Via The New Yorker
As she rearranges her quilts and stacks her books in the ‘perfect’ order, Yara Bitar, a 19-year-old North-South studies student at Dawson, does what she can to achieve the unattainable routine that the clean girl aesthetic promotes. Looking in her spotless mirror, she smooths her hair so it is tame and applies her makeup to seem effortlessly refreshed. Everything is minimal, dainty, and seems irrevocably perfect. “[It is] mostly like a state of being so put together: no hair out of place, you have your life together, you have a routine. You’re just…together!,” Bitar says on a brief Facetime call. Nonetheless, she states that those unable to reach these standards of so-called cleanliness and perfection can “make them feel like less of a woman” and “feel worse about themselves.”
The clean girl aesthetic is a trend that emerged on TikTok, encouraging an elegant and minimalist look by wearing a slick ‘ballet’ bun, glossed lips, gold jewelry, and neutral clothing. Many look to celebrities such as Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid for inspiration on how to look and seem naturally put together with a touch of sumptuousness. According to Seventeen, the clean girl aesthetic has accumulated 2 billion views on TikTok. This trend, however popular, is filled with a disillusionment seldom acknowledged or explained. For example, the clean girl aesthetic has appropriated other cultures, is capitalistic, and, probably the most important, perpetuates harmful Western beauty standards that are impossible for most to achieve.
For years, black, brown, and Latinx communities were and still are shamed by conventional Western beauty standards for wearing chunky gold hoops and slick back hair. Now, the clean girl trend has appropriated these aspects of various cultures without proper recognition. “When people appropriate culture, oftentimes the groups that created that standard or… aesthetic are often penalized for it. When it is taken on by people higher up on the hierarchy, which is usually white wealthier women, then they are celebrated for the same thing,” explains Sarah Beer, a Dawson teacher in the Sociology department. The demonized communities are forced to watch from the side lines as wearing chunky jewelry and hair oiling is celebrated in the clean girl trend.
Aside from the lack of credit, the clean girl trend perpetuates consumerism. Beer elaborates by explaining that “there is part of a capitalist undercurrent too, which is if you set a beauty standard that is completely unachievable by the average person [...] it keeps you constantly insecure and striving to reach this pinnacle of wealth.” Therefore, the clean girl trend convinces the participant to buy pricey products that indirectly promote happiness, beauty, femininity, and well-being through the advertisements of clean girl models. The promoters of this aesthetic are convincing when they explain how their 60$ Dior lip oils and 200$ Coco Chanel perfume will help you be your best self. This capitalistic side blatantly disregards those who earn lower wages. Soon, a new trend with new products and standards will take over with the same deceitful message.
The most prominent problem of the clean girl trend is the Western beauty standards unachievable by most, which can be physically and mentally detrimental to those who do not conform. Alessandra Pothier, an 18-year-old Dawson student, sits in front of her mirror, feeling discouraged with herself for not being able to achieve the ideal life of a clean girl. She explains through a frustrated text that “the clean girl aesthetic is really hard to achieve for most people and it only fits people who fit a certain look. I’ve tried to achieve it so many times [and] I'm super envious of the girls who can pull it off.” Calling those who fit the standards of Western beauty ‘clean’ sounds as if those who differ, or are non white, are inherently dirty and impure. As an example, skin bleaching is not an uncommon practice among Indigenous communities; they were made to feel unclean. Not many can fit into the minuscule box fabricated for and by a white audience which sustains a colorist, racist, fatphobic, and transphobic outlook.
There is nothing wrong with participating in the clean girl trend. However, it is crucial that one knows where the trend got their inspiration from, how it promotes certain products with faulty promises, and the unattainable Western beauty standards it upholds. Perhaps the clean girl trend could uphold its message of embracing one’s natural essence better by giving credit where it is due, providing makeup, hair, and clothing inspiration without profit, and allowing for a broader inclusion as well as showcasing imperfections to subdue the narrow minded view of society.
Although this trend will eventually die down, we cannot stop potentially harmful trends. We can, however, change the way we see and participate in them.