• Thu. May 30th, 2024

The clean girl has got to go

ByJayni Makwana

Oct 19, 2023
Hailey Bieber smiling at camera with no makeup on

The ‘clean girl’ aesthetic has become a very popular TikTok trend over recent years, with its focus heavily on simplicity and natural beauty. Those advertising the ‘clean girl’ look often having glowing skin whilst wearing minimal makeup – seemingly limited to blush, lip gloss and mascara. Popular hairstyles include slicked back buns and ponytails, or hair that is loose but shiny and glossy. Outfits include well-fitting baggy jeans and tank tops, neutral toned trousers, dresses, and basic t shirts with the aim to look preppy – but not overdressed. Typically, those adopting the aesthetic accessorise with small necklaces and gold hoop earrings.

image via TikTok

It has now expanded to become a whole lifestyle beyond the specific look. It advocates healthy eating and drinking (think salads and smoothies), exercise and productivity. Particularly popular in autumn, many seem to be looking to adopt a cleaner lifestyle at the start of the academic year, with beverages such as iced lattes and pumpkin spiced lattes being staples of the aesthetic. However, more recently its popularity has declined, with numerous critics highlighting the ways in which the aesthetic is problematic.

Firstly, the aim of the clean girl aesthetic is to appear youthful which perpetuates the belief that women are valued less as they age, and that all women should try to stay fresh faced. Not only this, but there is a belief that anything other than this clean girl aesthetic is dirty and suggests a classist dimension to this trend. Most of the clothing and jewellery worn by the clean girls is from expensive high street stores – exclusionary for those who can’t afford to shop there. Being sparkly clean all the time is unrealistic for somebody trying to hold down a job, study full time or care for a family, meaning that the full aesthetic is only attainable for those who have enough privilege not to have to worry about these daily hassles.

Secondly, most of the women used as role models for the aesthetic are white women, such as Hailey Bieber and Madelyn Cline, and most women we see as having the ideal clean girl aesthetic on social media are white. This is particularly problematic because aspects of this trend originated in non-white cultures. For example, the practice of oiling and slicking back hair comes from Indian traditions, whilst the buns and gold hoop earrings were initially made popular by Black and Latina women, respectively. Typically, blackness is not promoted as part of the aesthetic and therefore excludes women of colour, whilst seemingly culturally appropriating their practices. Even though the clean girl aesthetic has rightfully faced much criticism, it does not mean that all those who adopt it are inherently problematic themselves.

If you are looking to make your lifestyle cleaner this autumn, the basic principles of the aesthetic, such as minimal makeup, dressing in neutral colours and adopting a healthier eating pattern, can be helpful. However, this should be personal to you, instead of an attempt to attain and perfect the aesthetic. It is possible for everyone to improve the cleanliness of their general lives, and therefore the clean girl aesthetic needs to be replaced or updated with a version that is more inclusive and realistic.

Hailey Bieber 2020 3” by VOGUE Taiwan is licensed under CC BY 3.0.