How much of myself is truly enough for me to be able to feel like myself?
I am scrolling through my TikTok feed a lot these days, as I am sure many of us are. It is loneliness and the need to be entertained and to turn away from reality that was the pandemic that brought us all there. But now that everything is pretty much going back to normal, to all of a sudden disconnect from and to delete the platform is one thing that we cannot bring ourselves to do. Of course, those who managed to do so have done so successfully, but not without most of them going through withdrawal-like symptoms. I personally am afraid to go through that and frankly, I am comfortable enough there and I know which areas I should not step on and where I could. It is a minefield, but I know the area well already. So now there it is, the black, blue, and pink logo sitting smugly on the homepage of my phone, knowing it will not be going anywhere.
Scrolling through my TikTok feed one day, I could not help but notice all these so-called ‘aesthetics’ that everyone either has painted themselves in or are actively giving out tips on how to be and look a part of it. Sure, micro-trends are not something new on the Internet. We have seen it all, the rise and quick downfall of fashion and beauty trends, everyone clambering to get their own pieces from mass-produced fast fashion stores (I am looking right at you, Shein) before realising that everyone on the Internet has moved on to a new trend, and so the cycle goes on and on and on.
But now micro-trends have evolved from just being a trend on a single piece of item or look, to a whole way of living, behaving, and being. All this can be traced back to the beginning of the pandemic, which all started with the innocent dark academia aesthetic, so to speak, where consuming literature has once again become an activity to be desired—only appealing when it is being done during the gloomy autumn in a mysterious library. Or the ‘e-girl’ aesthetic, which turned dark pretty quick, proving how much we really do not deserve nice things. Fast forward to now, even a five-minute scroll through my feed makes me privy to plenty of ‘aesthetics’ I can pick and choose to be.
This girl on TikTok is now telling me how I can easily achieve the ‘clean girl’ aesthetic by wearing this and this, spraying this on, eating this, drinking this, going here, doing that. The next few videos are another similar tutorial on how to be ‘coquette’: baby doll dresses, pearl necklaces, Lana Del Rey playing in white Sony headphones, Dior lip oil, creamy white bed sheets with patterns of little roses, strawberry jam biscuits and tea for breakfast, and don’t forget to put on a pretty pink lipstick and kiss your favourite page from your favourite book (make sure it is Nabokov’s Lolita), leaving multiples kiss stains on the pages. Different girls wearing the exact same things and, I imagine, with personalities difficult to tell apart are tutoring me on how I can finally be like them, the ‘it girl’ of the century. My ears perked up when she told me one of the perfumes I already own is the ultimate ‘it girl’ scent, which got me thinking: am I an ‘it girl’?
It is bizarre and definitely a lot, the measures some go to just to create a coherent identity. To be fair, I am in no way saying that nobody can have their own identity mapped out and lived in, but is it not a problem when everybody is looking and behaving the exact same way on the Internet now?
Something that also baffles me about these types of micro-trends is the romanticisation of certain mental illnesses and lifestyles. This is the dark underside of Internet users attempting to create a circle of connection with others, which is a good thing, but not when certain innocent ways of living are being dragged into it and being associated with it, and definitely not when people are trying their best to fit into these ‘aesthetics’ by faking it ‘til they make it. Oh, you watch Fleabag at least five times already, read Sylvia Plath, and smoke copious amounts of cigarettes (not electronic ones, but classic Marlboro reds only)? You must be a ‘sad depressed girly’. You worship the altar of Internet personality Emma Chamberlain, drink iced coffee from breakfast to dinner, and listen to Fiona Apple? You most probably are an ‘eating disorder girly’.
Even more, now with the popularised existence of adding the suffix -core to words to signify an overall aesthetic, labelling anything and everything as an aesthetic has never been simpler. Literally, anything and everything. Phoebe Bridgers-core. Weird-core. Female villain-core. Bloke-core. There is even Core-core now, which I imagine is similar to Dadaism art. You can even type your name followed by the suffix -core into the Pinterest search bar to discover your personal aesthetic!
All of this really begs the question of how and why we breed these types of micro-trends on the Internet that bleeds out into our real life and into our whole personal identities? I imagine the pandemic to be a major catapult that slingshot us here into this situation. Everyone was trying to connect, to make it big, to create attention. What better way to achieve all of that than to be a walking Pinterest board? Where your identity and personality are boiled down to something that is easily interpreted and appealing enough to be copied by others. It was a completely harmless thing back then, a fun way to test the waters, to discover yourself and to relate to one another. But in the intersection of public perception and social media as well as the pressure that comes with it, it can be tough.
Now, I seem to always be self-conscious of how I am being perceived when I go out. Being aware of the Internet micro-trends having implications that branches out into real life and actively avoiding categorising myself into any one of them is a blessing and a curse. I just want to be myself, but I cannot help it when people spot my favourite black Converses and my favourite Carhartt sling bag and all they see is this specific -core I carry myself in. I’m not sure what ‘aesthetic’ exactly I fit in, I can picture it but I can’t name it. I never gave much thought to how I dress myself up, my behaviours in public, the words I choose to use when I speak, the things I buy, but now I do even in the tiniest way. It is as if I do not trust myself to be my own self anymore.
It is so difficult to truly be your own selves today without feeling like you are fitting into a certain ‘aesthetic’, a certain look, a certain lifestyle, either consciously or not. Sure, you can argue that now more than ever it is so easy to discover your personal identity, and look, you can connect with others who share the same identity as you thanks to social media! ‘Aesthetics’ and personal identities are served up on little platters, all you need to do to live a happy and put-together life is to just pick one that you love and connect with. It’s a feast, the last supper of identity crises. But do we really have the freedom to find our own authenticity on those little silver platters? Or has it now become undesirable to not have a label on our personal selves, to not be able to relate to others or be related to?
How do I tell people I enjoy reading literature and spending time in libraries without sounding like a dark academia girl? How do I express my love for the countryside and having simple picnics without being labelled as ‘cottage-core’? I want to claim these things, big and small, as my own and not a part of any ‘aesthetic’, and particular way of being that is nicely packaged for the Internet to consume.
I believe there is a lot to be said about our desire to be a part of the puzzle that fits. So much has already been said about it that I do not think I am able to put it into new words, so I won’t attempt to in fear of being derivative. I will, however, say that we are and we can be so much more than just a few nouns or adjectives bunched up before a suffix. Sometimes, we need to be reminded how easy it is for us to be fooled by the idea that we have the freedom to be our authentic selves while being served up guides on how to be said authentic selves. How easy it is to be fooled by objectivity served under the guise of self-complexity, like walking down the chips aisle in a supermarket thinking you have all the freedom to choose from all these different flavours and brands sprawled out before you when really, they are all pretty much similar to one another.
This sounds corny and repetitive but embrace your authenticity. We are such complex people with complex identities that a single word or label (with the suffix, don’t forget) will never be adequate. Allow your identities, your complexity to spill out of whatever barriers these micro-trends are placing around you. Let it spill, let it flow out, let it drip and drip off the table because that is always how it’s supposed to be.
Written by: Natasha