Why are we so obsessed with aesthetics?
Hey It-Girls! I know I've been a little absent lately but honestly it's because I've been going through a bit of a content overhaul. While I love talking about self-development, level up tips and wellness, this year I really want to go a little deeper. My dream for this blog has always been to create a community that celebrates women and their self-discovery journeys so I want the content on the blog to reflect this. Being an 'It-Girl' is so much more than dressing 'elegantly' or 'levelling up your life' and as I find myself growing a little weary of the need for constant self-improvement, I've found myself questioning my 'why' more than ever before. I think that if we're going to strive to look a certain way or live a certain lifestyle, it's important to understand the deeper reasoning behind it and since I've been having a lot of these discussions in my personal life, I thought I would bring them to the blog and start the conversation here as well!
So for today's blog post I wanted to kickstart a new series that I hope will become a major part of the blog going forward: It-Girl Commentary (aka all the essays I wanted to write in college). From Tiktok style trends to cult TV shows we can't get enough of, these essays will offer a deep dive into some of the most interesting pop culture and societal trends that effect It-Girls today, starting with today's post all about aesthetics.
For as long as I can remember I've been obsessed with aesthetics. From the soft grunge indie vibes of my Tumblr days to my latest obsession with the 'Euphoria aesthetic' all over TikTok. I'm fascinated by the connection between fashion trends and society as a whole and have always loved exploring the subcultures and trends that represent our current times. It's likely a huge reason why I gravitated towards studying Fashion Marketing at university and why I thought being a graphic designer was my calling in life after I graduated. But while on a surface level I think we can all relate to this love of aesthetics and trends, I think their origins, reincarnations and our motivations for participating in them go a lot deeper than just an appreciation for 'beautiful things'.
2015 - AfroPunk meets Art Hoe
One reason I think so many of us participate in aesthetic culture is reflected in why we participate in fashion as a whole: self-expression and belonging. One of the first topics I explored on my Fashion Marketing course was this idea of 'self-concept'. According to Markus and Nurius (1986), a person's self concept is comprised of their:
actual self image (how they perceive their personality)
ideal self image (how they would like to see themselves - aspirations, success markers etc)
social self image (how they think others see them - social status, public image)
ideal social self image (how they would like others to see them)
A SENSE OF BELONGING
2019 - grunge girl
For most of us, our first introduction to the importance of self-image starts in high school. There's the 'popular kids' who have money, style and status, the angsty alternative kids who live in band tees and Docs, and the kids who float somewhere in between, belonging nowhere and everywhere at once. Perhaps you were lucky and felt self-assured enough in your actual self image that you didn't dream of being perceived differently as a teen, but for many of us, that likely wasn't the case. Our teen years are a transition time where social comparison starts to have real world implications for how we form our identity and who we go on to become. For many of us it's likely the first time we actively recall feeling like our actual self image alone is 'not enough'.
So instead we turn to idealised versions of ourselves, setting our targets on becoming popular, rebelling 'the system' or leaning into our 'weird' quirks; clinging onto this new concept of ourselves and hoping it brings us the self-acceptance and social approval we're looking for.
Those of us who struggled to find peers who shared our interests IRL often turned to online communities such as Tumblr (and more recently TikTok), where subcultures are thriving! No matter how obscure your interest or obsession, you could almost guarantee there would be a 'f***yeah[insertinteresthere].tumblr.com blog page for it (IYKYK)! From scene queen and grunge girl to art hoe and Afropunk, I pretty much experimented with any aesthetic I could find, trying to figure out what felt right. They all did for a time but ultimately I was always left with myself underneath it all, looking for a new path to self-discovery.
BECOMING A COMMODITY
2022 - Y2K vibes
Fast forward to young adulthood and the meteoric rise of the social media influencer; our need for aesthetic takes on a new form - personal branding. In a world where self-made internet sensations are an everyday occurrence, the temptation to commoditise yourself becomes an ever-present thought. Now it's less about how you fit in but how you stand out. What makes your social media feed worthy of a follow? What does your feed say about you? How can you tweak the way you present yourself online to appeal to more people? At some point we go from posting our 'in the moment' selfies with friends to taking photos by ourselves and spending the next hour adding filters and editing out anything that doesn't match the vibe of our feed. Social media taps into our social self image and ideal social self image on a whole new level. We curate and edit and filter ourselves to be positively perceived by others, praised with likes and showered with comments that make us feel seen. And if we're really lucky, we hit the motherlode and get paid to 'be ourselves'.
SELF-EXPRESSION & DISCOVERY
Summercore / Cottagecore
But while I think it's easy to take aesthetics too seriously, particularly on social media, there is a side to aesthetics culture that I still love. The opportunity for creativity and community is something I think we all crave as adults which is why I will probably always switch up my aesthetic every now and then. That feeling you get when you discover a 'vibe' or style of art, fashion or photography that you're obsessed with. When you connect with someone online or IRL who just gets you. There’s something so satisfying and freeing about being able to recreate yourself at any moment. With the way the past few years have been, I think we could all use some distance from ’real life‘ now and then. Getting to create a persona or vibe that takes you to a happier place is a privilege that we get to embrace and enjoy!
Ultimately, aesthetics are fun and exciting and a part of being a multi-faceted human being! Just as often as we evolve as people, it's normal to expect our style to evolve with us and we shouldn't feel pressure to just find one aesthetic and stick to it. The joy is in the self-discovery journey and I personally love that as a generation we're able to reinvent ourselves in so many unique ways.