Sleepy, sad girl season is upon us

But beware: is the romantic image always real?

As the leaves turn and the plague of pumpkin spice takes over, we herald the arrival of messy, sad girl season.

We’ve tried the ‘Clean Girl’, the ‘It Girl’ and the ‘Star Girl’ to combat the cold nights, but it seems that we’ve come full circle with the latest trend. 

The messy girl aesthetic is the newfound tonic for unfiltered online users. 

Social media’s obsession with micro trends has formed an ongoing revolving door of aesthetics to choose from. A scroll on TikTok in the last few months reveals the increasingly popular messy girl-core. Although not explicitly termed, the aspects of this trend point to a return to the 2014 Tumblr era, and our teenage selves – complete with no-responsibilities, plenty of daytime naps, late nights and furtive smoking.

But is the aesthetic back for good?

In January 2022 the TikTok hashtag #2014tumblr had 125.9 million views. In November 2023 that number has just over quadrupled standing at a staggering 568.2 million views. 

Artists at the time such as Lorde and Lana Del Rey, were criticised when they attempted to release positive music – they were seemingly restricted to the ‘Sad Girl’ club. 

Madeline Argy and Emma Chamberlain have been comfort girlies for many of us – not wanting to handle the demands of life and spending hours lounging in layers of bedding.

But as more influencers plug into the archetype the tide is turning on this lifestyle as social media users increasingly question the authenticity of content creators’ carefully crafted confections. 

Image courtesy of Madeline Argy via Instagram

Relatability is key. Fashion student Anna Hyland states, “I think influencers such as Chamberlain and Argy become so popular because they are so relatable for viewers. Particularly when they begin their social media journey. However, as their platform and fame grew, inevitably the relatability diminished.”

Recently, Argy was the focus of an interview with Dazed. In a behind-the-scenes clip littered within users’ TikTok feeds, producers seemed to be filling her banged-up Vauxhall Astra with rubbish and crusty meal deal wrappers. 

Argy is like a lot of us – chaotic, funny and messy. All things that we can connect to. However, she’s now in a place of privilege. Recently Argy joined Alex Cooper’s company The Unwell Network. To promote the collaboration, she popped up in photos lounging on her bed and peering through her hoodie and a facemask into the mirror. Captioning the post: “i am @unwell”, even the lowercase text has the essence of messy girl. 

Hyland continued: “Although I think this is what makes them so relatable, I personally think them being conventionally pretty comes into play. If someone presented themselves in the same light as these women do but were not as conventionally beautiful as them, the question arises if they would receive the same fame and acceptance.”

TikTok certainly had something to say about this. One user, @Mayi, racked up 400k likes when she said: “More and more of these Emma Chamberlain 2.0, mentally unwell, sad girl, sleepy girl archetype influencers pop up, become successful, and then create podcasts, products and brands. The more I urge young girls that are fans consuming this media to have discernment that this is a brand.” (sic)

In recent years, it seems that women have taken this aesthetic back as a means of self-expression using it as therapy for communicating their issues with like-minded users. TikTok has been an amazing avenue for discovering trends and interests as well as a platform for poetic means of expression. We should be cautious of the language we use and the visuals we promote that generalise conversations about mental health.

These relatable corners of the media can be extremely comforting, but it’s probably best not to completely surround yourself with these depictions. While it’s perhaps inspiring to see someone achieve success, it is not always possible to discern the authenticity of the reality they present – even if it is at least seemingly similar to ours.

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