What is TikTok’s Microtrend Culture Doing to Us?
Main Image – MartiSans/Stocksy
Without question, TikTok has been an incredible game changer in the beauty industry. But one particular facet of TikTok beauty is how the platform has offered a whole new perspective on the beauty trend cycle.
Because the app itself is so fast-paced, the way trends are disseminated on TikTok has sped up the cycle exponentially. On top of this, the homogeneity of the For You Page can often give your average user the uncanny sense that everyone has the exact same beauty products and utilises the exact same application techniques.
The trend cycle of TikTok is reduced from years to months, and even to weeks or days.
However, social media enthusiasts have noticed that this sped-up trend cycle has also been the subject of an internet backlash. It’s now being lauded as ridiculous, excessive, and even depersonalising – “Latte makeup, blueberry milk nails, I need everyone desperately to get a sense of individuality,” one tweet on the subject reads.
And while the impact of TikTok’s microtrends on individuality is well-documented, what effect are ever growing trends having on us psychologically?
We’ve spoken to beauty influencers, brand owners, and social media experts to get their take on the microtrend, its impact on us, and how we can engage with the trend cycle in a fun, moderated, and stress-free way.
TikTok and trends
There’s no denying that TikTok, in particular, has birthed this unique sort of microtrend.
Effie Asafu-Adjaye, founder of international branding strategy and content marketing consultancy Beautiful Sparks, explains that “with the rise of video-first platforms, we’re consuming content at a faster rate.
“This means trends are coming and going faster, and creators need to get more creative by coming up with new trends to keep engagement high across their channels.”
These trends extend beyond the beauty sphere too – think, ‘tomato aesthetic,’ or ‘girl dinner.’
And on the surface, this doesn’t necessarily seem like such a problematic issue. Being offered inspiration in terms of fun things to try out, all while adding some romanticism to the mundanity of day-to-day life, can be of benefit to your average beauty consumer – right?
CEO and founder of CityScape Counselling, Chelsea Hudson, doesn’t agree. “From an identity standpoint, continuously witnessing such a rapid evolvement of micro beauty trends can be very unsettling, especially for people who are already insecure about their appearance and self-worth,” she warns.
She adds: “For people struggling with poor body image and low self-worth, trying to keep up with TikTok’s ever-evolving micro beauty trends will intensify the negative attitudes they hold towards themselves because they will never be able to keep up with what social media is telling them.”
Psychologist Dr Jameca Woody Cooper agrees that “social media focused on beauty content is not making women feel better about themselves; instead, it makes them feel much worse.
“At a foundational level, there’s nothing negative about staying abreast of beauty trends. But, when that becomes an obsession and a large part of your social media content, there will be detrimental effects on your mental health,” she adds.
A trivial pursuit?
But what do the brands themselves have to say about the current warp speed of beauty trends?
Laura Pucker, founder of Pucker Up Beauty, admits that “it can also feel overwhelming and lead to overconsumption, something I have been caught up in myself.”
She adds that “TikTok can be positive in sparking creativity, but also promotes following trends simply for the sake of it.”
Meanwhile, Lynn Power, the co-founder & CEO of MASAMI, agrees that the trend cycle has “led to consumer dissatisfaction. There is the feeling that there is always something better around the corner and no one wants to be hanging onto a trend that’s already passed.”
There are three major downsides I’ve noticed in the relentless pursuit of trend-following: needless stress, overindulgence, and losing one’s sense of self.
Keeping up with micro trends could *essentially* be a full-time job, and in all honesty, there may be better outlets for you to expend your efforts. Buying into every microtrend is expensive, plus, it can lead to a huge amount of beauty waste, coming at a terrible cost to the planet.
But perhaps most existentially worrying is the de-individualising status of these beauty trends. The TikTok trend cycle would have us all looking exactly the same, changing our tastes in unison every four to six weeks.
And the message to those who don’t keep up suddenly becomes that you might not be enough.
Following trends too fanatically is essentially a Sisyphean struggle, and as the cycle speeds up, it becomes ever more impossible to stay totally ‘on trend.’ Plus, this desire to even try speaks to a feeling of dissatisfaction and powerlessness with our position in the world.
And that all this is possibly why we are now starting to see a backlash, especially when it comes to ‘new’ trends which seem to repackage old ideas.
Take ‘espresso makeup,’ for example – which many TikTokers pointed out was simply brown eyeshadow, something even the most minimal makeup collection probably contains. Once you realise the new ‘trend’ is something everyone already knows about, you almost feel like you’re seeing the emperor’s new clothes.
The spell is broken, and you’re imbued with a newfound scepticism for the capitalistic impulses the beauty industry is sometimes built on. “I just think that some people are finally opening their eyes,” Pietro Simone, founder of Pietro Simone Skincare agrees.
At a basic level, having options- and some fun eye candy on your feed- isn’t the end of the world. But taken too far, the experts agree that the psychological impact is not necessarily a positive one.
Beyond ourselves though, the parallels to ‘fast fashion’ are creating concerns over the environmental impact of the beauty industry. And the proliferation of fast fashion brands, churning out affordable products at an unbelievable pace has an obvious effect on our planet.
Pucker points out that “the breakneck pace of trends promoted on TikTok can also feel overwhelming and promote excessive, frivolous consumption. I’ve certainly been guilty of buying into trends simply because they’re popular at the moment, not because I’m genuinely drawn to the style.
This has prompted a similar backlash from savvy TikTok users. Even those who aren’t concerned about the future of the planet can agree that following hype instead of prioritising personal style never offers true shopping satisfaction.
Where to go from here?
As always with more philosophical questions about the beauty industry, it’s all about finding balance. While following trends can be an enjoyable form of escapism, it’s important to approach them with a more critical eye.
Do you actually like the trend that’s being marketed to you, or is your feed just so saturated with it that you’ve managed to convince yourself that you do? And, perhaps even more importantly, can you try out this trend without actually buying anything new?
Asafu-Adjaye confirms that “keeping up with trends can be fun, daunting or a pain – it’s whatever you choose to make it to be. A trend could be a new way to express yourself, if you choose to see it that way. Trends are also not for everyone, and that’s okay too. Beauty is about choice, and choosing what makes you feel good.”
The experts also agree it’s important to protect your own sense of identity online. “Establish your own authentic style first and then ask yourself whether adopting the latest beauty trend fits with the authentic style you’re trying to pursue,” Hudson explains.
Finally- and this won’t be the only time you’ve ever read this advice- limiting the amount of social media you consume can be one of the most effective ways to protect yourself online.
Dr Woody Cooper suggests “limiting your use of social media as it may help reduce the tendency to automatically compare yourself with others. Additionally, you may want to be selective about who you follow on social media.”
Curating your feed carefully too can help. She adds: “By only following individuals, organisations, and causes that are not focused on promoting social comparison or solely on appearance, you can create a healthier online environment,” she adds.
But the onus isn’t all on us, the consumer. Brands and influencers, too, have a responsibility to slow down the trend cycle – if not for the sake of our sanity, then for the sake of the planet.
We’ve noticed a rise in sustainability in the fashion sphere of late, and it’s important we begin to see such changes in the beauty community, too.
The very nature of TikTok makes it a fertile breeding ground for beauty microtrends. But this exhaustingly fast trend cycle has led to a sort of trend fatigue amidst many TikTok users.
Devoting too much time and energy into keeping up with TikTok’s microtrends can leave you stressed out, overspending, wasteful, and even losing your sense of identity.
While following beauty trends isn’t inherently dangerous, having some restraint is key. Try to look out for beauty trends that you actually like, rather than blindly following every trend just for trend’s sake.
Your bank balance, your sense of self, and the planet will thank you.
Meet the experts
Laura Pucker brings over 20 years of experience as a model, dancer, cheerleader, and pageant competitor to her beauty and lifestyle brand Pucker Up Beauty.
Lynn Power is the Co-Founder & CEO of MASAMI, a clean premium haircare line.
Effie Asafu-Adjaye is the Founder of Beautiful Sparks, an international branding strategy and content marketing consultancy.
Pietro Simone is the founder of Pietro Simone skincare, creating innovative, results-driven formulations meticulously crafted to deliver remarkable, visible results.
Dr Jameca Woody Cooper is an accomplished counselling psychologist, educator, and author, as well as the recipient of a Fulbright Award/Fellowship in Global Health.
Chelsea Hudson is the CEO and founder of Cityscape Counseling, an Inc. 5000 company with over 53 therapists who serve thousands of mental health patients in the United States.