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The word “aesthetic” has taken on a new meaning for young people in the world of social media. Its use is most popular on apps that are known for being artistic outlets like Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok, and in social media parlance it refers to the visual theme and mood of a picture, video, and often a user’s account.

The New York Times described one of the most famous and followed aesthetics, “cottage core,” as an escapist “aspirational form of nostalgia” and a reaction to the hustle and bustle of modern times. Cottage core is all about a desire to live in a cottage in the countryside. Young people use flowers, baking, farm animals, and flowy dresses to emulate the aesthetic.

To name a few more, there are adventure core, VSCO girl, vaporwave, e-boy, pastel kawaii, and minimal.

Decade aesthetics have become very popular too. Here are some of the “groovy girls” interested in a ’60s/’70s aesthetic.

@glambyfloA different kind of vibe… thoughts?✨#outfits #aesthetic #lightacademia #style #fashion

♬ You Got It – Vedo

Different aesthetics are appearing all the time. One girl’s roller skating TikTok is largely credited with inspiring a rejuvenation of the “roller girl” aesthetic first created by the 1997 Mark Wahlberg film“Boogie Nights.”

Social media aesthetics often contain various subgroups. For example, the popular aesthetic “dark academia,” an aesthetic centered on higher education, writing, the arts, and Gothic architecture (think Harry Potter), has also inspired art academia, chaotic academia, classic academia, darkest academia, light academia, fairy academia, grey academia, theatre academia, and writer academia. And that is only a few variations of “dark academia.”

There are also many teens sharing on social media how they can’t decide what their aesthetic should be.

@glambyfloA different kind of vibe… thoughts?✨#outfits #aesthetic #lightacademia #style #fashion

♬ You Got It – Vedo

The rise of social media aesthetics is a very current and quintessentially “teenage trend” because at its core, it is about self-identity and discovery. In your teen years, you are trying to figure out who you are and what you like. A carefully created social media aesthetic is a way young people today showcase their personality, values, and artistic side, and connect with other young people who “get them.”

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The concept of social media aesthetics is in some ways the digitalization of John Hughes’s classic 1985 film, “The Breakfast Club,” about five students from wildly different high school cliques, who spend a Saturday together in detention. Along with detention, they are required to write a 1,000-word essay describing “who you think you are.”

After getting to know each other, they learn a lot about themselves and discover they are more than the labels others have given them. In a combined essay, they tell the administrators who put them in detention and stereotyped them, “Each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?” They sign the essay, “Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”

From punk kids to emo kids to jocks and nerds, teens have always had “aesthetics.” Aesthetic social media is just the latest form it has taken for this generation of teens who are choosing to express themselves digitally. Like the “criminal,” “athlete,” “princess,” “brain,” and “basket case,” they’ll eventually grow up and realize who they are on the inside is a lot more than labels and a collection of pictures and videos.

Evita Duffy is an intern at The Federalist and a junior at the University of Chicago, where she studies American History. She loves the Midwest, lumberjack sports, writing, & her family. Follow her on Twitter at @evitaduffy_1



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