How Tiktok has Defined Beauty for Generation Z
She wears short skirts and I wear t-shirts. She's an e-girl but I like pastels.
I am morally obligated to preface this article with a confession: long before I was a vsco girl, I was a tumblr chick. Before the Rupi Kaur poetry, hydroflasks and “sksksksksks” there was me in 2014 with swooped over bangs, a duck face in all my photos and an obsession with flower crowns. To anyone who isn’t from Generation Z, these characterizations are probably meaningless, but to me, the girl who spent three years begging her mum to purchase knee high bedazzled converse so I could match my flower print leggings, the shift from tumblr grunge to vsco scenery has been fascinating. I guess this is what Two Faced meant when he said “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”
The tumblr chick personality was the physical manifestation of the “I’m not like other girls” ideology. Girls drew fake mustaches on their index fingers, added the same brown, grainy filter to all their photos and wore ties just to gain a sense of individuality. This was bigger than a fashion statement - it was a movement. Although I may not have liked all the outfit choices of the early 2000’s (see low rise jeans), I stand in solidarity with women who worked to make space for themselves and would not be silenced by the voices of anyone. For me, this era was the first time I had seen the power behind women coming together and I was amazed. This aesthetic defined beauty and suddenly chunky highlights paired with clumpy mascara was all the rage. The rise of TikTok and its corresponding aesthetics has told a similar story.
Originally, I downloaded TikTok as a joke - I had seen some of the videos floating around and my friends had begged me for weeks to give it a go. When I finally gave in, my for you page was quickly flooded with hilarious videos like Kylie Jenner serenading me with a “RiiiSE & sHINe”, educational videos and of course a plethora of both vsco and e-girls. By week three, I was already trying to force my sister to become the Dixie D'amelio to my Charli D'amelio. At this point, I’m sure there’s a number of you asking; “what’s the difference between an e-girl & a vsco girl?”
A vsco girl follows trends originating from the app vsco. This typically means a scrunchie on her wrist at all times, inspired by TATBILB (Lara Jean only needs Peter Kavinsky, yes its controversial, no you can’t change my mind), an oversized hoodie and a high ponytail brought back to mainstream society by Emma Chamberlain, her love for coffee and poor hygiene related scandals. Vsco girls are an inspiration to me not just because their notes typically take four hours and a very specific Japanese pen to make but because they represent nonconformity for the everyday woman. They pride themselves on being laid back and not having to be fully glammed up in order to be considered beautiful. Vsco girls are ferociously loyal and always willing to have late night drives with their closest friends. Their rise has shown us that beauty is never one singular thing but rather manifests itself in the way that we would never expect it. To a young black girl this is a message that has built resilience and passion in me. Representation has been a struggle but the welcoming embrace of the vsco girl community coupled with advancements in the beauty industry led by the Fenty Beauty forty shade foundation release has made me feel like I’ve finally found a place where my voice belongs.
This does not mean that the aesthetic is without fault. In 2016, a popular brand for vsco girls, Brandy Melville came under fire for their one size fits all policy. The brand only offered their clothes in one size - XXS. This policy was particularly infuriating after the release of a 2018 report by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education who found the average size of an American woman to be between 16 and 18. Popular influencers like Summer McKeen, Haley Phan and Emma Chamberlain have all worked with the brand sending a worrisome message to their viewers. In 2019 another popular vsco brand, Dote, was accused of token diversity after sending a group of female influencers on a trip to Fiji. The black girls on the trip reported feeling discriminated against after they were asked to sleep on the floor, regularly left out of photo shoots and many of the planned activities. After the original accusation from youtuber Kianna Naomi, other influencers who had been in similar situations decided to speak out leading to intense conversation from the beauty community on what diversity really looked like.
Next up, we tackle the e-girl. E-girls are all my beauty aspirations wrapped up into one perfectly blended contour. They are the stark opposite of vsco girls in their bold makeup and hair looks. Their style has also redefined mainstream fashion for the past three years. It was the e-girl who brought back doc martens and made layering cool again (Canadian winters salute you). They listen to the Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala and swear that they discovered Brockhampton. It was through a series of e-girl tiktoks that teens across the app began hanging up LED lights in their room. The most interesting element of the subculture is irony that has trailed behind it. E-people (what’s the appropriate term for referring to both e-girls & e-boys?) have been regularly likened to tumblr teens in the early 2000’s and rather than shying away from the horrid memories that come from layering a skirt with jeans, they’ve embraced it and transformed the joke into an aesthetic. E-girls in particular have shown the empowerment that can be derived from makeup and refuse to listen to the opinions of others. These women are strong, independent and determined. What the world refuses to give them, they have decided to take by force. The aesthetic takes key elements of Japanese style and mixes them with old school emo grunge to make an entirely new set of trends.
When looked at together, the rise of vsco and e-girls have shown how two opposite ends of the spectrum can co-exist. For me, this is a testament to how far the definition of beauty has expanded in the past five years. The two ideas are paradoxical and yet they have shown teenage girls worldwide that beauty is whatever you want it to be. There is no set idea of what makes someone pretty, these notions are changing and evolving when we, as a society become more accepting. E-girl or vsco-girl, I’m glad to say that above all I am a girl who knows regardless of where she turns, there is a community of strong, independent women standing before her and behind her ready to offer their support.