As the end of 2022 approached, social media users saw an influx of lifestyle trends and influencers, such as the “vanilla girl” aesthetic, skin slugging, Scandinavian fashion … and content creator Alix Earle.
The 22-year-old University of Miami student amassed 1.2 million followers last December on TikTok with her “get ready with me” videos. As of January 2023, she has 3.9 million followers on TikTok and 1.7 million on Instagram.
But some students notice that, more often than not, influencers of color are unable to experience the same type of overnight fame.
“It’s kind of odd how every few months, there’s one white TikTok girl who blows up out of nowhere,” journalism sophomore Kendall Turk said. “I never had even heard of her prior to a few weeks ago … it’s weird because (I’m) seeing some of my favorite Black and POC lifestyle content creators posts not pushed in the algorithm.”
Turk said TikTok tends to amplify creators like Earle – white, blonde girls.
Though Earle gained most of her popularity recently, she has received numerous brand deals and PR packages with companies like Tarte, and interactions with celebrities like Hailey Bieber and Miley Cyrus.
Journalism sophomore Karina Prieto said many content creators of color are not offered the same opportunities.
“Creators that are doing the same thing as Alix (who) are people of color have been doing it forever, and they don’t get the same recognition,” Prieto said. “I feel like people are more exposed to blonde white girls, that they overlook the creators that are people of color, which is so disturbing.”
Similarly, Turk said she sees Black creators with verification checkmarks and paid partnerships less frequently than white creators. She added that with Black influencers, specifically, often have brand deals with wig companies. Recently, Turk said, buyers are complaining that wig companies are scamming them.
Creators like Earle also feed into the “vanilla girl” and “clean girl” aesthetics that have become notorious across social media. These aesthetics are typically characterized by clear skin, slicked-back and blonde hair styles, pale color palettes and expensive clothes.
Computer science sophomore Jennifer Lee said she feels the trends exclude minority groups and perpetuate colorism – as the characteristics of these aesthetics are not easily accessible by people of color.
“If you look up the trend on TikTok, it’s probably mostly white people dressed up in that style,” Lee said.
Turk said the trend can exclude Black girls because their hair in its natural state can not always be slicked back.
“I definitely think it being called the 'vanilla girl trend' is for a reason,” Turk said. “It can be harmful to all young girls because it teaches (them) they need to look a certain way, have on light makeup to look pretty, have a certain type of style. It pushes pressure on young women to always look perfect.”
Prieto said that the internet’s obsession with Earle can be connected to this trend because she “ticks all the boxes” of the aesthetic.
Many of the products Earle popularizes, Prieto said, are specifically made for people of color.
“Girls will like use the darker shades of concealer as contour, then there’s nothing left for the people who actually need the dark shade,” Prieto said. “And I feel like it’s kind of insensitive. I don’t blame Alix … but it’s more on the viewers that are idolizing (her).”
In addition to concealer, Earle shared that she uses hair oil from Mielle Organics, a company largely known to sell products for Black women’s textured hair. Subsequently, the oil – and similar hair products – has been sold out in many department stores.
“With Black women specifically, I feel like whenever we have something, white people come and take it,” Turk said. “Now you see that the oil is sold out, and then they move the oil to the white hair section, away from the small, limited Black (hair) section we have.”
Turk said she thinks people try to play off instances like these as social media outrage, but the circulation of solely influencers and trends like Alix Earle and the vanilla girl aesthetics, respectively, is problematic.
“I don’t want people to feel like … we’re trying to make it a race thing, or pulling it out of thin air,” Turk said. “But when you take a second to sit back and look at how things are and what’s going on here, you can see how these issues are deeply rooted in racism and white supremacy.”
Lee said she doesn’t feel represented on TikTok.
“There’s still a lot of improvement that needs to be done,” Lee said. “There was a recent (racist altercation) with these Asian (TikTokers). There was a video of them, and (of) some guy saying harsh things to them.”
Like Lee, Prieto also said TikTok needs to boost the platforms of other content creators.
“I feel like the algorithm just needs to give everyone – like from zero followers, to some of the top people – the same amount of opportunity to blow up,” Prieto said. “All the ‘clean girls’ have a leg up on everyone, being that they’re white, pretty girls, because that’s how society works.”