Sad Girl Aesthetic: How does the Media we Consume Affect us?
Most depictions of angst throughout classic literature and media have been through a masculine lens. Books like Catcher in the Rye and movies like Fight Club have somewhat cemented that males are supposed to feel angst through rage; feminine angst directly juxtaposes that with the ever increasing popularity of the “sad girl aesthetic”. Women have been taught from an early age to conceal their true feelings, because if not, they immediately fall into female stereotypes such as “being too emotional”. With the rise of the sad girl aesthetic, women are being able to share their emotions and consume media that they can relate to. Musicians such as Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Eilish, and Taylor Swift have grown rapidly in popularity in the last years because they are seen as the every woman, sparking reactions from the audience such as the phrase “she is so me”. This movement has also been described as a social revolt, in which women are now unapologetically sad as a form of political opposition. While it is good that women are finally feeling well enough to show their emotions without being called “crazy”, what effects does consuming sad girl media have on a person and does it lead to romanticization of mental illness and the idea of “being sad”?
The “sad girl” movement started as a way for Internet users, predominantly female, to vent on Tumblr about how they were feeling. What first started as a way for people to express themselves transitioned into a series of self-diagnoses and, in more extreme cases, the wish for a mental illness. Suicides attributed to Tumblr spurred in a phenomenon known as parasuicide, which means being influenced by a person’s suicide and wanting to do the same. While Tumblr has slowly died in the realm of pop culture, Tiktok has come to take its place with a growth of suicide idealization. Social media slowly but surely “blurred the line between clinical depression and negative emotions”. One thing that all of the users exposed to this trend had in common was their taste in books and music: female-written novels, movies, and songs about what it feels like to be sad. Research, such as the one conducted by Oliver Herdson who is a professor of psychology at the University of Kent, indicates that listening to melancholic music can make you feel melancholy yourself; this goes for books and television too. Yet, a paradox can be drawn: a study conducted by The Independence, a media company that has won the British Press Award for Best Newspaper, shows that people with depression and other mental illnesses feel better when consuming sad media. Many fans of this type of media have conglomerated together and now identify online as the “sad girls”. This has made more women want to feel included in this group who also consume the same media, creating a chicken or the egg situation: do women feel the need to be sad to be able to say they are true fans of “sad girl” media or were they just sad to begin with?
While there are negative effects such as suicide ideation, the largest effect of “sad girl” is a sense of community. Forums and hashtags are used online to share memes and thoughts about their sadness. Phoebe Bridgers’ live performance of her song “I Know The End”, for example, has turned into a cathartic release of emotions in the form of screaming with a crowd, a trend that leads to people not only understanding themselves better but being able to hear many different perspectives. People who do not have the resources to get diagnosed and medicated are able to find an online community filled with like-minded individuals who share the same thoughts. Forming a sense of belonging helps people afflicted with suicide ideation to keep themselves alive. The “sad girl” community helps women express themselves whether it be through sadness or melancholic happiness and in turn help themselves through the community they have found.