Trigger Warning: Mentions of mental illness, eating disorders, self-harm, and drug addiction.
Let me paint you a picture. You’re in an empty parking lot way past your intended curfew. Parts of your fishnet tights rip as you squat down and exhale cigarette smoke. Robbers by The 1975 plays faintly from your friend’s car radio. You make eye contact with your best friend and you see her dark lips turn up into a content smile. Life is good, great even. Or at least you thought it was.
I think we downplay the influence 2014 Tumblr had on young Millennials and older Gen Zers. As a child who had way too much freedom on the Internet, being a “Tumblr girl” was my entire personality. My middle school friends could vouch for this. I was never an active participant in the 2014 Tumblr Era. As a 12-year-old who grew up in a Christian household, I only ever vicariously lived life through them. The grunge aesthetics, chokers, dark eyeliner, fishnet tights, Doc Martens, and nicotine addiction all felt like unorthodox puzzle pieces that perfectly aligned. Even I, someone who refuses to acknowledge this time of my life, can appreciate that era for what it was, with or without rose-coloured glasses.
Tumblr was a hot spot for lonely, depressed and misunderstood teenagers. It romanticized the things that were seen as taboo back then and in turn, normalized them in their own messed up way. And the music that came out of it? It was just so damn good. I still listen to the likes of Lorde, The 1975, Arctic Monkeys, Marina and the Diamonds, and the Tumblr queen herself: Lana Del Rey. They were household names and for a good reason. They were the faces of this new, misunderstood and severely mentally ill generation of teenagers. Even Taylor Swift involved herself in Tumblr culture. It wasn’t for everyone, but if it caught you, there was no way of getting out. This meant accepting all sides of Tumblr, the good and bad.
When I was figuring out my sexuality, one of the main outlets I had was Tumblr. I was too afraid to confide in my friends and family, especially in the environment that I lived in. Although Tumblr helped inform me about labels and exposed me to the LGBTQ+ community, it did just as much harm as it did good. I was caught up in label politics and started obsessing over micro labels I had discovered on the site. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Tumblr was a cesspool for depressed teenagers who overshared and talked about serious topics under the guise of aestheticism. Whether it was about eating disorders, self-harm, drug addiction, or depression, teenagers found a way to make it an aesthetic, inadvertently enabling each other’s vices. And who can blame them? Romanticizing and oversharing were the only way these teens could cope. That came with its faults as personal experiences were shared as facts and misinformation about detrimental topics spread like the plague. But we were teenagers, we didn’t know any better. It’s not like anyone wanted to invalidate anyone’s personal experiences because rule number one of Tumblr was to accept everyone as they are, which is funny in retrospect when you see all the Tumblr aesthetics being centred around thin, white teenagers. This resulted in long-standing psychological issues and trauma for a lot of these teenagers, including me and other friends I knew that were on the platform. Even a simple Google search will show endless TikToks of those who grew up on Tumblr and how it severely affected their development.
Now we’ve come full circle. Young Gen-Zers are all over TikTok saying how they “wished they were teens in 2014.” With thin body types coming back into style (which is baffling to say the least), it worries me this will lead to glorifying eating disorders and drug use the way that 2014 Tumblr used to do. I already see people repackaging old Tumblr aesthetics under new names. Especially with Twitter’s current identity crisis after the Elon Musk purchase, a new wave of teens might just gravitate toward Tumblr once again. All I hope is that they keep the grunge fashion and the good music while straying away from the toxic enabling culture Tumblr once beautified.