Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 19, 2024

The dark side to glowing up

By SOPHIA PARK | December 1, 2022



Park discusses her experiences trying to glow up and the overwhelming pressures to change oneself.

Lately, I have found myself in an unhealthy relationship with TikTok. It starts when I am about to fall asleep. All I can do is scroll and scroll, an endless pursuit that inevitably ends in sore eyes and lowered self-esteem.

My For You page seems to know me a little too well and is littered with “hot it-girl energy” videos. This translates to an assortment of workout routines, healthy recipes and clean makeup tutorials. 

As an impressionable 21-year-old easily swayed by social media, these videos have been my demise. Every so often I will feel the need to “glow up,” to totally transform myself.

I will work out more often, tackling workouts that leave my body aching for days. I will eat cleaner, pushing aside my ramen cravings for salad bowls. I will change my makeup, replicating whatever natural makeup look I saw the night before on TikTok.

For a short while, this will work. I will see the tangible results of my efforts. I will feel vindicated in my attempts to better myself.

But just when I think I have settled into my new self, I will have the craving. The craving for late-night fire noodle ramen topped with shredded mozzarella and a crispy fried egg. This seemingly harmless craving has the power to shatter every ounce of newfound self-confidence that had been built from the ashes of my previous glow-up.

So you may wonder, why would I do this? Why would I allow myself to cycle in self-loathing? To answer this, I don’t know. How can I keep letting myself succumb to the pitfalls of social media when I know its toxicity?

This is the harm of glow-up culture. 

There is something so appealing about bettering yourself. Who doesn’t want to become the best version of themself? 

The whole concept of self-improvement is great but at what cost? We should want to better ourselves for the sake of ourselves only, but glow-up culture promotes a certain aesthetic and typically only serves to benefit a specific type of person.

Currently in 2022, the clean girl aesthetic dominates glow-up culture. The issue is that the clean girl aesthetic is both unattainable and inaccessible to many.

The clean girl aesthetic embodies Eurocentric beauty standards and champions itself on promoting an ideal (yet expensive) lifestyle. The predominant icons of the clean girl aesthetic are typically Caucasian when ironically much of its inspiration is built off of people of color. 

For example, look at Hailey Bieber. As a model and influencer, Bieber’s actions carry so much weight. When she uses a certain brand of clothing, make-up, skincare — people follow suit. On Aug. 23, Bieber posted a TikTok where she wore brown lipliner and clear lip gloss and described this look as brownie-glazed lips. The issue with this is that it isn’t a new idea.

Women of color, especially those of darker skin tones, have been wearing this look for years, but now that Bieber does it, it’s a trend. 

There are so many more issues with the clean girl aesthetic that multiple media outlets online have addressed, including how unaffordable it is to maintain this healthy lifestyle, the implications of what a “dirty girl” is and the new beauty and body standards it has created. The list goes on.

What I am trying to say is that with the rise of social media and the domination of the clean girl aesthetic, glowing up no longer feels like a thing one can do for themself, but something almost expected from them. We should want to improve ourselves for the sake of self-love and not to appeal to societal standards of what we are expected to look and feel like.

With this, as one of the editors of this magazine, I urge you to question yourself before embarking on a “glow-up.” Who are you doing this for? Why are you doing this? 

Set reasonable expectations. Rather than thinking, “I must gain abs by XYZ,” think “I just want to conquer my fear of the gym.” 

Consider the significance of a mental glow-up as much as a physical one. Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself and take care of your own mental health.

Overall, as much as glow-ups can be beneficial, they can be much more damaging to one’s self-worth. As much as anyone else needs to hear this, I also need to listen to my own advice. Let’s all try to prioritize self-love over superficial recognition. 

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