BEAUTY STANDARDS REPACKAGED
BY AYAH BAJWAH
The ‘Clean Girl’ Aesthetic:
This search brings up a clearly cohesive set of images on Pinterest. Pages of thin girls wearing matching loungewear sets in neutral colors, close-up shots of girls with dewy skin and freckles, slicked-back buns, fluffy white bedding and emerald green matcha lattes are examples of the vision the online community associates with “clean girl.”
The same search on TikTok (#cleangirlaesthetic) reveals similar results, only this time in the form of tutorial videos. The most popular videos under this tag include “clean girl must-haves'' and “clean girl essentials,” which list products and wardrobe items for the young women watching.
The earliest posts under this title arise around November of 2021, a time where natural makeup made a comeback as opposed to the “glam” fashion of the past decade. Products in the health and wellness space are currently booming, while social awareness continues to grow, especially amongst the online Generation Z community. Contextually, it makes sense that a lifestyle trend would arise and encompass these themes of investing minimal effort yet appearing stylish, while enhancing what makes us naturally beautiful with light makeup. Beyond personal style and grooming, the ideal ‘clean girl’ also has a neat, minimalistic home with a singular expensive candle lit. She drinks Kombuchas and matcha for the health benefits, and carries an oversized tote bag to the grocery store. With tote bags from sustainable brands such as Baggu costing upwards of $30 each, and Kombuchas at an average price of $4 or more per 16 ounces ($28 every week and $112 per month), it is evident that this lifestyle is meant for those with a budget of comfort.
In the way it’s taken shape across influencing platforms, the ‘clean girl’ aesthetic seems to be well-intentioned. However, in practice, it can actually be harmful by excluding people of certain demographics, acting as another way that social media promotes unattainable beauty standards for young women. Through a brief hashtag search across three platforms– Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok– I have compiled a list of the most common products perpetuated by this aesthetic trend.
The perfect ‘clean girl’ wears a matching sweat set in light gray, white or brown; Olaplex No. 3 ($28); Glossier You perfume ($60); Charlotte Tilbury Flawless Filter ($44); ABH Brow Freeze and applicator ($40); an assortment of gold jewelry; New Balance 550s ($136+); Dior Addict Lip Glow Oil ($35) and skincare products from the following brands: Supergoop, Drunk Elephant, and Tatcha.
The primary way this trend is inaccessible is due to price points. Nearly all of the content under #cleangirl or #cleangirlaesthetic focuses on specific products, not general product recommendations. Often the products are from specialty brands with online storefronts and high price tags that cannot be found at a drugstore or even a local mall. For example, Drunk Elephant, a high quality skincare brand with products ranging from $20-$134 in price, delivered global net sales of $120 million in 2019, highly attributed to its placement in high end markets and its nature of luxury surrounding its high price point.
Beyond being financially inaccessible, the imagery surrounding the trend overwhelmingly features thin, white, conventionally-pretty women. For someone with noticeable acne, darker skin, or wider hips, this association can turn the ‘clean girl’ aesthetic from a popular trend into an intimidating standard.
This begs the question– who is responsible for this standard? Is it just the nature of the internet? Perhaps consumers are still conditioned to marvel at wealthy, thin, fair-skinned women, therefore posts with this content get the most views and thus more engagement online.
Nevertheless, it is important to use this trend as a learning moment, during the process of our generation striving towards online inclusivity. I do believe that there are good intentions behind the creators who participate in the aesthetic with the hopes of spreading messages of cleanliness, simplicity, and self-love. Our job as consumers is simply to intake this content with context in mind. If we can recognize the way the internet still tends toward traditional standards for women, we can continue to work against them while also enjoying the more fun, lighthearted aspects of the trend. I know I certainly love a good soap brow and matching sweat set.