As we reflect on the exceptional trends of 2023, let’s delve into the captivating, remarkable, and sometimes puzzling moments that made the year unique.

Let’s take a peek into the lens through which TikTok projects our identities:

Imagining the start of her day, Elena begins with morning tea in her Moe’s Books mug, sporting black Mary Jane Docs. Her essentials include either a black Baggu shoulder bag or the compact Telfar. Her keychain holds a key with the word “home” in white cursive along with an iridescent glass heart. On her nightstand, books like Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, and Essays One by Lydia Davis are carefully placed. It’s a narrative that seemingly encapsulates what TikTok believes represents us as “girls.” But does this definable information categorize us into femcels, neat girls, or merely women in their twenties?

Imagine if, instead, we shared tales of our past relationships, our favored dinner snacks, or even the Taylor Swift era that resonates with us. Would this not bridge the gap more effectively?

Perhaps what you truly seek are our encounters with trauma—minus the complexities of our diverse identities or political leanings, just to understand “girlhood” here.

On that note, 2023, hailed as the “Year of the Girl” or the “Girl-aissance,” seemed to overshadow significant elements of our individualities. The spotlight had shifted towards a more superficial identification through various products and experiences that supposedly define girlhood, a term now expanded to encompass specific aspects of womanhood.

While the media and brands celebrated the “Year of the Girl,” micro-trends emerged alongside ongoing societal challenges such as assaults on reproductive rights, amplification of abusers, global conflicts, and trends that were meant to foster community but often veered into mere consumerism.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t imply that the phenomenon surrounding “girl” lacks potential at its core. The pertinent question now becomes: How can we translate these viral trends into impactful initiatives for the common good?

Mashable’s tech reporter Elena Cavender and social good reporter Chase DiBenedetto discuss how “girl trends” gripped public attention but failed to cultivate community or drive meaningful change.

From Dark Ages to the Girl-aissance

Chase: Lately, my feed is inundated with gift guides, a seasonal norm. However, this time around, there’s a distinct taste to the offerings: featuring is the “Literary it girl” gift guide, complete with oversized sunglasses and Ssense bathrobes, and the “Vanilla girl” gift guide, spotlighting Laneige lip masks and leg warmers.

Elena: Hearing just the term “vanilla girl” is tiring enough, especially within the context of girl aesthetics.

Chase: This year saw a culmination of aesthetic-driven girl micro-trends, such as the widely popular “girl dinner,” a meme spawned from a snack-only meal replacement. Other trends included “girl math” (justifying spending on feminine items), the “lazy girl” job (a response to burnout culture — unnecessary gendering aside), and the “*insert random animal, food, or object* girl” starter packs.

Elena: It’s worth noting that the majority of this year’s girl trends lacked a comparable version for boys, and even where they existed, they didn’t capture the same attention. An additional trend centering on girls was “delulu,” a rebranding of “delusional,” especially within the context of courting men.

Chase: Furthermore, we witnessed a flurry of “girl summers,” including the viral #TomatoGirlSummer (35 million views on TikTok) and #RatGirlSummer (30 million views), encapsulating “niche” aesthetics and unique personality traits synonymous with the warmer season. The Girl-aissance not only extended into these app-based trends, something you’ve covered extensively, Elena.

Elena: The emergence of Barbie marked the beginning of a year filled with girl-centric media and fueled the “reclaiming” of “girlhood” to encompass virtually any gendered experience, even extending well into adulthood.

The online celebration of girlhood often depicts a white, neat, and conventionally girly perspective. As Refinery29 aptly stated, “Not to be confused with ‘womanhood,’ ‘girlhood’ is the beaten-up ballet flats and pleated mini skirt to your mom’s mid-height mules and sensible knee-length silhouettes.”

Chase: Pink hues dominated. Many revisited media from childhood and adolescence, reviving a cross-generational fascination with teenage girlhood all over again. Olivia Rodrigo’s album GUTS and shows like The Summer I Turned Pretty reignited the allure of teenage girlhood.

Elena: Many connected with the journey Barbie portrayed in the movie, mirroring the turbulent end of girlhood encapsulated in the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish. This inspired two teenage girls to kick-start a popular blog titled Girlhood.

Chase: Videos set to Eilish’s song encouraged introspection on womanhood, childhood memories, and dreams, offering a space for women and girls to reflect on their lives, society, love, and more.

TikTok’s end-of-year report revealed that videos with #Girlhood garnered 1.5 billion views in 2023, showcasing an almost 4,000 percent surge compared to 2022.

Elena: In her Time Person of the Year feature, Taylor Swift discussed the newfound appreciation for stereotypically feminine concepts such as girlhood, love, breakups, and glitter. She also had a remarkable year, prompting fans to dress up as different eras in her life and their own at The Eras Tour, and fostering a deeper connection to fans’ girlhoods through her project to re-record her early albums and the release of the The Eras Tour movie.

Chase: Moments of bonding between young girls and their mothers (or sisters or best friends) in theaters across the nation became symbolic displays of feminine connection and resistance for many.

Elena: Even misogynistic male characters took on broader significance for teenage girls. Kendall Roy from Succession became “babygirl,” “girlfailure,” and a “teenage girl.” Even the titular Oppenheimer was not immune from being “girlie-fied”. However, altering the gender perspective of these male characters didn’t alter the reality of being a woman in 2023.

Chase: “Women on TikTok are aware of what they’re doing when they dub their meals ‘girl dinners’ or invent terms like ‘hot girl walk,'” as argued by Rebecca Jennings for Vox. “They know that this year, the highest-grossing movie and potentially the highest-grossing musical tour in history revolved around the conundrum of women in their 30s experiencing their own versions of girlhood. People will always be interested in what girls do, as girls are not yet women and therefore not as easy to dismiss. Girls are more accessible for consumption and have more things available to them.” Jennings likened this posting behavior to marketing strategies employed by publishers, brands, and companies, who capitalize on society’s fascination with youth. This strategy also diverts attention away from women’s real needs.

The Girl-aissance Seemed Better on the Surface

Elena: While girl trends soared, a tumultuous stream of negative news lay in the backdrop.

Chase: Following the 2022 repeal of federal privacy protections by Roe v. Wade, 2023 witnessed a continued assault on reproductive rights through repressive state laws and threats targeting reproductive healthcare providers. Instances of criminal prosecution of pregnant individuals increased, and free speech-empowered anti-abortion organizations gained momentum. Abortion fund networks across the country faced a downturn in support compared to the previous year, while Republican leaders pushed bills further restricting access to reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming treatment.

According to the ACLU, over 500 bills introducing LGBTQ censorship, anti-transgender policies, restrictive healthcare, and generally anti-LGBTQ measures were presented during the 2023 legislative session, reinforcing gender essentialism. Advocates online contended with reported shadowbanning and demonetization as they rallied for these causes.

Elena: Beyond the glitz, unrealistic beauty filters, and endless recommendations for complex skincare routines swarmed social media, along with the rise of Ozempic, a weight loss drug, painting a complex narrative regarding self-esteem.

Chase: Online harassment spiked, with watchdog groups noting that over half of Americans have encountered online abuse in their lifetimes, and 2023 witnessing a sharp uptick in online hate on social platforms.

Elena: Online spaces became particularly hostile for young girls.

Chase: In contrast to the Girl-aissance, the internet saw a surge in “manosphere” content, encompassing “influencer content centered around traditional masculine norms such as self-sufficiency, dominance, toughness, and stoicism,” as explained by Mashable’s Rebecca Ruiz. Figures like TikTok comedian Matt Rife continue to share overtly misogynistic content with millions. The dominance of blogging and trending TikTok videos by anti-feminist tradwives underscored this trend.

Elena: These trends exacerbated a culture where women felt compelled to take responsibility for street (or subway) harassment they faced during summer months. Trends such as “subway shirts” or “outfit dampeners” surfaced as mechanisms to combat harassment. As reported by Mashable’s sex and relationships reporter Anna Iovine, “The notion that wearing a bulky shirt could avert harassment perpetuates myths, suggesting that clothes are responsible for sexual harassment or assault, and that victims bear accountability for their experiences.”

Support for survivors of domestic violence regressed, with the problematic casting of The Flash star Ezra Miller (who faced multiple allegations of physical and emotional abuse) and Marvel actor Jonathan Majors (embroiled in domestic violence charges and an active trial). The canceled HBO series The Idol trivialized abuse by portraying the abuser as a victim.

Chase: AI introduced new apprehensions for marginalized communities, including the proliferation of AI-powered deepfake porn and child sexual abuse materials.

Elena: The fall of essential online women’s spaces like Jezebel, the last bastion of feminist media, was the bitter cherry on top of a year marked by regression for women.

Barriers in Organizing Spaces around “Girlhood”

Chase: Simultaneously, conservative groups, men’s rights activists, and right-wing organizers have demonstrated a knack for leveraging memes and internet moments for political organizing – and propaganda endeavors. In 2022, the revival of QAnon memes through Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform sparked a new wave of enthusiasm for the conspiracy, along with the circulation of manosphere content on TikTok. This year, conservative boycott efforts reached a new level when the right reacted vehemently to a Bud Light campaign featuring trans creator Dylan Mulvaney.

To be fair, the internet has served as an effective tool and rallying point for leftist causes in the past, such as the Defund the Police movement and more recent pro-Palestine organizing.

Elena: This year proved to be a milestone for labor with fruitful strikes by SAG-AFTRA, WAG, and the UAW.


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