The slow countryside lifestyle, easy breezy prairie dresses and summer garden-inspired colour palettes of the cottagecore aesthetic spoke to the depths of my soul in 2020. Of course, that was until the pressure of productivity overtook the rustic simplicity and #ThatGirl was born— last year was all about having your life together as you sip on green juice, wear matching workout sets, attend pilates, journal, meditate, read a self-help book, walk 10,000 steps and eat avocado on toast for breakfast (*phew*)— all seemingly before the rest of the world has even rubbed the sleep from their eyes. Naturally, that turned into toxic productivity real quick, and by this year we were ready to go into goblin mode and embrace our crumb-covered messy selves.
The Plethora Of Social Media Aesthetics
If that wasn’t exhausting enough to keep up with, this year also saw the rise of coastal grandma, indie sleaze, Y2k, night luxe, clean girl, soft girl, sad girl, weird girl, barbiecore, kidcore, balletcore, dark academia, light academia among many, many more. Trust social media to turn absolutely anything and everything into an ~aesthetic~. Not only do these blueprints come with set guidelines that dictate what you should wear but also your lifestyle choices— from your home decor to the kind of music you listen to.
The Problematic Side
And while embodying an aesthetic can make you feel like a part of a community and give you a sense of control in a world of uncertainty, the sheer number of ‘cores’ on social media can be overwhelming and lead to overconsumption. Adopting an aesthetic comes with looking the part – so you spend your money on rhinestone shoes, shoulder bags, mini skirts and cutout dresses only for them to fall out of trend two months later – and the process starts all over again. Coupled with the need to curate the perfect persona for social media, it can lead to people moulding their personalities to fit the bill which can turn problematic real quick as in the case of the 2014 Tumblr girl aesthetic that romanticised feelings of depression, heartbreak and promoted unrealistic body standards that contributed to eating disorders in many teens.
Another criticism of certain aesthetics like the clean girl is the lack of inclusivity with their primary ambassadors being only skinny white girls. This would also be a good time to talk about privilege— lifestyle aesthetics can be extremely materialistic characterised by luxury purchases and indulgent travel that is only accessible to people of high socioeconomic status. Social media has taken self-care trends and made them an unattainable standard.
Who Are You When You’re Not Living A Life For Social Media?
The rules of an aesthetic can be a great reference point to explore and develop your own sense of style but blindly conforming to these guidelines and putting yourself in a box can also be extremely limiting. With the pressure to align with an aesthetic’s expectations and fit the mould, individuality dies multiple deaths. So you ditch the norms and break the rules to escape the madness, not realising that your anti-aesthetic approach is also a social media aesthetic.