aesthetics (aes·thet·ic | \ es-ˈthe-tik): (noun) a particular theory or conception of beauty or art : a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight — Merriam Webster Dictionary
Aesthetics are a powerful thing. So often, the term gets tossed around, reduced to nothing more than to humor people on social media, or to compartmentalize groups of individuals into neat boxes. But this word, “aesthetic”, is something that has fundamentally changed my life for the better. It is a word that has helped me figure out who I am and who I want to be, as well as create friendships that align with how I want to live my life.
What’s an Aesthetic?
I like to think of aesthetics as a starting point. Rather than providing one word that encapsulates you entirely, an aesthetic provides you with references and communities that you can build from. In this way, there’s no need to limit yourself to one aesthetic — or even to try and conform yourself to a particular one!
In a creativity course that I took in college, we talked a lot about the power of limits. Without limits — i.e., something that helps to guide us — it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by the endless number of possibilities out there. But the nice thing is that you get to decide your limits, and when you wish to expand or restrict them.
Therefore, conventional aesthetics can be thought of as limits. You get to choose yours, and then you run with it and make it your own, building up from a template instead of having to start entirely from scratch. Rather than transforming into an aesthetic, you are free to take it and manipulate it to comply with who you want to be and what you want to embody. Aesthetics are tools to help you find (and create) yourself.
Furthermore, an aesthetic isn’t necessarily just the clothes and makeup you can put on your body (although that can be part of it!). Typically, there is some lifestyle element that is encouraged by an aesthetic, which is formed based on the existing habits of the communities that create these aesthetics to begin with. In this way, really anything can be made into an aesthetic, from your favorite colors, to the hobbies you take part in. I really want to emphasize that aesthetics are made. There is no need for you to conform to an aesthetic; rather, your aesthetic is what you choose to make of it.
Types of Aesthetics
There are so many different aesthetics to choose from. I’ll only be listing a couple of the most popular ones here, but if you want to learn about the many, many more that there are, there’s an entire Wiki page just for that.
These aesthetics are in no particular order, so read as you please and feel free to skip around! If it feels too overwhelming to see all of these at once, feel free to scroll further down to the “How to Find Your Aesthetic” section, which might help to point you towards a couple of aesthetics to check out first. Also, please note that some aesthetics include gendered terms, but remember: anyone can be any aesthetic, so please do not let words like “boy” or “girl” throw you off from being who you want to be.
Note: The following collages were created by me using the Canva app, but none of the photos or images that appear in these collages are mine. I do not claim these images as my own, and I simply put together what I found easily by using Google Image search and Pinterest in order to help provide a cohesive idea of what these aesthetics embody. With that being said, please continue and enjoy!
1. Light Academia
3. Indie Pale
4. Softcore Aesthetic/ Kawaii Pastel
6. Tomboy/ Skater
8. Dark Academia
9. Fairycore/ Ethereal
10. Cottagecore/ Goblincore
11. Art Hoe
13. Indie Kid
How to Find Your Aesthetic?
So now you have a couple of places to start. However, the list that I’ve provided is only the tip of the iceberg, and only describes a few of the currently popular aesthetics. It might feel a bit overwhelming to be given so many choices, especially knowign that there are even more choices out there. But not to fear! There are ways to narrow down your options to find a an aesthetic that provides the closest starting point to where you want to be.
1. Find visual inspiration.
Feel free to save the collages made above, but if you’d rather start from scratch Pinterest and Google Images are two really good sites for finding inspiration images. I personally like to create Pinterest boards every few months, because my tastes frequently change. I even have a separate vision board that I create each year so I can really think through how I can use each year to become closer to my everchanging ideal self. You don’t need to go crazy hunting down images like I enjoy doing, but it can be useful to see references of what you like and don’t like.
2. Trust yourself.
Maybe you’re not sure what aesthetic you want to check out. Maybe none of the aesthetics that I mentioned above even struck your fancy, and that’s okay! You know what you like. If you live for the color black and your closet rivals that of the Addams family, then maybe it’s worth just searching “black aesthetic” and seeing where that leads you. If you find that you’re happiest when you’re skiing on a snowy mountain, then maybe you should look further into that. Figure out the things you like and leave behind the things you don’t.
3. Be yourself.
One of my biggest regrets from my journey in finding my aesthetic is that I often felt like I had to change myself to fit into the aesthetics that I liked. Prejudice and stereotypes permeate lots of aesthetics. “Men can’t be cute. Black women can’t be soft.” Blah blah blah. It took me way too long to realize that anyone can be any aesthetic. Find what you like and stick with it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t be — not even that nasty little voice in your head that tries to say the same thing.
4. Don’t settle.
If there is anything that you take away from this article, please let it be that an aesthetic is a tool to help you become who you want to be, not the end all be all goal that you should be molding yourself to fit into. If you like the fashion of the Goth aesthetic but aren’t a huge fan of the color black, then maybe Kawaii Goth is a more fitting starting point for you. Love academia but can’t stand books? There’s a subculture called art academia that might interest you! And if you’re tired of or just don’t feel like searching for a label or community, then that’s okay to! Because you are your own aesthetic at the end of the day, and maybe having a name for it can more easily help you find groups and inspiration to adopt, but at the end of the day, what matters most is that you are able to live a life that is happy and meaningful to you. Don’t settle for something that does not serve you or your happiness, not matter how in fashion it might be.
Once I found the aesthetic that resonated with me, I finally delved into getting to know myself and building a relationship with me. I found that, while I love change and trying new things, I find the most comfort and resonance in a mix of the Softcore and E-Girl/Boy aesthetics. And it’s when I let myself be myself in these aesthetics that I feel the most joy in life. These aesthetics have allowed me to create a safe space for myself, where I can create and write and craft and cosplay as I please; they’ve helped me find communities and friends with shared interests; and they’ve helped me to learn how to radically love myself. Once I discorvered who I want to be and started to bring that into reality, there was no longer any room for unkind words from other people (or from myself). Of course, real-life relationships and therapy helped me along these journeys, but the first step is to ask the question “does this bring me joy or set me up for future joy?”. Run into the direction of whatever answers “yes”.
Now, go forth, my aesthetically educated reader(s). Create some Pinterest boards, take some quizzes, and try out everything that resonates with you. And most importantly, enjoy the journey towards becoming the “you” that you want to be. It’s the very least that you deserve. I am wishing you all the best. Good luck!