If you hop on TikTok, it won’t take long before you’re 10 videos deep into “cottage-core,” or reading a comprehensive guide to dark academia.

The obsession with aesthetics infiltrates every aspect of social media nowadays, giving the term an almost entirely new modern meaning — I don’t think that Plato and Aristotle ever thought that their philosophy on beauty would one day be applied to a teenager deciding if they are more “fairy-core” or “goblin-core.”

While on the surface, aesthetics seem like a fun way to analyze your interests, the current obsession runs into deeply problematic territory. These aesthetics are almost always based on Eurocentric beauty standards, reinforce classism, and contribute to the sexualization and infantilization of women. On an even greater scale, however, the entire concept of curated identities itself is flawed.

These aesthetic trends teach people to view themselves as a product, as aesthetics are rooted in how you appear to other people. On TikTok, you’ll find entire videos based on what clothes to buy, movies to watch, and playlists to listen to (complete with Amazon and Spotify links), in order to fit certain aesthetics. The important piece is not how you view yourself, but rather how others perceive you; you become a commodity rather than a human being.

Furthermore, creating curated identities that tell you exactly what to wear, watch, and listen to completely eradicates the uniqueness of humans. Paradoxically, a trend that intended to aid in self-expression has all but abolished it. I’ve seen hundreds of videos where people struggle with the internal conflict of wanting to be a hippie and wear flowing skirts, but also be “cottage-core” and make their own jams, but also be a part of dark academia and read books on history and philosophy.

The secret? You can be all of these. Having certain interests do not limit you from exploring other interests that may or may not fall outside of a box fabricated by social media. The true beauty of humans is that we are diverse, unique creatures continuously shaped by everything around us. It does an immense disservice to try to limit this vastness of identity by placing it in a curated box. It’s far past time to stop viewing real people with pasts, dreams, and desires as concepts.

Ainsley Trunkhill is a Hutchinson sophomore studying education. She is the Collegian’s Managing Editor for Content.

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