I'm Not Like the Other Girls! (On Micro-Individuality and Self-Commodification)


Every person on the internet is trying to prove how different they are from the rest of the online population. She’s a coquette girl who pairs dainty pearls with lace garments and only dates old(er) men, the a-la-Lana del Rey type. He’s a man written by a woman who talks and acts like the male protagonist in a Greta Gerwig film, a Little Women Laurie prototype maybe. That guy who screams about the “best films ever made,” but only invoking Hollywood directors like Kubrick, Spielberg, or Scorsese, the level 1 kinophile. That other guy that listens strictly to underground indie bands or soft rock ballads from the ‘70s or lurid vaporwave tunes, the know-it-all indiecore softboy. Who’s Taylor Swift? Never heard of her. 

It only takes a few precious minutes of scrolling through social media for you to notice our collective shiny new obsession: micro-individuality. This hyper-specific way of defining behavior condenses and reduces the personhood to a “core aesthetic,” if you will. In the context of fashion, for instance, this term is used to conjure up the idea of having a capsule wardrobe. These are the people who pare down their closets to a limited selection of timeless pieces that can be styled interchangeably where, over time, inevitably, they are associated with a certain look or a de facto set. And because a distinct fashion sense functions as one of the most popular qualifiers for someone’s character, it becomes somewhat synonymous with their personality. 

Loosely defined, aesthetics is the simple appreciation of beauty. As an art movement, aestheticism is centered on the doctrine that the merit of creative pursuits is found in its beauty alone. They need not have any practical value as long as there is holistic pleasure to be found in experiencing them. Art for art’s sake, so to speak. It’s a direct response to the rigid rules of the Victorian era, where works are judged based on their didactic moral or political values. 


A Barbie girl living in an apecore world.

Photo by Jane Goodall Institute.


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Nowadays, there is an immeasurable number of “core aesthetic” subgenres reverberating all over the internet. On Instagram and Tiktok, especially, you have the already well-established academiacore, emocore, indiecore, and cottagecore. But recent trends have birthed a number of extremely niche ones like angelcore, kidcore, clowncore, and even goblincore (yes, core is quite the suffix now). It’s hard to keep up when it seems like there’s a new subgenre (and a subgenre of a subgenre, and so on) being coined every day.  

Anything can be a something-core if you try hard enough, basically. It’s a game of how well you can curate a persona while simultaneously distancing yourself from the mainstream. Just take the suffix and run with it. But there comes a point when we have to question what the mainstream even is. When popular trends are repeatedly constructed and deconstructed then reconstructed, don’t we just end up right back at the starting point? It’s a paradox so characteristic of the times we live in. Everyone is fighting for attention in an overcrowded room, pushing our obscure micro-individualities to center stage.

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In desperation to churn out new content for that sweet, sweet social validation, we become all but puppets on the strings of a system that thrives on turning our personalities into a commodity. This is not to discount the autonomy every individual has, of course. It is, without question, that humans are gifted with the unmistakable ability to make sentient choices. Yes, we know who we are and we do what we want. But in a society where cash is king, and social capital reigns among our core peer groups, the language of authenticity is often muddied by advertising campaigns that tell us which products would boost our status. Enter, influencer marketing. 

By purchasing the right products, following the leading trends, and transforming our daily habits, companies tell us that they can enrich the quality of our existence. I mean, everyone smokes now, but in the chic French laid-back way or the old-money-nepo-baby way, right? Never in the causing-atrophy-of-our-lungs kind. Bet tobacco companies love that. 

"Look at me! I’m not doing it like the rest of you!"


So, because the effectiveness of an identifiable branding is now indisputable, it comes as no surprise that people would adopt its principles. Hence, the fashionability of core aesthetics as personal branding, and the cultivation of a digital facade that can be manipulated for social advantage. We can’t help but judge the quality of our existence by identifying with the things we consume. In his essay for The Hedgehog Review, Sociology Research Professor Joseph E. Davis writes:

“To be successful at Me. Inc, my traits, values, beliefs, and so on—the qualities by which I locate myself and where I stand—must be self-consciously adopted or discarded, emphasized or de-emphasized, according to the abstract and competitive standards of the market. And since the market is never static, staying 'relevant' like the great brands means that these qualities must be constantly monitored and adjusted to retain the desired image.”


I’m sure most of us would claim that leaning into this core aesthetic mania is an empowering vehicle for self-discovery and self-actualization, and it can be. As the too-depraved-for-his-own-good French Philosopher Michel Foucault would say, “taking care of oneself eventually absorbs into knowing oneself.” Look at the clean-girlcore, for example. Beyond the barely-there makeup, slicked-back hair, and effortless yet somehow put together outfits, the aesthetic places emphasis on the achievement of a healthy work-life balance. 

Ultimately,the unfailing act of sculpting an image is also an exercise of self-commodification because people are, in essence, expected to think of and diminish the self—our bodies, traits, and lifestyles (in a larger sense, who we are)—to this superficial product that, effectively, is only as shallow and expendable as the next faulty, forgettable core tag that comes along. Pledging allegiance to (or being enslaved by) our ideas of core aesthetics has only led us to become the same lousy, basic product we swore we'd escape.

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Kimberly John Bautista
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