A Generation of Aesthetics
The Good, the Bad, and the Irony of “Romanticizing Life”
By Abby Balter
Kaluha in my coffee and painted glassware by the kitchen sink. Flowers on my window pane and disposable photographs in frames. The sunlight in my eyes on the first chilly day of autumn, walking down the avenue in my red cowboy boots, fitting the description of the southern-girl-turned-city-goer in some indie film finance bros would love to hate.
Call it “main character syndrome” or the act of “romanticizing life”—either way, it is not a new phenomenon, just fresh packaging.
The rise of social media in the late 2000s to early 2010s commodified putting your lifestyle on display through pictures. But the internet and the open platform that it offers put this age-old practice in a modern light. Maybe most notably with Pinterest and then transitioning to VSCO (and now Tiktok and Instagram), curated collections of images reflecting a specific type of lifestyle emerged in full force.
Through the popularity of apps like VSCO and other photo editing and sharing platforms, the recreation of these types of photo grids rose, unearthing a pop culture fixation on being “that girl.” These trends start with one single photo or group of images that everyone of a particular age group begins to copy, and Instagram and other social media platforms amplify it.
While this has been a phenomenon for years now, the exponential growth of TikTok is what, arguably, caused this movement and the awareness of “romanticizing life” to explode.
Now, it is essential to note that there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. The idea of “romanticizing life” or viewing oneself as the main character is not a bad thing—everyone should be the main character of their own life. The space for reflection is in the psychological explanation and possible detriments behind the pervasiveness of this trend.
Part of the unfortunate foundation of social media is comparison. Comparison in beauty, lifestyle, fashionability, wealth, body type, and a million other things, an issue whose effects on mental health have been discussed extensively.
People are aware that they are putting on a performance but actively choose to keep the act going. People curate their lives to fit a certain image of how they want to be perceived and delete the dark, lonely, and embarrassing moments from their social media feed. In this way, life can become a series of moments curated for a photo rather than reflecting on the moment itself.
That being said, full transparency cannot be expected on social media. Still, the question asks—is someone molding their life around an aesthetic they want to follow, or capturing the moments in their life that genuinely bring them joy?
The initial intention behind these platforms was for people to showcase aspects of their daily life, and taking photos can be a means of finding beauty in the ordinary. It is a creative outlet.
In that way, the idea of “romanticizing life” can be beneficial because it showcases how everyone has their own story and path. Ironically, a trend meant to showcase the uniqueness of one’s life has become one that produces conformity to the “cool girl” aesthetic and yields to the societal pressures of comparison.
I suppose it is a victimless crime (except, perhaps, for the effects on oneself), but regardless it is an interesting issue to consider as modes of communication shift and the job possibilities through social media expand. Millennials and Gen-Z have grown up engulfed in an online world, and its influence will only broaden in the coming years.