Why it’s a problem ‘new’ TikTok aesthetics like ‘clean girl’ don’t acknowledge the history of the trends

One of the most dominant TikTok trends to spawn a thousand think pieces and search-driven articles is the “clean girl aesthetic.”

The problematic naming aside — if you don’t fit in with the look, are you then considered “dirty”? — the idea behind what constitutes a “clean girl” is categorized as an “off-duty model” with minimal makeup, slicked-back hair, gold jewelry and a glossy lip.

“Clean girl” on TikTok has almost 2 billion views. The women who dominate the hashtag are majority white, thin and able-bodied, with skin that is seemingly flawless. The clean girl also has a whole lifestyle to aspire to, with lemon water and a bathroom that looks like the inside of a Sephora.

If it feels like TikTok has somehow morphed every trend into a “new aesthetic” or “-core,” it’s not lost on other creators like Catherine Lopez who have seen these looks before — just not on white women.

“This aesthetic is neither the beginning nor the only example of white creators taking part [in] a culture because it is currently trending,” Lopez explained to In The Know. “[‘Clean girl’] in particular implied that white creators were the pioneers of this exciting new look, the reality being that a lot of the elements comprised in this trend had been popular amongst Black and brown women since the ’90s.” 

@chobani0atmilk

have we seen the rosaries and “soccer players gf” aesthetic yet? 🤩 never ending #fyp #cleangirlaesthetic #lacoolgirl #cowboycaviar

♬ Hot New Bombshell – Ella

The problem is that there seems to be little credit or acknowledgment of the history behind this look, which erases the history of what others online call “a staple for Black and Latina women.”

“It is incredibly frustrating,” Lopez added. “To give credit to white creators gives an implication that whoever continues to wear the trend after it passes is out of touch; when truthfully Black and brown women had been wearing elements of this aesthetic before, during and after its creation.” 

Lopez makes a great point about how quickly TikTok trends rise and fall and what it means for app users to call a look that’s been a staple for women of color “outdated.”

“[I’m] bothered at how quickly the name and perception of a look can change based on who was wearing it,” Lopez continued. “There had been a few other TikTok sounds/trends regarding white women recalling their ‘ghetto’ days, and a lot of what they were wearing in those TikToks were similar to today’s ‘clean girl’ look.”

Fighting for creators to acknowledge the history of the clean girl aesthetic is certainly not the most pressing issue in the world right now. But Lopez argues that TikTok users could gain a lot by following creators and learning about perspectives not just when it pertains to racial issues.

“I would strongly suggest that people take a look at their FYP and see what kind of content is suggested to them,” she said. “Follow and enjoy the content of POC creators when they are living and simply existing. It is a little backward to search for different perspectives only when it comes to racial issues, and then return to consuming nothing but content created by white creators.”

Some of Catherine Lopez’s favorite creators to follow:

  1. @min.aaaa1: Storytimes, comedy
2. @chrystheauthor: LGBTQ advocate

3. @aamirazh: Storytimes, comedy

@aamirazh

(this was a daiso in malaysia which is why its only $1 & now we have a suitcase just for daiso things) #desi #daiso #pakistani #asianamerican #malaysia

♬ احبكم يلي تستخدمون صوتي – Aura

4. @anaykashe: Musician

5. @olivialayne6: Fashion, pop culture commentary
6. @alyssachuchi: Beauty
@alyssachuchi

WHAT AN EXCITING WEEK ITS BEEN, SEE YOU SOON MSG✨✨✨✨✨ #grwm #parati #fyp

♬ original sound – Alyssa Gonzalez

7. @sofia_linaresss: Fashion

8. @laurenlicup: Fashion
@laurenlicup

downtown girl shes been livin in her downtown world🎸

♬ original sound – ・゚✧*:・
9. @benulus: Fashion (with a focus on thrifting)
@benulus

Jewlery jackpot at the thrift store! I can fulfill my maximalist style while also shopping sustainably✨ #benulustyle #maximaliststyle #thrifthaul #secondhandfashion #vintagejewelry

♬ original sound – Benulus

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