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Sex + Relationships

Is The “Girlfriend Glow Up” Trend Cute Or Problematic?

From Kourtney and Travis to newlyweds Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz and everyone in between, there are simply way too many celebrity couples to keep track of these days. But worry not: I’m only here to talk about a select few that have experienced a very particular phenomenon: the “girlfriend glow up.” The girlfriend glow up refers to the way a man “glows up” — AKA upgrades their appearance in some way — after starting a relationship with a new woman. And although the term “girlfriend glow up” refers to specific genders and heteronormative relationships, the glow-up can happen to anyone, anytime. 

The girlfriend glow-up is a pretty fascinating phenomenon, and many celebrity couples appear to have experienced it recently. I’ll get to specific examples shortly, but what exactly is the girlfriend glow-up, and what does it reveal? Should we even consider it a good thing? Does the glow-up normalize men “bettering themselves” in some way for their partners, or is it more of a PR stunt that reinforces harmful gender roles about who carries the burdens in straight relationships?

Sometimes, the girlfriend glow up can be cute.

Some of the most notable high-profile couples that have experienced the girlfriend glow-up are Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, Tom Holland and Zendaya, and Channing Tatum and Zoe Kravitz. The men in these couples weren’t necessarily considered “stylish” before getting with their respective partners, but now that they have famously fashionable girlfriends, it appears they’ve stepped up their styles. But before you accuse me of being a hater, I am not! I do think there are some positives about the girlfriend glow-up. 

I, for one, think it’s refreshing to see male celebrities stepping up to their female partners’ levels and putting the same amount of effort into their appearances. After all, it could be argued that they’re raising the bar for male fashion and ditching the sweatpants for a tailored look every once in a while. Hopefully, women start to realize it’s OK to have high expectations, and men start to realize that while it’s important to be comfortable and laid-back with your partner, it doesn’t mean you should get too comfy and stop improving — even when it comes to something like style.

But could it just be a PR stunt?

Have you ever heard the joke about how the devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder? The reference is a nod to the massive amounts of PR going in Hollywood to control celebrities’ images, and it’s not just applicable to the Kardashians. Take “Bennifer,” for example — AKA the girlfriend glow-up that I find to be the most fabricated. 

There was a period of time when Ben Affleck’s career and image felt like it was declining over the years. No shade, but his movies haven’t been doing so well, his family fell apart, and for a while, and truthfully, the media wasn’t always kind to him

So, what’s the publicist of an aging celebrity bachelor to do? Simple: pair him up with a glamorous woman who is neither sloppy nor falling from grace. Now, Ben Affleck is suddenly all spruced up, and he’s in the tabloids not for dropping coffees, but for dating JLo. She and Ben Affleck got back together not long after she ended her engagement with Alex Rodriguez, and since “Bennifer” was first an item in the 2000s, the couple has the classic nostalgia factor going for them. In my opinion, it’s not like there isn’t anything in it for JLo in this arrangement; perhaps “Bennifer” gives the press something new to talk about while also distracting from her breakup. 

I’m not saying that JLo and Ben Affleck aren’t the real deal, but who’s to say their publicists didn’t have something to do with it? Whether it’s Bennifer or a buzzy couple like Kim K and Pete Davidson — which seemingly came out of nowhere — some celebrity couples can feel like a big stunt. They look great from the outside, but is there more to them than meets the eye?

the “girlfriend glow-up” perpetuates the “I can fix him” tropE.

Whether or the girlfriend glow-up is a PR stunt or not, I find that the phrase perpetuates the age-old “I can fix him” mentality. The “I can fix him” mentality pushes the idea that women should go after “fixer-upper guys” in order to mold them into the outward-facing image they want. The concept is all over TV and movies, and some girlfriends even romanticize it on TikTok.  

Frankly, this kind of toxic thinking concerns me. Although the girlfriend glow-up may simply be a nod to someone’s fashion upgrade, I believe it might be pointing to something deeper. With “I can fix him,” women internalize that it’s OK — maybe even good — to date guys below their standards in case there’s a chance they might better themselves in some way. On the other hand, men might internalize that they don’t need to present their best selves in order to land an amazing partner. 

Does the “I can fix him” mentality allow men to “fail upward” in relationships, while women think about how they’ll help men grow? I don’t know how comfortable I am with this idea normalized in the love and dating world. 

Again, I’m not trying to be a hater. I do think these couples and “girlfriend glow-ups” are cute, and I especially love Tom and Zendaya. It’s definitely nice to see these men stepping up their fashion game and taking their wardrobe to the next level, all while genuinely stepping up for their partners. 

If celebrity culture reflects our values, I don’t think I’m down for the girlfriend glow up becoming the new normal. If more attractive red carpet photos come at the price of letting men get away with the bare minimum while women remain a prop for male self-help, then you can keep the paparazzi pics.

Viviana Freyer

Bryn Mawr '24

Viviana Freyer is a student at Bryn Mawr College (Class of 2024!). She will likely major in English and is also interested in French, film, and art history. Her hobbies include reading, writing, listening to music, watching movies, and overanalyzing popular media.
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