Here’s Why The ‘Clean Girl Aesthetic’ on TikTok Is Problematic

In the beginning, the ‘Clean Girl Aesthetic’ that was trending on TikTok didn’t bother me. The trend seemed to champion a clean and simple beauty routine that featured minimal makeup (think: dewy skin and fluffy brows) and sleek, low-maintenance hairstyles. However, as fresh and as seemingly harmless as this aesthetic may have been to start, it has since spiraled into a problematic trend. Let me explain.

First off, the aesthetic caters to a *very* specific type of person.

The ‘clean girl aesthetic’ puts thin, wealthy white women front-and-center as the preeminent aspirational figure on TikTok. A quick scan through the tag and you’ll find that it lacks diversity on every front. The trend alienates BIPOC women, fat women, women with acne-prone skin and women with disabilities. Also, adding ‘girl’ to the name limits non-binary folks from feeling welcome to participate in the look.

Second, What Does ‘clean Girl’ Even Mean?

‘Clean girl’ implies there’s a ‘dirty girl’ aesthetic, too. The popular trend makes wearing a face full of makeup or having textured skin seem less desirable. It also makes you wonder if having acne, natural hair or even body hair puts you in the ‘dirty’ category. Again, the aesthetic punishes those who don’t fit this very specific idea of what "clean" means.

"[This is] just one trend of many and it can be inspirational, but ‘clean girl’ also reflects the values in our society of what the ideal woman is like, as a sort of reincarnation of girl boss," explains one creator. "It [perpetuates] consumerism and white privilege and tells us that the perfect woman has the perfect looking life and is constantly working on herself."

Third, The Trend Isn’t Anything New.

While there are many facets to the ‘clean girl aesthetic,’ a common look involves wearing gold hoops (or gold jewelry in general), slicking your hair back into a low bun and smoothing down your edges. Yes, it’s super cute, but the “trendy” style is certainly not new.

Gold jewelry and slicked-back hair were popular among Black and Latinx women for decades before the Haileys and Kendalls of the world started wearing the look.

One creator, Sam Gomez recently went viral for fighting back against the ‘clean girl aesthetic.’ As she danced, text displayed over her video stating: “You say slick hair and gold hoops is the clean girl aesthetic, I say its historic Latina culture.” Comments like “It went from ‘ghetto’ to ‘clean girl’ really fast!,” “So we’ve been rocking ‘clean girl’ this whole time?! Nah, where is our cut?” came pouring in.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that BIPOC women have exclusive ownership of this look. Anyone can wear hoops and low buns. It’s just that historically, when Black and Brown women wore their hair back and showed off their jewelry, it was deemed “trashy,” “dirty,” and “ghetto.” Many of us have memories of our moms, aunts and grandmas pulling our hair back before school and getting ridiculed for our styles by the other kids. But now that a few white women have claimed the look as a trend on TikTok, it seems to hold an entirely new meaning.

New Hashtags Are Challenging The ‘clean Girl Aesthetic’

As a result, new hashtags have popped up to elevate more communities on the platform. For example, the #LatinaGirlAesthetic sheds light on different Latinx cultures, representing not one, but many Latinx women who don't fall into a single category.

Other hashtags like #CleanMakeupForBlackGirls and #CleanLookBlackGirl show off these looks on darker skin. Even the 'clean girl' tag is getting bombarded with women who have had enough. One commenter said it best: "Why is there a new aesthetic every day? Life is less stressful when don't think about what girl aesthetic you want to be for the day. Just be yourself."

Bottom Line: We’re no longer letting the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ dictate what’s supposed to be on trend. Moreover, we need to consider how we can make the beauty world a space where everyone feels more welcome—which includes being more intentional about the trends we choose to participate in.

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Chelsea Candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...
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