Our personal taste—for example in art, fashion, or music—does not develop by accident; it is not passive. People choose what they view, wear, and follow. But companies and organizations know how to exploit our natural desires for beauty and aesthetics. Before the Internet became a household necessity, people often trusted a friend or family member as, perhaps, the primary source of their personal aesthetic. Then, search engines, especially Google, created an easy way to search specific topics, like “how to find my skin tone color.” This enabled people to discover new ideas about what to wear, how to style hair, or what makeup to apply.
Even more recently, social media sites, like TikTok, have begun to replace search engines for a younger demographic. In the spirit of showing and not telling, TikTok, a platform for creating 15 second videos, allows users to explore a wide array of aesthetic choices in short doses. People follow influencers whose aesthetic captures their attention and sustains their interest. But it is more than just a few makeup or clothing tips.
Why would I Google something when I can go to TikTok for a 15-second video and get the full lowdown?Anastazia Nash on TikTok
Some users have created a lifestyle aesthetic that people follow and emulate. For example, “Coastal Grandma,” “That Girl,” and “Clean Girl” are not only about clothing and makeup. These TikTok trends showcase a complete lifestyle, mixing beauty, fashion, food, and even personality traits. But the message, inadvertently or not, urges people to consume the same products as the influencers, in order to become like them.
Beauty brands have tapped into this changing environment. Younger people have shorter attention spans, which explains why TikTok appeals to them. Many companies initially jumped onto YouTube to create videos, but they delivered much longer content, sometimes 20 minutes. But today’s Gen Z wants to know about different beauty tips in 60 seconds (or less). This flies in the face of older notions of aesthetic experience, that it should consist of prolonged contemplation, where the beholder remains in the presence of the beautiful object for a sustained period. It appears that quantity, to some degree, has surpassed quality in our preferences about experiences.
Once the TikTok community is behind a brand, there is no stopping the momentum. The platform has become the new shopping destination for beauty products with the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, taking on an entirely new meaning for brands that have experienced a viral TikTok moment.Kelly Kovack, “TikTok’s Superpower Might be Marketing Beauty Products,” from BeautyMatter, Sep 11, 2022.
But there is a dark side to this recent social media trend. In 2021, Facebook released results from research about the effects of social media on young people’s mental health. Social media platforms require appealing to young people (ages 13 to 17) in order to have better chances of longevity. But those same younger people are the most vulnerable and impressionable. 4000 of the 22000 people they interviewed around the world said that social media lowered their self-esteem and gave them negative thoughts, especially scrolling Instagram.
Often beauty and aesthetics are disparaged because of these pervasive abuses. While we shouldn’t want to go back to previous times, like the 18th century, we can bring some of their ideas into our current times. Beauty has been used to oppress people, manipulate people, and judge people. While all these new resources help us discover the beauty and aesthetics that give us the most joy and pleasure, they are a means to an end. But humans should rest in beauty, not be controlled by it.
Articles for further reading:
“‘I don’t even Google anymore, I TikTok’: How TikTok became an Aesthetic Generator” by Emma Sandler in Glossy, Aug 25, 2022.
“TikTok’s Superpower Might be Marketing Beauty Products” by Kelly Kovack, in BeautyMatter, Sep 11, 2022.
“The Ugly Side of Beauty How Social Media Campaigns are Damaging Gen Z” by Sophie Pitt, in BeautyMatter, Sep 8, 2022.
The ‘Featured Image’ comes from this article, discussing the algorithm behind TikTok.