Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

You’re not a “mob wife” or a “clean girl” — you’re a victim of capitalism

By ISABELLA MADRUGA | March 12, 2024

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COTTONBRO STUDIO / PEXELS LICENSE

Madruga highlights that the TikTok trend of cycling through aesthetics has contributed to over-consumption and fast-fashion. 

Another day, another TikTok trend. Yesterday it was the “clean girl aesthetic, and today it’s mob wife.” What do these things have in common? They’re both ploys to get impressionable young girls to buy into a new trend. This makes these girls a cog in the capitalist machine — it makes rich influencers richer, rather than giving girls the space to carve out their own lifestyle and sense of fashion. 

If you aren’t chronically online, then I’ve already lost you with the title. Let’s start with “aesthetic.” Aesthetic by dictionary definition is something that is beautiful or concerned with beauty. However, by the TikTok definition, a qualifier usually precedes aesthetic, and people mostly use it for fashion. For example, the clean girl aesthetic’s whole purpose is to look as if you just stepped out of the shower, with fresh, dewy skin, slicked-back hair in a bun, barely-there makeup and light and airy clothes. Now, how does this talk of aesthetics apply to capitalism and a loss of identity among young girls and women? 

Clean girl as an aesthetic arose in 2020. In theory, this aesthetic is supposed to be minimalistic, as the goal is to look as natural as possible; but, as it turns out, it takes a lot of makeup and skincare to look as natural as possible. It’s not just drugstore makeup, either: To be like the clean girl influencers, one needs to buy the $40 Dior lip oil, $20 Rare Beauty blush, $23 Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Freeze — the list goes on. And this aesthetic, as I mentioned before, is not limited to fashion — it applies to the lifestyle as well. $70 Stanley cups, morning yoga or pilates classes, daily trips to Target — it’s not cheap being a clean girl. Not to mention your abode needs to be spotless and white, from the walls to the furniture, meaning a lot of money must be spent on making your living space look straight out of a catalog. 

It’s classist, racist and fatphobic: classist in its unaffordability, racist in its erasure of POC women as the original creators of many aesthetic trends and fatphobic in that part of the aesthetic is to be skinny. But that’s finished now that the “mob wife” aesthetic has taken over. So, the problem has been stamped out, right?

It is problematic that women’s beauty and lifestyles are being cramped into aesthetics designed to get them to consume as much as possible and conform to trends. Let’s say a woman has conformed completely to an aesthetic because she saw her favorite influencer promoting it and the products associated with it. She’s bought the Dior lip oil, she has a Stanley and she does pilates — only for her to see that a new influencer has deemed the mob wife aesthetic the new thing: red lips, animal prints, flashy jewelry and more. As self-proclaimed mob wife CEO Kayla Trivieri said in a TikTok, “Clean girl is out; mob wife era is in, okay?” 

Of course, my made-up woman doesn’t have to conform. She doesn’t have to throw away all her clean girl stuff. However, when influencers such as Trivieri say things like “clean girl is out,” it makes it seem shameful to still be conforming to that aesthetic as if it’s old and overdone. Furthermore, many of these influencers, including Trivieri, have Amazon storefronts and affiliate links. Through these tools, influencers can profit off telling  oftentimes young girls that their lifestyle and fashion choices are wrong or out. By recommending that their audience go to their links and buy their recommended items, influencers can earn millions of dollars from people’s insecurities.

Each new wave of trends is either a rebrand of a previous trend or a common thing with a marketing name slapped on it. From blueberry milk nails (literally blue nails) to Hailey Bieber’s “cinnamon cookie butter” hair (it’s brown), the examples are endless. These microtrends are just consumerism disguised behind fluffy words. There is a constant slew of influencers saying “Walk, don’t run to Target/Sephora/Ulta for x, y, z” and profiting off women’s insecurities. Their practices are irresponsible at best and predatory at worst. 

Girls and women are no longer carving out space for their own fashion sense and lifestyles — they are looking to rich influencers to tell them what to do and where to spend their money. It’s not as if this is a new thing — before the invention of social media, magazines and TV told girls what the next trend was. Except now that social media is instant, microtrends have started appearing and disappearing quickly— we see this in Shein’s never-ending catalog of fast-fashion styles that follow along with whatever is trending on TikTok. Girls and women are being pushed into buying useless gadgets and fast-fashion styles to conform, and if they don’t do it fast enough, it’s to their detriment.  

Trends, conformity and bullying are nothing new. However, with the rise of TikTok, influencers and social media in general, these trends are becoming oppressive, discriminatory and harmful to personal expression. It’s difficult to escape these trends: From non-famous acquaintances to celebrities, everybody is following whatever aesthetic is trending. It discriminates against those who can’t conform, either due to race, size or class, and causes those marginalized communities to feel even more like outsiders. Finally, it takes away a young girl’s freedom to be herself and persuades her to “fall in line,” creating spaces where people all look the same. Yes, trends can exist. The problem comes when they change so quickly and are so oppressive that they depend on fast fashion and slave labor to fill corporations’ and influencers’ pockets rather than having something organic to offer. 

Women’s bodies and lifestyles are being boxed into marketable packages and sold back to them, so they can dream about living the life their favorite influencer does; they never will, but because of that hope, their loyalty continues even when their influencers ditch clean girl and move on to mob wife. Clean wife, mob girl…whatever the combination of words is, it doesn’t cover the fact that capitalism runs rampant in every trend, and it grows stronger with every microtrend. So, the next time you run out to buy something an influencer told you to, think: Will that $40 Dior lip oil last you until the next aesthetic? 

Isabella Madruga is a senior majoring in Writing Seminars and Sociology from San Francisco, Calif. 


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