To date, the #cleangirlaesthetic has over 670 million videos on TikTok and counting. A recent top video under the hashtag is a video of a lifestyle influencer recording her morning routine. In the video, the self-love TikToker with over 6.3 million followers can be seen tweezing her brows, whitening her teeth, cleansing her face, jade-rolling, face-masking, and moisturizing. It’s an intricate near twenty-step process that leaves her with seemingly effortless glowing skin. She finishes the video by pulling her hair back with a claw clip and blowing a kiss to the camera. It’s the perfect example of what the “clean girl aesthetic” is on TikTok: slicked back buns and barely-there makeup with an emphasis on an all around effortless appearance of cleanliness.
A quick scroll through the top videos in the hashtag reveals the number one problem with this “new” TikTok trend: It’s primarily led by white women and doesn’t acknowledge the origins of the aesthetic, BIPOC. Much like slugging and spa water, the BIPOC community’s decades-long contribution to the “newly discovered clean girl aesthetic” is being almost entirely erased.
“The clean girl aesthetic, from what I see on TIkTok, is literally what so many of us were rocking in like middle school and in high school. Very slicked back buns, like laid down hair, maybe slick ponies with big hoop earrings,” Julissa Prado, the CEO of Rizos Curls tells Freshne. “This is us doing our hair. It’s something very common in Black and Brown neighborhoods. A lot of girls [used] Vaseline and baby oil. They love that wet look.”
She describes the “fresh out the shower” aesthetic as a staple in her own Los Angeles community growing up. In fact, she says many beauty trends and runway styles tend to take “uncredited” inspiration from traditions within Latinx, Black, and Asian cultures. “So many of these trends in our neighborhoods, they’re seen as a low class or associated with being a part of like low income communities. [Then] you’ll see it on the runway somewhere and all of a sudden it’s attributed to being very bougie and it’s priced in a way that’s very unattainable.”
For Nikita Charuza, the founder of the award-winning brand Squigs Beauty, she doesn’t have an issue with the trend, but rather the name itself. “Being an editor and now a beauty founder who actually launched a South Asian-inspired hair oil and face serum, I’m the first to understand that trends on social media take on a life of [their] own,” she tells Freshne. “‘Clean Girl’ implies that there is also a ‘Dirty Girl’ category. It kind of makes it seem like anyone who doesn’t fall under the first category is less than desirable, which shouldn’t be the case at all. I’m all for putting oil in my hair and getting the dewy face look, but I think I would feel differently if the trend had a different name, especially since there’s a long history of the look stemming from Black, Latinx, and South Asian cultures.”
TikTok creator @mkishanthini posted a video captioned “Introducing the OG clean girls” with historic images of South Asian women with middle parts and oiled hair. Commenters on the video note how they were bullied in school for “oiling and middle parting,” but it’s now a “clean” trend with white women as the face of it.
“I still remember stories my mother told me about when she first moved to the U.S. from India and how she had to deal with discrimination and ridicule when she would wear her long hair slicked back into a braid with amla hair oil,” Charuza says. “I went through similar instances where I was made fun of for wearing hair oil in my hair and pulling it back into a sleek bun or braid when I was younger, and it was always something I could never wrap my head around especially because I loved the story being hair oiling and what it meant for my culture.”
Another creator, @0yiza, posted a video under the same hashtag with the caption “the clean girl aesthetic should consist of more black girls considering we actually do wash ourselves.” Charuza notes that the sleek, pulled back buns and barely-there makeup aren’t exclusive to one particular culture, but she says it’s important people think about how they label beauty and fashion movements so that it doesn’t “bury the history behind it by pretending this is a new ‘aesthetic’ when it’s been around for years.”
Prado suggests that people who really want to be committed to a “clean girl aesthetic” should consider the ingredients in the 12-step skincare and haircare routines they have. It’s just as important, if not more important, to use products sans harmful chemicals to be truly “clean.” It’s not just about how expensive your products are or how many of them you use, it’s about eliminating harmful chemicals like known carcinogens and toxic PFAs. You aren’t truly adhering to the “clean girl aesthetic” if the cosmetics you’re using can damage your organs and affect your overall health in a negative way.
Meanwhile, Charuza says she’s “over” aesthetics. “I just want to be myself and be happy without having to worry about judgements from the outside world.” Still, she says she’s proud to take back the narrative that oiling her hair and wearing it in a tight bun is considered undesirable. “Now, I proudly walk outside in public with my hair slicked back.”