Why Are We Obsessed With Aesthetics?
by Grace A
We have become so brainwashed to think that everything we do has to be aesthetically pleasing, and that we must place maximalism over realism.
As humans, it seems innate to label ourselves with certain characteristics like smart or funny. You may even label your appearance or your style - but why do we do this? What is so special about putting ourselves into a category?
Films of the 90s and early 2000s popularised the idea of cliques - people you associate yourself with who often dress and act like you. Movies like Mean Girls defined 00's culture.
You may remember that the characters Janice and Damian dress in an unconventional way, which makes their peers describe them as ‘art freaks’. Because they are labelled this way, they are considered weird, especially by popular groups within the school. In the film, characters like Regina George do not take kindly to the pair, and were set on spreading rumours about them. Despite this, Janis and Damian rarely seem affected by their mistreatment, which begs the question, why do they choose to dress this way if it elicits such negative reactions? Films like Mean Girls reinforce the idea that the way you look equals the way you act. But aren’t we all too quick to assume sometimes? The first thing you notice about people is how they look. You may see someone on the street and come to a conclusion about them simply based on how they are dressed. But it isn’t always good to categorise people in this way, as looks can be deceiving.
You may see posts on social medias like Instagram and Pinterest being tagged as “aesthetic”, which you would assume means pleasing to the eye, but this is not always the case. More often than not, posts described as ‘aesthetic’ are pertaining to a fashion subculture. Often said subcultures are taken very seriously, and may have an expected personality or way of living to go along with them.
For example, I’m sure you remember the trend of people referring to themselves as VSCO girls. This would involve girls wearing bright clothing and sporting Kanken backpacks, but that wasn’t all there was to it. VSCO girls would usually also like bedroom pop music and would watch casual ‘vlog style’ YouTube videos from the likes of Emma Chamberlain. The pinnacle of the aesthetic was this laid-back and effortless aura these girls gave off, as if their fashion was always authentic and never curated. At the time, I tried so hard to be like these girls, but never felt like I conveyed them properly, no matter how much time and money I spent. All I felt was disappointment, as I would constantly try and fit myself into this box I would likely never be perceived as.
Something a lot of people take issue with is people who pretend to be someone they aren’t, infringing on a community in turn. People may associate or identify with a certain word without knowing the origin of it. For example, it is quite popular to describe yourself as indie, which does not make much sense considering this is a genre of music rather than an aesthetic or sense of style. People who are passionate about indie music may be upset with the misinterpretation of the word, as they might be grouped with those who think this way. The indie aesthetic does not reflect the music genre at all, or the bands which fall under it. The word ‘indie’ refers to when bands release music independently without the help of a label, so it is often far-fetched for people to use it to describe themselves. Replacing the word’s meaning would erase the history behind the music’s movement and its controversy - it would reduce one of the largest music genres in the world to a fleeting and meaningless trend.
People might also be upset by the lack of respect given to those who start trends. For a while, having an unconventional sense of style or music taste was considered strange, but nowadays not being the norm is the norm. It was much more common to be bullied or ostracised for your interests in the past, but now being unique is praised. People with unconventional styles often don’t understand the commitment those who started these trends had to make to have their individuality stick to the mainstream. With the rise of social media, we have seen many different styles appreciated. I feel that the tables have turned, with people being shamed for a ‘basic’ sense of style or music taste. We are so pressured to feel like we have to be different from everyone else, when unity is found in similarities. Though following trends may feel as though you are part of something, it can create problems within your authenticity.
One problem that aesthetics cause is the idea of someone’s image. A popular trend at the moment is called the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ wherein photos of beautiful and pristinely-dressed women are plastered all over Instagram and Pinterest with this tagline. This trend is not just about how you look however, it goes deeper than that. When you see these photos, you automatically assume the women in them are hard-working and put-together. You might also assume they are wealthy and have a great social life. This is what brands and influencers want you to think - that in order to achieve the lifestyle of these women, you must replicate their aesthetic. As if saving these images and spending money to look and dress like them will give you their lifestyle. This is all a ploy to get more traction to their account - by tricking you into believing such delusions of grandeur.
Often the word ‘aesthetic’ itself is embarrassingly overused. You may see a video on TikTok of someone going about their day, and people will comment ‘what aesthetic is this?’ without even realising how out of touch they sound. Have we really gotten to the point where we need to label mundane daily activities with such terms? We have become so brainwashed to think that everything we do has to be aesthetically pleasing, and that we must place maximalism over realism. It’s completely unrealistic to assume that you will ever achieve a life that is constantly ‘Pinterest-worthy’. Life will get boring, and trends will shift. This is why aesthetics are ultimately harmful - they make us think we are confined to whatever one we choose and if we dare do anything out of line with it, we are not being authentic. Aesthetics leave us wanting more, constantly chasing what we deem as ‘self-improvement’.
To conclude, I want to give my word of advice that changing others' perception of us does not always go to plan; you cannot control what people think of you, so sticking to what you think they might like you to do will only result in a loss of your sense of self and identity.