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Society’s obsession with picking an ‘aesthetic’

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 UCT chapter.

Every couple of weeks a new aesthetic pops up online, whether it be in fashion or just as a way of living. Clean girl, cottage core, Y2K – if you’ve spent any time on TikTok, I’m sure you would have heard of at least one. What confuses me is the fact that a generation that prides itself on being unique, would revert to a 90s high school way of thinking: by placing everyone into boxes. From the outside there’s definitely some sort of exclusivity in certain aesthetics, as people who are, for example, skinny or wealthy are given access to them. So, it that really all ‘aesthetics’ are? A way for certain people to feel better, or more appealing, than others?

We all know how important community is. It helps satisfy our human need for connection and gives us a sense of belonging. One can argue that social media is the best way to find your community. TikTok alone has so many subcultures that it’s almost impossible to not find at least one person with the same interests as you. Some people are loyal to their ‘aesthetic’, because it can tell you about the person’s hobbies, artists they listen to, as well as films they enjoy. Take dark academia as an example. You probably enjoy writing, listen to Hozier, and love the Dead Poets Society. With a simple label, you can convey to the entire internet who you are. Similarly, people on the Internet can find people who they have things in common with by finding a community of people with the same ‘aesthetic’ as them.

On the other hand, this way of thinking can often lead to a lack of individuality. Social media was initially meant as a way to express ourselves. But over time, with so many people often being exposed to similar content, it has led to the complete opposite. Think about 2020 – during Covid-19 – half of Gen Z knew how to do ‘the Renegade’. Even now, occasionally I feel the need to check TikTok comments before forming my own opinion on the video I watched. Letting an online aesthetic tell you what to wear is one thing, but letting it dictate what you wear, what you eat, and how you act may not be the best idea.

Sometimes the reason for wanting to find your aesthetic comes from a fear of judgement. You see everyone else wearing denim skirts and think “well if everyone is doing it, they can’t judge me for doing it too”. It takes time to overcome this, and with how quickly online trends change, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t able to keep up. And keep in mind that half of what you see on social media isn’t real. Just because someone has the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ doesn’t mean they have their life together.

Regardless of your reasoning for wanting to stick to a certain aesthetic, whether it being a way of reminiscing high school, or a form of self-expression, just make sure it’s not coming from a place of insecurity or lack of identity. When it comes down to it, the way someone dresses doesn’t always tell you what kind of person they are. Society can often be shallow, especially online, so just remember that you don’t always have to look like you’re straight off a Pinterest board.

Jenna is a 1st-year Computer Science and Computer Engineering student at the University of Cape Town. She loves reading and indie video games and will never say no to frozen yogurt. When she's not writing (fiction and non-fiction alike), you can find her at a rock-climbing gym or cuddling with her cat.