Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Anatomy of Aesthetic edgetotedge hero 1?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
Anatomy of Aesthetic edgetotedge hero 1?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp

Why Are We So Obsessed With Aesthetics? 

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 St. Andrews chapter.

I’m sure you’ve seen the Pinterest and TikTok collages of dark academia, students flaunting tweed, drinking black coffee, and reciting Shakespeare; or perhaps you enjoy the clean girl aesthetic, assortments of women doing yoga, drinking green juice, and looking enviously put together in slicked-back buns; you may even prefer the renaissance of the old money aesthetic, WASPs adorned in vintage Ralph Lauren, sitting in a countryside manor, and drinking champagne. 

However, this contemporary concept of aesthetics has deviated from its traditional meaning. As a noun, aesthetics originally referred to the set of characteristics that underlie the work of an artist, or an artistic movement. For instance, one could make reference to the Cubist aesthetic that lies at the centerfold of the Cubism movement. 

On the contrary, through our consumption of media, we have altered our understanding of aesthetics, transforming them from principles in art to principles for people to subscribe to.

Modern aesthetics transpose art onto lifestyles. They suggest that for a life to be fulfilling, it should present in a certain way; like a piece of art, a lifestyle should be themed and curated.

And the notion that we should strive to live by these aesthetics is augmented and propelled by social media. On TikTok, for instance, you’ll likely see guides on ‘how to be a downtown girl,’ ‘how to dress like a pilates princess,’ or ‘movies to watch for the light academia aesthetic.’

These videos suggest to their audience that they should not only want to be an aesthetic, but should change themselves to do so.

But why the push to conform? When we live in an age generally defined by its obsession with hyper-individuality, does this aesthetic epidemic not feel out of place?

I believe it is just the opposite – hyper-individuality is precisely where the answer lies. As a concept, hyper-individuality suggests that one must have a clearly defined, niche, and exciting personal identity. And contemporary aesthetics neatly package and provide the details on how to do so. They tell us who we should be, what we should wear, how we should act, what we should do, etc. And yet, their moderate nicheness enables the best of both worlds – it gives people a more ‘individualistic’ aesthetic whilst guiding them on how to follow it.

Ironically, these aesthetics disregard the individual entirely. Aesthetics are fixed and designed to be followed by many. They suppress the fluidity and particularity of the people who subscribe to them. 

Further, they suggest that every action one takes must cater to a desired aesthetic, and in doing so, must be aesthetically pleasing. This sets what I find to be obnoxious expectations and furthers the problematic notion of transposing qualities of art onto life. 

This is not to say there is no benefit in finding beauty in the mundane parts of life; however, by engendering a perpetual longing for the picturesque, aesthetics plant the seeds for discontent.

In this vein, consider this TikTok trend, in which viewers are meant to choose an aesthetic that best fits them

These six short slides set out to encompass all of the video’s viewers, yet the aesthetics are ridiculously exclusive. In this one particularly (though also at the centerfold of most popular aesthetics), the collages and videos center around thin, white, wealthy women. Ergo, in forcing its viewers to choose an aesthetic lifestyle that is likely not inclusive to them, it suggests that only women who present a certain way have value in our society.

It equally aggravates discontent in one’s own life and lifestyle situation, for it creates unachievable ideals. How can one prescribe to the coastal granddaughter aesthetic without secretly longing for a grandparents with a seafront property?

In formulating aesthetics as lifestyles, we have unintentionally destroyed the beauty of romanticizing our own lives. Finding beauty in our daily lives is a helpful practice; however, placing pressure on the presentation of one’s lifestyle pillages life of its true beauty. People are in their very nature ever changing, and categorizing their entire existence into a fixed aesthetic negates this salient feature of the human experience.

Rhiannon Peacock

St. Andrews '25

Rhiannon is a second year from Boston MA studying English & International Relations