The Aesthetics of Being Aesthetic
December 6, 2022
Aesthetic culture emerged with Generation Z (Gen Z), born roughly between 1997 and 2012. It has especially risen to popularity in the last three years, with the age of influencers and cultivated social media presence, aesthetic culture has bloomed into a world wide phenomena. Aesthetic culture can range from posting all of one’s photographs with a white border to full embodiment of a persona or character. This culture of aesthetics implies the importance of one’s concern for beauty and appearance and hence intensifies the appreciation of beauty.
On October 27th, Inkwell surveyed the Annie Wright Upper school on whether or not they were following aesthetic culture and cultivating their own aesthetics. In the survey, 56% of students agreed that they have their own aesthetic, whereas 44% of students disagreed. When asked about their personal aesthetics or taste in aesthetics, students responded with a variety of answers: cottage core, downtown girl, palewave, kidcore, dark academia, granola girl, vintage retro and more.
Along with this survey, Inkwell interviewed Olivia Hickly, a social media influencer, whose social media presence has a basis in his aesthetic culture. Olivia has provided us with her unique opinion on this Gen Z trend.
Inkwell: Why do you think Gen Z is obsessed with aesthetic culture?
Hickly: Gen Z is obsessed with aesthetic culture because we are a generation that struggles a lot with identity and belonging to certain “aesthetics” gives a sense of belonging. People are easily influenced by social media, feeling the need to have the “best,” latest trends to fit in. I think Gen Z has gotten rather lost in aesthetic culture and individuality is fading away for a large group of individuals. While having a specific style you truly adore can be wonderful, a lot of people throw around these aesthetic labels hazardously.
Inkwell: What is your “aesthetic?”
Hickly: I don’t necessarily follow a certain “aesthetic.” I prefer to follow whatever my heart tells me to do. I enjoy a multitude of different fashion genres. I used to follow aesthetic culture trends until I realized how harmful it was for my identity and my development. Clothes are meant to be worn and enjoyed over an extended amount of time and I intend to utilize my clothing pieces with a variety of different “aesthetics.”
Inkwell: Why do you “influence?” What role does your aesthetic play in this?
Hickly: My intention was never to be an “influencer.” People seemed to enjoy my posts and I continued to post new content. I became more aware of what my audience wanted to see, catering to that perception. I suppose I influence for selfish reasons, I like the validation of people saying they like the way I look or how I dress. I’m aware of this complex within myself and in other influencers, it’s all inherently selfish. The more one ponders it, the more you realize that sharing your outfits and makeup and hair on the internet everyday is not normal. I believe social media popularity often breeds cases of narcissism. While I am not entirely sure of what my “aesthetic” is, or if there even is a term to coin it, I do believe that it plays a vital role in my popularity.
Inkwell: What is the product of your influence/aesthetic?
Hickly: I think that the sort of “result” my aesthetic influence has had isn’t inherently significant, but I still find it fascinating. To watch people copy or take inspiration from my content is really interesting, thinking about how my presence on social media is more widespread than one would initially think. I never thought I would have such a large audience of viewers or have my photos reposted to pinterest or even have people claim to be my “fans.” My social media platform has enhanced my understanding of the importance beauty and appearance plays within everyday society and how humans idolize figures who “meet” our unattainable standards.
Inkwell: What’s your opinion on the relationship between aesthetic culture and pretty privilege?
Hickly: I think the relationship between aesthetic culture and pretty privilege is much more significant than one thinks, it’s really not surface level. Many times, things become trendy because a celebrity is seen wearing it, and it makes us think, ‘would this particular fashion trend be popular if it wasn’t initially worn by a conventionally attractive person?’ It’s frustrating to see people who are not considered conventionally attractive (eurocentric features) try to wear and experiment with aesthetic categories only to be shunned by people online. Everyone deserves a chance to explore their styles. The correlation between aesthetic culture and pretty privilege is something that needs to be acknowledged and reversed.
Inkwell: What do you think are some of the harms/downsides of aesthetic culture?
Hickly: Aesthetic culture can be very harmful, it contributes to fast fashion, consumerism trends, self-identity development and polarizes fashion cliques. What’s important to remember when trying out a new “aesthetic” is to be kind to those who don’t share the same style as you and not over-consume the latest trends. Be true to yourself while also not being afraid to explore new styles! Everyone is unique, special and beautiful.
This investigation shows just how prevalent the idea of aesthetics is in young adult social spheres. While aesthetics began as more or less simply an outlet for expression, through the evolution of social media, it became the full-fledged culture that it is today. And whether or not its pros outweigh its cons, its benefits outweigh its drawbacks, aesthetic culture is here to stay.
This piece was originally published in Inkwell’s Kitchen Sink Issue.