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From dark academia to cottage core, TikTok trends have been a shining light through the mundanity of life as a student in the pandemic. While some see these trends as little more than procrastination on a toxic app, I think these trends and the communities they have built are remarkably important to our generation.

The aesthetics on TikTok transport young people from their parents’ homes and mouldy student houses, to wholesome picnics in meadows, or old, mystic Universities. The communities that arise from these trends provide spaces for people to grow their identity and explore passions that are not always celebrated in mainstream media.

Dark Academia

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Dark academia is a trend that shares love for literature, classics and writing through the aesthetics of cosy jumpers and gothic architecture in old universities. A pioneer study aesthetic, dark academia originates from Tumblr, where the community remains strong today.

Perhaps the dark academia aesthetic has survived so long because it romanticizes what mainstream opinion finds boring, uncool and nerdy.

As a human geography student, I feel there is definitely a stigma that STEM subjects require more intelligence, and ultimately contribute more to society (yes, my first tutorial task was to draw a day-in-my-life map, but apart from that). Dark academia celebrates what is beautiful, exciting and challenging about the arts and humanities. Wanting to learn and study isn’t fashionable in many education settings growing up, particularly in secondary schools. TikTok communities such as these are therefore so important because they offer unique spaces for enthusiasm and dreaming, free from judgement.

The dark academia community has blossomed more than ever during Covid-19. Zoom is impersonal, and not very sexy or mysterious. Personally, I feel like I am doled out a raft of information, which I write up into a sub-standard essay, throw in a few maps, and repeat. Dark academia brings a sprinkle of excitement to learning. You may be in a tedious seminar, but with some vintage plaid, you might as well be a reclusive poet in a liberal arts college in the US.

Cottage Core

[bf_image id="2kjjjgbpxhcrb4fk6wg5g4p"] Like many other students, I feel the pressure of being on the ‘cusp of life’, about to enter the real, working world. It can seem like everything rests on your next summative results, what your career is going to be, how you will get there. Often, it doesn’t feel like we’re experiencing life for our own enjoyment but are making decisions in advance of a big scary future. TikTok’s cottage core aesthetic has a special place in our generation’s culture because it represents the opposite ideal.

Cottage core imagines a lifestyle of living simply alongside nature, deriving pleasure from the present moment and tranquil, calm settings. Photoshoots in lavender fields, picking spring flowers and baking are all activities that make up the delicate aesthetic. Any Durham student who has taken a trip up past Hild Bede to visit Bertie and Blossom the pigs will understand. 

TikTok trends and, more importantly, their communities, show us that every identity, aesthetic and passion have a place where they are proudly celebrated. In the midst of huge uncertainty and confinement, you can have faith in our generation to produce something beautiful and inclusive, even if it is simply in the form of thrifted books and dried flowers in a fifteen second video.


Hi, I'm Emily, a 21-year-old student at Durham University. I study Human Geography at St Cuthbert's Society and I love all things sustainability, feminism, and travel!
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