Aesthetic culture and Eurocentricism

Mainstream aesthetic fandoms led by predominantly white teenagers propel and uphold eurocentric standards in ways most people don’t even recognize.

In a day and age where social media relies almost entirely on targeting demographics with specific aesthetic preferences, we find certain subcultures revolving around ideologies that can be incredibly harmful, even if they do not appear so at face value or if society merely ignores the issue. ‘Aesthetic’ refers to something that appears beautiful or interesting, and people will group things with similar color palettes or vibes together to create an aesthetic subgenre that is then branded accordingly. Examples could be soft girl/boy aesthetic, emo aesthetic, goth aesthetic, ‘that girl‘ aesthetic and etc. 

Dark and light academia– aesthetics that glamorize school, Greek history, art, reading, and anything that could be considered intellectual by a liberal arts professor- are rising in popularity. These, accompanied by coquette — a traditionally girlish and feminine aesthetic that finds its origins in the subculture of “soft grunge” on Tumblr from the years 2010-2015 — are three of the most arguably eurocentric aesthetic genres. The first two revolve around the romanticization of European history, art, literature, and specifically Parisian fashion. If you typed “dark academia outfit” into the Pinterest search bar you’d most likely find a myriad of white girls dressed in knit brown vests over a button-down with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, paired with tan pants and loafers. For some people, the aesthetic genre stops at the fashion choices, but for others it goes beyond that, influencing what books they read, what movies they watch, how they view history, and much more. 

For some people, the aesthetic genre stops at the fashion choices, but for others it goes beyond that

Many, many people believe in the exceedingly eurocentric idea that the cradle of art and history lay in Ancient Greece, which stems into our modern-day life with popular books in the aesthetic fandoms relying heavily on Greek culture. An example is “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt, a famous novel within the academia fandom. The book itself is by no means bad, with undeniably beautiful writing and a compelling plot told by an unreliable narrator attempting to fit in with his admirable newfound peers in an isolated Greek class and his eventual discovery of their crimes. The novel is a pretentious satire with themes of isolation, social class differences, justice, and the link between divine beauty and utter terror. 

Being the first novel published by Donna Tartt, it’s a stunning debut that is hilarious and interesting if you read it with the knowledge of it being a satire, with many character actions or subplots being downright ridiculous when put in perspective. On the other hand, people tend to take “The Secret History” very seriously, internalizing and spinning the story into an unsettling fantasy. Scrolling through the “The Secret History” hashtag on TikTok, there are dozens upon dozens of videos of almost exclusively white women talking about starting an elitist cult where they sacrifice blood to Greek Gods in the woods, fawning starry-eyed over Henry Winter — the dark-haired, cable-vest wearing, the sociopathic mind behind the murders in “The Secret History” — and refusing to criticisms. Erasing the world and effectively people of color outside of the white, European aesthetic described in the novel, these people completely misinterpreted everything Donna Tartt was attempting to satirize. Personally, the promotion of isolated friend groups that focus wholly on mirroring the manipulative, violent, alienating relationships of the characters in The Secret History sounds horribly infuriating and dysfunctional. And this is just one of the many examples of the harmful narratives promoted in these aesthetic cultures, with another close follow-up being eating disorders.

Coquette, largely popularized by Lana Del Rey– an indie-rock singer/songwriter- and her fanbase, is an overflowing soup pot of soft pink, dainty bows, lace detailing, ultra femininity, and the romanticization of Lolita, a novel by Vladimir Nabokov depicting a relationship between a thirty-seven-year-old man named Humbert Humbert and a fourteen-year-old girl named Dolores, aka Lolita. This aesthetic culture is founded on young girls with raging eating disorders, the most popular being anorexia, and the idea that to be inherently desirable is to be devastatingly skinny. Similarly, the glorification of being in a relationship with a much older man is seen as appealing, almost erotic. The relationship portrayed by Humbert Humbert and Lolita is disgusting, with the delusions of Humbert twisting the narrative to make Lolita into a bewitching temptress, a femme fatale that any girl could internalize and want to copy. This fuels the sexualization of “daddy issues” and the idea perpetuated by Lana Del Rey’s music that an older man will take care of her, age gaps and near pedophilic power imbalances completely thrown out the window. The strangely fascinated lens through which this community looks at Lolita doesn’t help, considering Lolita is a skinny, pre-pubescent girl and the epitome of teenage immaturity with her teasing and childish nature. Of course, Lolita is white, with Humbert Humbert being a French literature professor and aspiring poet who appears to be a well-educated and strong presence.   

…once you take a closer look and examine what exactly these aesthetics are centered around, you find the eurocentric beauty standard and ideals gripping tight, never letting go.

While the pretty pictures and alluring sense of individuality inside a community these internet cultures appear to be made up of, once you take a closer look and examine what exactly these aesthetics are centered around, you find the eurocentric beauty standard and ideals gripping tight, never letting go. 

This isn’t to say everyone who may categorize their personal style as dark/light academia or coquette is this awful white supremacist or promoting eating disorders. I myself enjoy the fashion style of light academia, the baby blush pink curtains with lace trimming found in coquette decor, I even admire “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt in terms of writing style. Yet the people who constrict themselves fully into these aesthetic genres, closing doors to life outside of the European sphere and committing so entirely to these ‘aesthetics’, it’s infuriating. The same people who preach open-mindedness, vying for higher knowledge in an attempt to become a Henry Winter copycat, end up hilariously hypocritical in their narrowed perspective of the world. 

Plus, isn’t it boring to limit yourself to one sphere of interest?