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Why TikTok’s Viral “Clean Girl” Aesthetic Sets Unrealistic Beauty Standards

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Brown chapter.

Smooth, blemish-free skin, glossy hair slicked back into a bun, barely there makeup, and tasteful gold hoops. With over 6 billion views on TikTok, the “Clean Girl Aesthetic” has taken over social media by storm. Characterized by an effortlessly natural and minimalist look, the aesthetic has been popularized by the likes of Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber.

Take a scroll through the “Clean Girl Aesthetic” hashtag and you will find mainly thin, white, women with disposable income touting expensive skincare routines, athleisure brands like Lululemon and Alo, green smoothies, and pilates routines. Glaringly excluded from the majority of the content are acne blemishes, wrinkles, cellulite, people of color, and larger bodies. Yet again, the “Clean Girl Aesthetic” tells women the all too common narrative that women must be “perfect”, meaning thin and white, but look like she didn’t even try.

The aesthetic is unattainable at best and harmful at worst, as it glorifies beauty standards that are genetically impossible for most women and assumes that women have the monetary means and time engage in “Clean Girl” rituals, like multi-step beauty regimens, daily pilates workouts, and maintaining an effortlessly chic wardrobe.

For the average college student with a tight budget, packed schedule, occasional zit, and skincare routine that involves more products from CVS than Sephora, the “Clean Girl Aesthetic” is yet another social media trend that serves to diminish one’s self confidence through the reminder that you are not good enough and you can fix that through products.

The look popularized by the “Clean Girl Aesthetic” is nothing new. Gold hoops and slicked back buns have been worn by Black and Latinx women for decades, but the social media trend neglects this history by centering white women. The rise in the aesthetic among white women highlights a double standard – when Black or Latinx women wear hoops and slicked back buns, it is often labeled as “ghetto,” yet when white women wear them, it is “clean.”

Over the course of this past year we have been inundated by the “That Girl” aesthetic, “Old Money” trend, and now the “Clean Girl Aesthetic”, all variations on the same trend of white, thin, wealthy, and largely unattainable. It makes sense; realistic isn’t trendy. No one fawns over bed heads, messy rooms, and sweatpants. The illusion of perfection is compulsively likable.

But what if reality did trend for once? What if the next hashtag centered all races and body types? What if our feeds were filled with unedited and unfiltered content that brazenly showed a zit or a misplaced strand of hair? How would we leave the app feeling?

Alexandra Tucker is a writer at Brown's Her Campus chapter from Boston, Massachusetts. She writes on style, culture, food, and Providence. Alex is currently a junior at Brown University, concentrating in Public Health and Health and Human Biology. She is a volunteer at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, is a member of the Women's Health Advocacy Group, manages the social media account of Fashion @ Brown, and belongs to the Kappa Delta sorority. In her free time, Alex enjoys doing yoga, frequenting cute cafes around Providence and Boston, doing New York Times crossword puzzles, and exploring Brown's campus on foot with a good podcast.