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3rd November 2023

“All the world’s a stage”, and the internet makes it worse

The internet has a new obsession: packing women into neat, labelled boxes based on their aesthetics. What are, then, the consequences of the commodification of women?
“All the world’s a stage”, and the internet makes it worse

That Girl, Downtown Girl, Coastal Grandmother Girl, Whimsigoth Girl: if you have been on the internet recently, you will be familiar with the boxes available to pack yourself into in the name of aesthetic. TikTok’s Type of Girl phenomenon is spreading like wildfire. Users are encouraged to pick the Girl they want to be and then are told how to act and, most importantly, what to buy to embody Her.

The subscription to one of these aesthetic frameworks is a thankless task. There will always be more to buy, always a shinier, newer Girl to become. Internet aesthetics are vapid, and self-identity becoming synonymous with the products we buy is a terrifying symptom of capitalism. Human beings should be complex and contradictory, not condensed and consumable.  

One of the most favoured Types of Girl is That Girl (#thatgirl has 15.7 billion views on TikTok). She wakes up at five a.m. to do yoga, uses Olaplex shampoo, then Gisou perfume, and is only ever seen in neutral athleisure. She has never known indulgence and is perfectly restrained. Meanwhile, Downtown Girl is painting her nails red, lacing up her deliberately dirty Converse, and getting ready to go to a dingy dive bar. Being a Downtown Girl on TikTok does not actually require going to said bar, just like That Girl doesn’t really require yoga — it is enough to wear the outfits and own the right products, so that you appear as though you would. It is a performance.  

The popularity of these Girls is volatile: they can fall from grace, be laughed at, and then scorned away. This was seen with the VSCO Girl. Her seashell necklaces and Hydro Flasks were quickly discarded as soon as TikTok decided she was an embarrassment. VSCO Girls have since found a different aesthetic to adopt, so they have bought more products to realise this. These products will one day be discarded like the seashell necklaces. I can see the heaps in landfill: Miss Dior perfume bottles amongst Shein crop tops. What is sold as self-identity is capitalist overconsumption.  

Like everything on the internet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern genuine propositions from irony. Just last week, I saw an Instagram post about being a “Boiled Egg Girl”, meaning a classically soft and feminine ingenue. This seemed absurd. Others, such as “Strawberry Girl”, seem more convincing. Either way, the comparison of the self to food is by far the most obvious acknowledgement of the desire to make the self totally consumable on the internet.  

Products we associate ourselves with act as shortcuts, pointing quickly to the wider picture of ourselves we wish to present. This happens often in the case of mental illness: for example, publicly defining yourself by a love of Joan Didion, Marlboro Reds, and Fleabag has come to signify depression. People (mainly women) are being encouraged to offer their mental conditions as the most significant part of their online performance.  

This often leads to the erosion of nuance in how the original products are understood, as well as a troubling trivialisation, or even romanticisation of female suffering. In my brief stint on Hinge, I saw a man who described his ideal woman as “on sertraline”, an antidepressant. This was, I’ll admit, amusing, but it points to a concerning wider cultural attitude towards female pain, as a result of exaggerated performances online.  

These aesthetic frameworks are boring and tragic. We should be aiming to build real world communities, in which we have more in common than the shampoo we use. Perhaps I am too cynical and afflicted with an incessant desire for everything to mean something. Which is difficult when social media’s celebrated Girl changes from week to week. Or, perhaps the rise of online aesthetic is a bleak reminder of capitalism’s encroachment on personhood.  

Liv Tough

Liv Tough

Instagram: @liv.tough

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