The red nail theory is this summer’s hot new nail trend, and we are OBSESSED. Oh wait, sorry, in the time it took to write that sentence, red nails are out. It’s all about blueberry milk nails now, and they are SO CUTE! Paired with the siren eye makeup look, I mean puppy eyeliner, no, I mean latte makeup, you too can look just like all of those girls on your For You Page! Until, of course, about two weeks later, when it suddenly becomes uncool and untrendy, and the 3 products you bought specifically to replicate this look sink to the bottom of your makeup bag, along with everything else you have bought and discarded to keep up with the rapidly changing trend cycles.
Blueberry milk nails are nails painted with light blue polish. Yes, that is all it is. If you type this phrase into the TikTok search bar, hundreds of videos of beautiful women staring wide-eyed into the camera and literally gushing over the fact that blueberry milk nails are just so adorable pop up on autoplay in a cacophony of hyperbole; no one is really this enthused about nail polish. The same goes for latte makeup. Influencers produce a pan of expensive bronze eyeshadow and swirl it all over their eyes: ‘I need this on my face’, one woman proclaims.
There is no substance to any of this. These creators rely on manufacturing artificial buzz to be able to ‘do’ TikTok for a living. On a platform as fast-paced as TikTok, constantly being at the forefront of what is fashionable is the only way to stay relevant in a sea of identical creators. It can seem harmless; often, these women (and it is mainly women) are not directly selling products in that they do not receive any financial compensation for their videos. So why do these trends feel so much like adverts?
Why does this all feel like a big advertisement?
Brands and their marketing teams jump on them like parasites. They have created an almost symbiotic relationship with these creators. What is so unique about TikTok is its totally unique function of outsourcing the marketing to people who will do it without you even asking them. Influencers need to constantly be pumping out new trends, and so are obsessively looking for the next best thing to aestheticise. Marketers lay waiting on the sidelines, ready to pounce when they see something easily exploitable. Fast fashion websites now have a seemingly never-ending stock of cheap, badly made clothes ready to purchase whenever a new trend pops up on TikTok. Cottage-core, coquette, Y2K, Shein has it all.
But these trends, these aesthetics, are more than what we see at the surface. We are not just being sold clothes, we are being sold lives. ‘Corporate girl aesthetic’, ‘clean girl aesthetic’; not only do you want to look like these girls, you want desperately to be these girls. But we are multifaceted human beings. These trends reduce us down to stereotypes and tell us that having an identity is made up of what type of clothes you wear or how often you put your hair back in a slicked bun. Identity is more than that, it’s our morals, our values, our genuine likes and dislikes, our sense of humour, and our kindness. These pre-packaged aesthetics sell us a shortcut to true identity. They don’t exist in a vacuum, when you think of a ‘corporate girl’, you think of someone who is driven, focused and intelligent. When you think of a ‘coquette girl’, you think of someone who is dainty, elegant and innocent. This is marketing that executives can only dream of: buy our blazer, and you too can be the person you’ve always wanted to be, no psychological work necessary!
What does this mean for us?
In a time where we seem to be less in touch with ourselves and with others, it is no wonder this over-trendification has arisen. In our hyper-individual society, people can feel starved for real community. By participating in trends or essentially having the same things as other people do, you create an artificial sense of belonging. In reality, there is no community between everyone other than the clothes you have all purchased from the same website. In place of true identity, however, this can feel like enough.
Perhaps this is a result of how we are all being perceived so much more than we ever have been in all of human history. The vast majority of us have multiple profiles of ourselves online, with pictures, text and videos documenting our lives to potentially thousands or millions of followers. And it goes without saying that we all want to be perceived positively. In one Google search, an entire lifetime of online posting can be revealed; no wonder we are all so obsessed with curating the perfect image. And yet, with this perception, with social media, with the trend cycle, comes artificiality. Nobody is a perfect person, and nobody is cool and trendy and beautiful all the time. But social media allows us to so easily pretend like we are, and so the seemingly perfect influencers rave about their new blueberry milk nails, and off we go to the nail salon in order to show off our stylish blueberry milk nails to our far smaller following and we forever lock ourselves into the symbiotic cycle. The influencer to the marketer to the masses.
And in doing so, we lose who we really are. To be continuously following trends, you are never thinking about what you genuinely really like. Do you truly like blueberry milk nails and latte makeup, or do you like them because they have been peddled to you by women you look up to? Who would you be if all your social media was deleted, if you could no longer consume what is fashionable if you could no longer perceive and be perceived? Who would any of us be, the generation who has grown up in the age of social media? Is anyone truly original anymore?
It’s hard not to feel disillusioned. Social media creates a paradox; we strive for individuality while yearning for community. But it seems like the tide starting to turn. Blueberry milk nails set something off in people, we finally took notice of this maddening trend cycle and the capitalistic forces that lurk underneath it, which have been worsening the overconsumption our generation is becoming increasingly known for. In noticing it, talking about it and, most importantly, thinking about it, we can be more careful with ourselves and our identity.
In lieu of wishing for the destruction of TikTok altogether, I wish for more thoughtful content creators who are aware of the psychological damage that constantly seeking new trends can do to people and who promote de-influencing, mindfulness and empathy.