Content using the hashtag #cleangirl has garnered over a billion views on TikTok. So, what’s it all about? Is it advice on healthy eating or healthy living? Not really: it’s primarily make-up guidelines and looks to emulate to be part of the #cleangirl movement. Far from being “body positive”, behind these deceptively natural looks hide many restrictions. We look closer.
The #cleangirl trend in theory
Contrary to initial impressions, the term ‘clean girl’ is not associated with the health movement. Clean is a fashion and aesthetic trend that describes simple looks that suggest a girl is in tune with the times. It emphasises “less is more” for both clothing and make-up. The clean look promotes freshness, minimalism, and comfort, with a healthy, natural appearance. We’re talking about #cleangirlaesthetic, #cleangirllook, #cleangirlstyle, and #cleangirlmakeup. The clothing is all timeless basics such as white t-shirts, jeans, and sweatshirts, always in neutral shades in a range of nudes, greys, and ecru. It is, in a way, a weekend style. In terms of make-up, the complexion looks radiant, the skin has no blemishes, the mouth is glossy, and the eyebrows appear natural. It’s a “no make-up” look, where a touch of lip gloss, a little concealer, a bit of highlighter, and a stroke of mascara are all that’s needed to achieve a “clean” look. And, as for hair styling, it’s kept neat and casually tied back, straightened, or pulled up into a loose bun, implying little time has been spent getting ready. Problem: the notorious “I woke up like this” style, i.e. a “waking up” look, with a “simply perfect” face, promotes the idea of natural perfection, which is unattainable and unrealistic.
The #cleangirl trend in action
In reality, this deceptively simple style requires hours of preparation! This is part of the problem: this aesthetic suggests that the young women involved in this trend are naturally that way. But this make-up is very refined. These looks are the result of meticulous styling research and sophisticated make-up techniques. To achieve this style, social media girls spend hours getting ready, a long way from the spontaneity and simplicity they represent. You must find THE trendy item, you must find the perfect foundation that conceals and corrects but still looks invisible, while also having to know the art of contouring, and working with concealers to make imperfections vanish. If your lips aren’t full enough, you need to know how to redefine them to increase their volume discreetly or get injections to plump them up. Hair can be wavy but not too frizzy, or straight, but under control. Professional makeup artists understand that the most difficult makeup to achieve is “natural” makeup. For young women with straight hair, glowing skin, and naturally plump lips, it’s much easier to achieve this look than for anyone else with pigmentation unevenness, frizz, or pimples. For the latter, adopting this trend is simply a predetermined failure.
#cleangirl: this controversial trend is causing problems
The “clean girl” trend isn’t about being clean. It’s associated with women who are predominantly white, slim, and whose “natural” style – which is carefully managed – is the standard. So, what about the term “clean”? Does anything outside of this aesthetic mean it’s “dirty”? This trend represents a resurgence of restrictive attitudes and body shaming. This is set to disappear in the face of its counterpart, “body positivity”, a move to promote women’s bodies and normalise their “flaws”. This “clean” trend is also particularly problematic, as it imposes a standard of normalcy that isn’t a reality, and claims to promote simplicity and a natural look, when in fact it’s the result of in-depth work on one’s appearance. It’s enough to make you feel crazy and depressed! But fortunately, plenty of people have spotted this hypocrisy and, via social media websites, have launched a counter-offensive using the hashtags #cleangirlaestheticproblem and #cleangirlaestheticirony.
What can we learn from the #cleangirlaesthetic trend?
This trend can be kept in the spirit of a simple, no-fuss look: retaining the timeless style of basics, clean cuts, and materials, while adding an eco-friendly conscience to our choices. When it comes to beauty, we can adopt a simple routine that focuses on improving skin health. This includes focusing on cleansing, make-up removal, and protection, and choosing clean formulae. No more abrasive, aggressive, chemical formulae, no more products that promise miracles. Just aim to gently take care of yourself. A balanced, plump, hydrated, and glowing complexion is the goal. Finally, inspired by #cleanmakeup, we keep the complexion evened out with a tone colour concealer, brightened with a highlighter, and freshened up with a touch of blush and lip gloss. The eyebrows, the anchors of the face, are accentuated: don’t pluck them too hard, just brush them upwards to open up the eyes. A touch of mascara and you’re done!
While trends are bound to be a source of inspiration in keeping with the times, it’s also crucial to know how to recognise those that work against self-acceptance. A keen awareness of what lies beneath the flawless images on social media is essential to avoid accepting everything at face value as the norm. This means never losing sight of the fact that everything is staged, retouched, and enhanced, and that hardly any content shows “real life”: we can take inspiration from it, but be wary! This is an analysis that should be extended to young girls in particular, who continue to carry far too many expectations on their shoulders at a time when their self-esteem is still being moulded.