If you’ve been on TikTok these last couple of months, and your FYP (for you page) is anything like mine, then you’ve probably seen the latest trend to make it into the mainstream beauty standard sphere— the so-called #CleanGirlAesthetic. The look has grown in popularity due to models and Gen Z trendsetters Gigi and Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber garnering 350+ million views on the social media platform. But while their style may be the popular inspiration behind the viral videos, it is not the origin, it’s actually women of color who have been doing this look for decades. The look consists of a clean, pulled-back bun with the hair parted right in the middle. The bun must be so perfect that no flyaway should be visible. To accessorize, the look often includes small to medium-sized hoops, thin gold chains, and maybe one gold name necklace. Influencers like Danielle Marcan have garnered thousands of views creating their version of this aesthetic becoming the poster people for the look.
While the look in its entirety has taken over social media style and beauty channels, it has also caused controversy. The name itself, for example, can be misguiding because it defines feminism as clean, polished, controlled, and tamed. And if you’re keeping up, those are adjectives that in some form have helped create a beauty standard that oppresses women of color’s natural features. It’s not inclusive. Period. TikTok creators like @chobani0atmilk have expressed that the issue with the “clean girl” aesthetic is that societal beauty standards are still very much tailored around Western’s standards of beauty which, of course, means the white, European features are often celebrated and accepted. The clean girl aesthetic controversy is that the neat girl narrative emphasizes that if you rebel against the expectation of the “polished” beauty standard, you may be misunderstood for going against what femininity is supposed to look like. All this while women of color are working tirelessly to actually fight hair discrimination and reshape what society defines as feminine, classy, attractive, professional, and natural.
But the clean girl aesthetic controversy is full of problematic messaging that you may only pick up on if you’ve ever felt discriminated against or oppressed simply because of how you looked, what you wore, or your hairstyle. The clean girl aesthetic consists of grade-A beauty products like tinted moisturizers, face oils, cream blush and balm, BB creams, and brow pomade from pricey brands. The products and brands usually featured in “clean girl” TikToks are not affordable to the everyday person. They also don’t offer colors in multiple shades — already ostracizing women who may need a different tint or have a different budget.
Another problematic aspect of this new trend is, like many have mentioned, stealing from a style that Latinas and Black girls have been rockin’ for decades — way before it became mainstream and a selling point. Creators on several platforms have expressed how the “clean girl aesthetic” gentrifies a look that girls of color have owned and possibly been judged for. In fact, I remember when I wasn’t so comfortable wearing my hoop earrings around white people. I remember working at tech giant, Google, feeling like I needed to swap my hoops for diamond studs and trade my curls for straight, tamed (clean) hairstyles. It wasn’t until recently that the same fashion and estilo rocked by Black and brown girls finally became accepted because it was worn by more “socially accepted” kids. Even today, I hesitate wearing my hoop earrings to my college grad classes. Unfortunately, a lot of that also depends on if I have a safe space. Meaning, there are other girls of colors who will understand and I don’t feel othered.
While the clean girl aesthetic being a look straight out of Black and brown neighborhoods, it isn’t the first trend that was robbed from Black and Latin cultures. Currently, the “LA cool girl” on TikTok has, yet again, reminded Latinas on Tiktok why it’s crucial to take back the narrative that emphasizes the lives Latinas in their neighborhoods live and not “white-wash” or gentrify our cultures, our traditions, and our style
The truth is, POC have always been deemed less than, not good enough, not intelligent enough, not clean enough, not rich enough, or nice enough, and when white people take our style, our culture, our foods, our trademarks, rename it, claim it as something else, and forget ever to credit who inspired them — it erases us as the ones who designed the blueprint to begin with. That’s why trends like the clean girl aesthetic are frustrating and exhausting. It’s another reminder of how much we continuously need to re-correct where the praise goes and a reminder of how we still need to be still loud and bold about who we are and what we’ve contributed.
The clean girl look, like street style, was stolen from the closet and styles of people of color who, when wearing it, were labeled “hood,” “ghetto,” or “thugs”. Similarly to acrylic nails, wigs, the lipliner look, and even grills. Our looks were mislabeled and judged before it was stolen and then considered fashion, glamorous and trendy. For a lot of us, slick back hair and gold hoops isn’t a trend, it’s our culture embedded in our look. So we rightfully speak up when what is ours is stolen and used as a trendy aesthetic without recognition from the influencers now capitalizing on it.