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Gen Z’s Obsession with Categorising Their Identities
A few years ago, TikTok users began to group themselves into so-called ‘aesthetics’ and ‘-cores’ such as Dark Academia, Cottagecore, Balletcore, Royalcore, Old Money, Witchcore, Grunge, Gothic, Coquette and many more. What are they all about and why am I concerned about their detrimental effect on the lives of young people?
Firstly, let's look up the definition of the term ‘core’. According to slang.net “On social media, words that end with -core typically refer to a stylized aesthetic. For example cottagecore is an aesthetic centered around romanticized rural living, and goblincore is an aesthetic centered around overlooked natural things. You'll most likely see -core words in posts showing off the associated aesthetic, via pictures, videos, or both.”
Apparently, such categorisation has not started with Gen Z. It had been used on Tumblr about 10 years ago. So, don’t blame us. But you might be thinking, “ This trend is absolutely innocuous!”In a way, it is. Let’s dive deeper and see what makes following a TikTok aesthetic dangerous.
My story will be more eloquent than any explanation. The internet aesthetic “Dark academia” became widespread on TikTok in the autumn of 2020, when I was 13. I remember how scrolling through social media and seeing people who were passionate about literature, the 19th century, classical music, and studying made me feel like I had found my belonging. As a rural girl, I had never been fully understood in my desires to read and write. Dark academia seemed to be just everything I had in mind: pics of museums and old universities, lists of must-read classical books, pieces of vintage clothing, breathtaking art, biographies of historical figures, and obsession with ancient times and past centuries. I plunged headlong into the Dark academia world. I began to study harder, read more books, listen to classical masterpieces, play the piano, keep a diary, and surround myself with brown colour.
Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? However, there is a flip side to this, which concerns my mental health and spiritual harmony.
At the time, my mum would tell you it was impossible to find a single piece of clothing for me. Indeed, I had only been looking for dark brown vintage clothes that matched my aesthetic. No sneakers, no hoodies, no jeans, no tracksuits, no bright T-shirts! And you probably understand that it was really hard to get something suitable to my wishes because 1) I was 13; 2) such clothes were not popular; 3) I lived in the country. So I felt like I wasn’t part of the Dark academic community, because appearance was very important in every core. As if I was defective because I dressed casually.
Next, my social circle narrowed even more. Somehow I thought I was an elevated person, destined to be lonely and misunderstood.
Moreover, I stopped doing sports. Sports? What are you talking about, I'm a Dark academic! I only study, read and create art. Go away with your activities. No, I don’t care about my health as long as I’m ‘aesthetic’.
Then, I used to refuse invitations to the cinema, amusement park, malls and sports games. I’d rather go to the theatre, the library, the museum, or just stay at home. I limited myself in these things, even though I wanted to have fun like other children did.
Boys is a separate topic. After having watched dozens of 19th and 20th centuries films and having read about perfect gentlemen and heartbreaking love stories, I realised that there was no guy around me who would fulfil my expectations. What else was I supposed to do, other than daydream about my ideal soul mate?
Finally, the worst drawback of all was my obsession with the past. It is difficult for me to describe it. My burning desire to escape from this century into the 19th or 20th was too unbearable. I literally cried watching and reading about all the balls, dresses, architecture, and the beauty of the past. The constant dreaming of a non-existent reality almost made me lose my mind. It was that terrible. An adult would think, “Who in their right mind would want to live in those centuries?” But you can’t even imagine what was going on inside my head.
Thus, I kept being disillusioned with the reality I had.
When the summer came, I switched to an aesthetic called “cottagecore”. This one was healing. In 2022 it was “coquettecore” for me (Dior, pastel, girls). But I will not go into detail. That year I decided to delete TikTok because it had been lowering my productivity. Since then, I began to heal my mind and soul.
I’ve been reading modern literature, listening to all genres of music, going to the swimming pool, dressing in white and bright colours, smiling more, and talking to people in a friendly way. I don’t limit myself anymore. I don’t want an aesthetic to define my identity.
I’m learning to be myself again.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that this is my personal experience and not all teenagers are necessarily like me. Everyone is different. But there are some pitfalls which hinder our personal development and self-expression, and we should be aware of them.