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Sign of the Times: Tumblr Soft Grunge

It’s 2013. Tennis Court by Lorde is playing through your wired headphones, Matty Healy is your screensaver, and your favorite crop top reads, “Normal People Scare Me” across your chest paired with high-waisted shorts, fishnets, and Doc Martens. If this reminds you of middle or high school, I’m afraid I have to tell you something; you’re getting old because Tumblr has resurfaced in the nostalgia cycle.

Tumblr rose to popularity in the late 2000’s/the early 2010s, around the same time as Facebook. While people used Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family, Tumblr acted as a safe space to express one’s creativity and meet like-minded individuals. Tumblr was the home to many things: flower crowns, melancholy poetry, the birth of many fandoms, etc. The soft grunge aesthetic was sparked from the platform and is most associated with this particular era. Its alternative fashion style/aesthetic originated at the beginning of Tumblr around 2009/2010 and peaked around 2013/2014. The fashion took inspiration from many trends of the 90s, such as grunge, hipster, and "kinderwhore." Clothing consists of dark colors and subject matter in the content; pastel colors were sometimes included as a contrast ( this style is sometimes style sometimes referred to as pastel grunge/pastel goth). Like 90s grunge, flannels and band tees from that era were essential; the Nirvana smiley tee was one of the most popular on the platform (and it was one of my favorite shirts in middle school.) For bottoms, everything consists of a skintight style; leggings, skinny jeans, and jean shorts. While the early 2000s was notorious for its super low-rise jeans the 2010s flipped the switch, making everything highrise. Converse, vans, and doc martens were some of the most popular shoes to pair their outfits with. The accessories would include tights (bonus points if they were under a pair of shorts) or hats such as beanies or backward baseball hats.

Before the full glam makeup tutorials with heavy contour and even heavier highlighter that plagued 2016, face makeup was minor to none, topped with heavy dark eye makeup. Singer Sky Ferreira and the character Effie from “Skins UK” were both significant influences in this grunge look.

While taking a walk down memory lane can be fun, it is always visited with rose-tinted glasses; the nostalgia hazing our memories of the toxic parts. The dark aesthetic of soft grunge went further than the dark color palette in choice of clothing. The content posted would contain many harmful topics romanticized to its young audience. In many cute photos at playgrounds, graveyards, parking lots, etc, common props would be cigarettes and alcohol. Images from movies or shows such as Skins UK would be posted and reblogged, often displaying smoking and drinking in a way that would be viewed as “cool” by a younger audience. On top of the romanticization of substance abuse, eating disorders, and mental illness were also commonly posted as almost desirable to its users. Before morning affirmations, you could find some of Tumblr's most profound, cheesiest, inspirational quotes. While some included motivational or uplifting remarks, it was also common to find posts discussing topics such as depression, suicide, and mental health; some paired with an artistic but haunting image matching the dark content. This kind of content was considered trendy, and the hashtags paired with it leave no questioning the level of harm it could impact a teenager.

While body insecurity was nothing new in the 2010s, the internet did its part by amplifying it. Not only was Tumblr another platform for young girls to be told being skinny is the “ideal body,” but it also offered ways to get skinny. Under # Thinspo, the posts would offer tips on how to starve yourself and inspiration (more like triggers) to get skinny. One post I found had the caption “my fav thinspo atm <3” followed by images of girls size 00-2.

Thankfully in the past decade, the online discussion of mental health and eating disorders has shifted from romanticization to awareness and starting conversations on these matters. Even the portrayal of these topics is changed in the media. "Skins UK", which aired from 2007-2013, was a fan favorite on Tumblr. Effie and Cassie were fan favorites, idolized on the platform. Both characters contributed significantly to the harmful conversations by glamorizing drug addiction, eating disorders, and mental illness. Compared to today’s hit sensation Euphoria, even with its unique aesthetic and beautiful cinematography, it depicts the same topics without glamorizing them.

Being nostalgic about an era can be comforting, looking back at the highlights of that time with fashion, music, movies/tv, etc. But as the influence of Tumblr sneaks its way back into fashion and is rediscovered by a new young audience, it’s essential to be aware of the toxic aspects it had online. While social media's impact on one’s mental health has become a significant talking point about the amount of time we spend online, it is easy to see a trend and be unaware of its harmful influence.

As we slowly shift from Y2K to the Tumblr aesthetic, it seems to be realigning with pop culture; Matt Healy taking over my for you page as The 1975 tours, and Arctic Monkeys is about to hit the road as well after the release of their newest album. Even the Neighborhood’s Jesse Rutherford has reentered the public’s eye due to his questionable relationship with Billie Eilish, but we aren’t about to get into that. I am very excited about the resurgence of this iconic era, but I just pray to the fashion gods that skinny jeans stay dead.

Written by Ashley Murphy

Graphic by Mark Bluemle

Photos by Ashley Murphy

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