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  • Writer's pictureRachael Yahne

Goodbye Clean Girl. Hello, Softly Unhinged Girl

clean girl aesthetic

I opened my bathroom drawer to brush my teeth, only to find an unassorted smorgasbord of essentials: tretinoin - next to a retainer case holding the head of my toothbrush - on top of a makeup sponge holder - smashed up against two types of toothpaste - a microcurrent facial too - and a litany of other promising goods. The drawer was a disaster on the inside, which was especially ironic given that each and every item was intended for the purpose of pristine perfection a la the ‘clean girl aesthetic’. Gateway drugs to the girl with gorgeous hair and skin and teeth. The girl who looked so incredibly polished on the outside, and conducted herself with calm, collected precision and preparedness because she was the type who drank her creamy, dreamy iced coffee in gorgeous glass jar-cups with wooden lids and matching straws.

But in reality, life only looked that way when the drawer was closed. If the drawer was open, it was clear that despite all their properties and intentions, life and I were chaos personified. We are a softly unhinged mixture of beliefs that sometimes invest themselves in products, goals, and routines that were meant to provide safety and structure… but did they? Or did they add pressure that I could never fulfill?

On the other side of the bathroom sink is my roommate's drawer. She invested a bit more time and energy into organizing. In her drawer, again perfectly nice when closed, was a small container for her toothbrush and all its pals. But the container itself was stained with toothpaste and had seen better days. Was she supposed to constantly replace something that would always endure the splattering of life’s daily needs? Can the Clean Girl Aesthetic ever be kept up with, or is it a lifestyle of dooming oneself to the incessant cleaning of minute details from even the smallest acts of personal maintenance?

The dawn of the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ pointed out my shortcomings as a woman. The movement adds a housewifery-esque quality to our personal lives and routines in the form of tidiness, order, and uniformity. It created, in my eyes, the vision of a life and home that was well-manicured and poised. It had an elegance to it. Just by liking it (online and in my own head) and desiring it required that I inventory all the places I was not Clean Girl, I was Mess Girl. I was Rushed Girl. I was asking ‘Am I doing this right?’ and ‘Will I make it through this day without crying?’ instead of ‘Is this tumbler the right shade of off-white?’. It made apparent all the tiny pieces of my life - like morning coffee cups and beauty product holders - that didn’t match together. It revealed how jumbled and all over the place my life and mind are. Thus, it secondarily reverted my sense of feminine worthiness from the wild, awakened force of nature I’d become and somehow had me wishing I was a bit more Stepford. By pursuing Clean Girl, it felt like I was going backward in time, putting so much worth into how well I could execute a picturesque home life. It was the opposite of accepting who I was, which was a messy drawer but all the elements of life were still taken care of. My iteration of Clean Girl lacked creativity; there was no room for authenticity or surprise when everything had to be pristine and of the same color scheme.

When I soften out the idea of not being Clean Girl, I don’t immediately go to Feral or Unmanaged or Hideous and Repulsively Unkempt Girl. I relax into simply: Realistic Girl. A quietly, gently chaotic routine and accouterments that don’t need to be perfect, but need to do a little more than get the job done. They must also bring me a small amount of joy. They must feel like a little act of love toward myself. No, the containers for my face and body lotion don’t need to match. Yes, there can be a bevy of hair ties at the bottom of the drawer. And they’ll all be kept in said trusty drawer that, when I need to focus on things like, say, living my actual life, I can close and not worry about for a while. I can literally and metaphorically compartmentalize this, and many parts of my life, to get things done and not get so caught up in looking perfect that it consumes me.

This Softly Unhinged Girl is liberated; the word unhinged here not equating to full-blown craziness. But instead: not having my sense of worth hinged on any one aspect. She’s free and untethered. This Girl has room for emotions, even breakdowns that lead to breakthroughs and is permitted to be wild when she wants to be, when it’s safe to be, when she must be in order to write, grow, or expand. Quietly Chaotic Girl isn’t beholden to the outside image of herself. She tends to the dirty, messy, and miraculous garden of her soul, which requires getting her hands in the mud from time to time. The Softly Unhinged Girl isn’t meticulously tidying up her bathroom vanity or posting her coffee and milk mixing. She’s too busy watching them swirl and dance with complete presence and utter joy and wonder for the little moments of beauty the morning gifts to her. She is not performing, it’s life and milk and coffee and miracles performing for her

For today, the bathroom drawer remains a wonderful mess of things I love. For today, the bed will be made but only for an hour or two before I crawl back on it and work from there instead of my desk. For today, breakfast will also include dessert. The loving and wonderful unexpected messes of life are but beautiful little miracles that signify our complexity and charming idiosyncrasies as women, as humans, as but temporary and totally unique individuals in this wild and unhinged and yet completely perfect mess of life. 


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