It’s summertime, you’re single and you’re feeling like the ‘it’ girl of the season. When you go ‘out out’, you’re the life of the party, all eyes are on you because you’re just that girl. And as for your love life? You’re dedicated to making this summer the best one yet. Why? Because it’s a hot girl summer, of course.
What if you don’t want to be a ‘hot girl?’ Maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to be the centre of attention. You don’t want your summer to be groomed within an inch of its life – you just want to be your messy self, having messy fun. No problemo – you can have a feral girl summer.
Only now it’s autumn and there’s another new label doing the rounds. People are starting to ID on TikTok as “warm girls” and, honestly, we don’t really have the will to look into it, but it feels a bit off in the middle of an energy crisis.
While ‘warm girls’ haven’t even got a firm definition yet, people are already kicking off about them.
Why should our personalities have to fit into a micro-trend created intentionally for content? What if we crave neither a feral summer, nor a warm girl autumn? And why are all these labels pinned to women, rebranded girls, and not men?
The truth is that your seasons can be anything you want them to be, of course, but social media has a habit of making us believe our lives should align with specific categories. And they aren’t limited to our love lives.
We have labels for almost everything.
This especially applies to the lifestyle space. This year, we’ve seen the rise and rise of ‘clean girl’ make-up. It’s a step away from the usual full-face coverage that many of us are used to, revolving instead around a simplistic beauty look with a minimal skin base (only using concealer), blush and feathered eyebrows.
And another popular label that won’t go away is ‘Black girl luxury’, applied to any Black woman who boasts numerous designer bags, expensive perfumes, and spends her days enjoying high-end restaurants and holidays.
There’s nothing wrong with any of the trends I’ve mentioned, but why do we feel the need to associate what we do and who we are with a social media label?
And when does this get problematic?
I’ll admit I’ve labelled myself and probably will continue to do so in the future but why do we feel the need to constantly fit our lives into social media boxes?
Federica Rosso, a clinical psychologist for Therapethical ,says hey provide a framework for understanding the world and give us a sense of control over our lives
“People love labels because they’re like a quick fix,” she tells HuffPost UK. “It’s not just so we can identify something – it’s so we can feel we understand it. Labels help us feel like we have some control over what happens in the world.
“They give us a sense of agency, even if that agency is simply identifying with something that doesn’t really apply to us.”
But identifying with a label created online means associating with something that doesn’t have a concrete definition.
Take “hot girl summer”. The phrase has become synonymous with dating and sleeping with numerous people over those frisky summer months, but when its originator Megan Thee Stallion was asked about the rules for having one, her answer somewhat diverged a little from what you think it might mean.
“You have to be the life of the party, confident, kind, and like to drive the boat,” she explained in an interview with Variety. Though this definition isn’t too far off the widespread meaning, note that she didn’t mention dating at all.
This is one of the issues with social media labels, says Rosso. “These labels are based on a false assumption about what those words mean. When we say “Hot Girl Summer” or “Main Character Syndrome,” we assume that there is some sort of clear definition for what those terms mean – that they represent something specific and concrete in our minds. But they don’t!”
But they each come with a sense of feeling we have to act (or avoid acting) a certain way. Want to be seen as a ‘hot girl’? You might find yourself acting in a way that’s associated with Megan Thee Stallion for example.
But in doing so, we aren’t being true to ourselves. “When we focus on labels instead of embracing our individuality, we risk losing sight of who we really are and what makes us happy,” Rosso adds.
Social media labels automatically generate and pit themselves against other labels, putting us into boxes. Do I have to live the life of a hot girl throughout summer? What if I want to be a feral girl today and a hot girl tomorrow?
“When we base our behaviour on labels that don’t have concrete definitions, it’s easy to get lost in a world of assumptions and biases,” says Rosso. “It’s even easier when we start to believe there are only two sides to an issue – that we can only be one thing or the other,” Rosso says.
Rosso continues: “It’s important to understand the difference between a label and a definition. A label is just a word or phrase that we use to describe something—like ’psychological disorder’. A definition, on the other hand, is a clear statement of what something actually is — and it should be objective and specific so that everyone understands it in the same way.”
So should we completely ditch the labels the online world is giving us? I don’t necessarily think so. For the most part they’re fun; these trends come and go with the wind. But the issue occurs when we start pitting these life ideals against each other.
“Social media labels are a complicated issue. On the one hand, they can be useful for those who want to avoid certain content,” says Rosso (or, indeed, seek it out). “On the other hand, they can also be used to ostracise people who don’t fit into certain categories.”
More importantly, not everything online needs to have a hashtag. We can simply live the lives we want. As Rosso puts it: “We need to remind ourselves that these labels don’t define us. They’re just tools that help us navigate through life – they don’t dictate who we are or what we do.”