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SH Sadler: Fresh Meat

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10 December 2023

The Aesthetic Aesthetic

JOSH GIBBS

Social media hype used to be dance routine and pranks, but the pull of profit has pushed hype into all forms of consumption — most notably in fashion.

 

Just scored a hattrick at 5aside #blokecore

The internet’s obsession with aesthetic is as ridiculous as it is entertaining, but it preys on our unhealthy obsession with consumption. Yes, it is a fun way of rebranding the more banal things in life, but it reflects and deepens our insatiable hunger for all things new, which is fuelled and provided by social media. It is a microcosm of an economic system which promotes both physical and virtual overconsumption.

 

The visual gluttony of social media is so very satisfying but we must recognise the subtle yet harmful impact on individual identity, especially in the way we wish to be perceived. Algorithms on a platform like Tiktok privilege appearance over authenticity as visually stimulating content engages users and generates more views. The image is paramount on social media; this glorification of appearance is internalised by users, who become increasingly concerned with their own image, online and off. Previously, the average punter was unaware and uninterested in the latest fashion item celebs had started wearing, but the internet enables and encourages each of us to unleash our style as an expression of individuality. Instead of more traditional forms of self expression, (drawing, singing or even the way you treat strangers,) social media’s consumerism places identity in the clothes you wear and the products you buy. Many are drawn to this form of self-expression, and a strong sense of community can be built through a shared visual language i.e. clothes can make friends. I have no problem with fashion forming a part of somebody’s identity, but it is important to make a conscious decision in the things we buy, so they reflect personal values, which is known as our consumer identity.

 

To understand consumer identity, let’s consider the last piece of clothing I bought. A simple white t-shirt from Uniqlo. Yes, it is a very boring example, but there is a lot to unpack from this one purchase. In buying this I am communicating that I value simplicity and functionality; I’m unafraid of mainstream brands and I appreciate value for money in products. Yes, even a plain white tee communicates something, because the things we consume, especially the clothes we wear, are not simply an externalisation of our internal desires but also a projection of how we wish to be perceived. From this product and all the other things that I have bought in my life, I can construct my consumer identity. Consumer identity, or in other words ‘aesthetic’, is nothing new and has been around since punks were wearing Doc Martens and mods were driving Vespas. Although it is completely arbitrary, companies have been able to sell values along with their product, in order to market themselves. Social media has become a microcosm of this concept in which the products you buy and wear quickly communicate to your audience the values you may share with them, creating hype for products nobody really needs. Amazon has even created a page dedicated to internet famous products - in other words #tiktokmademebuyit.

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Social media’s obsession with image is damaging because it conflates identity with the products you buy and encourages overconsumption in all walks of life. Often when my friends talk about what they will do with their next paycheck, they immediately discuss the clothes they will buy. Without going too heavily into the perils of fast-fashion (I think we’ve all heard them), the financial and environmental consequences of overconsumption cannot be ignored.

 

We all love a bit of retail therapy, and I don’t want to preach an ascetic lifestyle devoid of any consumerist pleasure. However, it is important to not fall victim to aggressive lifestyle marketing which pushes people into an endless and insatiable search for new things. This means becoming a conscious consumer with an understanding of your values and having a clear intention behind the products you buy. Despite the excitement of buying the novel, the things we look after and hold onto carry much more importance in life. It is much more rewarding to appreciate the things we already have and to only replace them when absolutely necessary. Just remember: the hype never lasts and neither will the things you have now if you don’t look after them.

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