may believe they benefit from such escapism, believing it to be a form of manifestation for their future, it undeniably sows a deep seeded discontentedness. 

How can you be truly happy if your focus is on a life you will never have?

Aesthetics as Rules

Perhaps the most alarming is the way aesthetics are told to dictate lifestyle choices. 

Credit: TikTok/@wh0re4cillian
Credit: TikTok/@wh0re4cillian
Credit: TikTok/@wh0re4cillian

Take this TikTok, telling you which movies to watch based on “your aesthetic.” 

Why should you have to consume specific media when following an aesthetic? This is merely evidence for the imposing and far reach of the modern aesthetic movement.

To me, the strangest TikTok is this one, instructing viewers on how to rebrand yourself as a ‘Louise Grant inspired it girl’:

Credit: TikTok/@scarlet_

The video is legitimately a step-by-step guide, telling you how to pretend you are a fictionalized character. 

If the notion of that is not ludicrous enough, consider some of the advice it gives! You must discuss “being hot, being popular, and boys” everyday at school, and only have friends that come from old money. 

To most this is obnoxiously backwards and classist, but the TikTok’s comments are filled with support.

They applaud the idea, primarily for its nicheness.

The Bad, The Ugly, and The Niche

A desire to be a trend follower, coupled with a societal shift towards hyper-individuality, allows for the proliferation of subscription to niche aesthetics.

There is a power in niche aesthetics, unfound in more mainstream ones.

Credit: TikTok/@bemusedbeanie
Credit: TikTok/@bemusedbeanie

Being a Bridget Jones girl, rather than a “clean girl,” has inherent coolness, only because it requires multiple levels of understanding. Not only must you know the Bridget Jones movie, but you must be deriving a trendy, frazzled chic look from it.

In a similar vein, is Meg Ryan Fall.

Credit: TikTok/@audreyybbrown
Credit: TikTok/@audreyybbrown

Subscribing to Meg Ryan Fall aesthetic is nicher than a Rory Gilmore inspired look, making it more enviable and coveted.

Consumerism in the Aesthetic Epidemic

Perhaps the most problematic element of the aesthetic epidemic is the consumer culture it engenders.

Continuing with the Meg Ryan Fall example:

Credit: TikTok/@kiraelise

To fully become the aesthetic, you have to spend money.

Credit: TikTok/@summer_luv43

You must buy new clothes, new fragrances, new products, new hobbies, etc.

It is practically impossible to be interested in an aesthetic without feeling pressured to buy things related to it. 

To acclimate into the Stockholm Aesthetic, this TikTok gives you fashion inspiration, telling you where to buy the clothes from as well.

Credit: TikTok/@style_variety_

It accelerates the purchasing process by convincing those that watch that they need certain products in order to be these ideal, aestheticized versions of themselves.

And the strangest part is that most people making these videos are not sponsored to promote these products. They have taken it upon themselves to do the selling, becoming a strange new genre of pseudo-influencers. 

Assessing Aestheticization: Is It All Bad?

If the aesthetic obsession is, at its core, so strange, then why is it so prolific?

Surely, there must be some positives.

Some aesthetics can even help promote self-love and authenticity, as outlined in the “feral girl aesthetic.”

And in other circumstances, I suppose it can be confidence inducing. Take this TikTok for instance:

Credit: TikTok/@_simone.m

Her confident decree, “I am an aesthetic,” can perhaps be read as empowering. Although, it is equally damaging.

Whilst it undeniably grants people the ability to romanticize their lives, it promotes the notion that the content one produces is an accurate representation of their life.

To TikTok watchers who are unaware of this fundamental fallacy, they may feel frustrated by their current situation, in ways they potentially never would have been.

Whilst aesthetics may seem like harmless fun, they are all-consuming. Our approach to aesthetics must change.

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Written By

Hello! My name is Rhiannon Peacock and I am from Hingham, MA. I study in Scotland at the University of St Andrews, and do a Joint Honors Degree of English Literature and International Relations.

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