Does everyone need an 'aesthetic' now?

Listen to this story being read by Tamara Davis, here. 

You might've seen the clip circulating on Instagram or TikTok.

"Let's try Sleepy eyes," the text reads, over a video of a beautiful redhead looking at you through half-open eyes.

To translate TikTok-speak, 'Sleepy eyes' is the term getting around for a makeup trend that elongates the eye shape outwards and exaggerates the hood, aiming to give you a vacuous - but sexy - stare.

It's the latest trending aesthetic in the world of BeautyTok: channelling a bored, too-cool-to-care model, like a mash-up of Kendall Jenner and the entire cast of Euphoria.

Images: Instagram @sarahnewsfx. 


The thought that literally millions of women and girls are seeing a video influencing them to manipulate their eye shape to look a certain way is jarring, but it's one of thousands of beauty tropes doing the rounds on the content-sharing platform.

Last year it was 'Clean girl beauty', and the directive to scrape your hair off your face to show off your glowing, make-up free skin and brushed-up brows (the #cleangirl hashtag has since racked up 689 million views.)

Then came the backlash - the trend was too perfect; too alienating and narrow - and the rise of 'Messy girl beauty' began, all smudged make-up and bed hair with a nod to 90s bombshells like Pamela Anderson.

There are many, many more: there's also 'That girl', whose life looks like a curated edit of smoothies, yoga and chic loungewear; 'E-girl', who dyes her hair bright colours and documents her life online from her bedroom; 'French girl' - think baguettes, bikes and Breton stripes - and 'Russian girl' (you get the jist.)

The 'clean girl' aesthetic is still dominating TikTok. Image: TikTok. 


But we've since had the rise of the 'messy girl' as an antidote. Image: TikTok. 


And let's not forget 'Hot girl'.

In 2021 the hot girl was everywhere, and exactly how you qualified as one seemed to come down to how you look and your very specific hobbies.

'Are you a hot girl walker?', the internet asked through memes and think-pieces about the apparent allure of... walking.

We can trace the rise of 'hot girl' culture back to rapper Meghan Thee Stallion, whose hit song 'Hot Girl Summer' was the social media anthem of 2019. Two years on, it's spawned into an obsession with labelling different types of 'girls'.

Within each subculture is a certain look that's replicated using outfits, makeup and even cosmetic procedures, but in some cases, the trope also influences the way you speak, act and engage with the world. 

In the land of #Bimbogirls, women dress in barely-there pink clothing, usually with long Barbie hair, and use a baby voice to play up their 'simple' nature to the cameras - how they "can't do math" or "keep bumping into things!" - while also being radically leftist and anti-misogyny, and calling out followers who don't get the irony.


It's nothing new, really - communities on the internet have been providing a sense of belonging and a means of exploring identity for decades now. And it makes a lot of sense for a generation that has come of age online.

But in 2022, does everyone need an "aesthetic"?

It's something content creator Lamle Wellington, who is 26, has been grappling with lately.

"I find myself having a mini identity crisis from time to time," she told Mamamia.

"I think it's because aesthetics are so limiting. The unspoken rule is you can only be one aesthetic at a time unless they're similar."

What happens, Lamle wonders, when your "look" doesn't fit into a neat stylistic box? Is it the visual equivalent of not having your sh*t together?


"You'll often see me rocking hair described as "chic", glowy makeup, and wearing an oversized blazer with straight-leg jeans — that would put me into the #cleangirlaesthetic," she says, "but then, I'm equally into streetwear, love luxurious things and try to live a #thatgirlaesethic...

"One side of me understands that I'm complex and nuanced and that's okay. But the easily influenced side of me wants me to pick one aesthetic and stick to it because that signals that I'm a fully evolved human who's doing this thing called life correctly."

Naa-Lamle Wellington. Image: Supplied/Naa-Lamle Wellington. 


There is also the question of whether these trends encourage us to explore our creative expression, or by giving women so many physical boxes to tick, they actually stifle it.

For a teenage girl in her bedroom on her phone, do they just create more beauty standards to compare herself to?

Lamle relates to that feeling, and is taking measures to avoid the compare-and-despair effect so many of us are familiar with after our morning, noon and nightly scrolls.

"This year I've been more intentional about how I consume social media, so I take breaks every now and then," she says. "But, whenever I log back online, I'm like, 'Damn, that thing that I just got into is already out of style'.

"In the grand scheme of things, I get how it doesn't really matter, but with the pervasive nature of social media, it's hard to escape wanting to stay up to date with what's trending."

It would seem that in 2022, on the internet, you can be whatever 'girl' you want to be. As long as you do it the right way.

Tamara is Mamamia's Head of Lifestyle and host of our fashion podcast, What Are You Wearing? For more style commentary, follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: TikTok.

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