In 2021 being hot is a state of mind

Physical appearance being socially determined by patriarchal values? That's 2020.

by Eve Upton-Clark
14 January 2021, 8:45am

In a new genre of TikTok videos currently populating your FYP, the mood of the year is already being set. The videos are always the same: side-eyeing the iPhone front camera that is candidly held directly in front of the face. A tilt of the head. An arch of the brow. Overly glossed lips miming along to the words of Megan Thee Stallion with cool disinterest. “I can’t talk right now. I’m doing hot girl shit.”

2019, thanks in no small part to Megan herself, was the year of the hot girl summer. But then the annus horribilis that was 2020 came along, locking us down and forcing us to — instead of searching for meaning and happiness in events and social interaction — distract ourselves with dance routines and makeup tutorials. As 2021 rolled around, many stripped their new year's resolutions, usually about bettering yourself in some way dictated by society at large, back to basics. Quite simply, ditch the intellectual betterment: "Stop being deep!!!!!! Just be hot”.

On TikTok, more and more people are embracing hotness as an internal consciousness, not a societally-monitored aesthetic. In a society that has long deemed hotness as the sole charge of those blessed at birth or at the hands of a discreet cosmetic surgeon, confidence has often been misconstrued for arrogance. Yet in 2021, now the year of hot-positivity, being hot is no longer socially determined. It is a state of mind. 

In a video viewed over five million times, model Madeline Ford sums up the mentality perfectly as she declares in one breath, “You know when girls walk around thinking they’re so hot and it’s just like, I am so glad you were able to overcome the patriarchal, institutionalised brainwash that makes women hate themselves from a young age in order to capitalise on their insecurities and keep them submissive. You are fucking hot.” Coming at a time when the inside of a club feels like a fever-dream, and the concept of getting ready at pre’s and hyping each other up is but a fond memory, this affirmation holds renewed importance in the pandemic era. Without the ability to judge our hotness in the proximity of other people, we are finding hotness inherently within ourselves.

Kaia, an 18-year-old high school student and TikTok creator, makes viral videos about confidence, dating and self-worth. She has over 2.4 million likes across her TikTok account with her tagline: “making incels mad”. Kaia explains that, to her, being hot means “being so unapologetically confident and secure in your individuality”. Through her videos she hopes to show other women that there should be no shame in being confident, the emphasis being that it does not take away value from anyone else's beauty.

Of course, as with any intellectual movement, state of mind hotness has its detractors. “There are negative comments,” Kaia concedes, but adds, “they usually come from insecure and immature little boys who are taken aback by the thought of a woman being confident.” Clearly, they do not bother her. “Sure, I am full of myself,” she shrugs, “but it’s not hurting anyone.”

In an age where our physical bodies hold less cultural currency than the way we choose to edit, curate and project them online, hotness is no longer decided by which school friend was allegedly model scouted outside the big Topshop on Oxford Street (R.I.P). When we’re spending all of our lives in the nether-realm of the internet, the tenets of being classed as hot simply boil down to thinking that you are and acting accordingly. 

Jessica, a student from London, explains, “Everyone's definition of what is hot is different, but confidence is an aspect that is always flattering. The reality is you are not going to be eye candy for every single person. Being hot to me is being completely confident in myself in my mind. It gets mixed up with comparison a lot and that's where it becomes toxic.”

In our pandemic world the excuses for getting dressed up — an activity when traditionally we would have felt our baddest and hottest — are few and far between. With nowhere to go, the idea of putting on trousers in the morning, let alone a full face of makeup, seems almost insurmountable. And with our chronic lack of social interaction (except the occasional woeful Zoom drinks) the idea of making an effort in regard to one’s appearance can mostly seem redundant. However, this lack of motivation can have some worrying effects. A survey of 8000 UK residents published in October found that 58% of under 18s felt worse about their physical appearance during lockdown. Significantly, low self-esteem is often a risk-factor for mental health problems, with more than half of adults and over two-thirds of young people reporting worsened mental health during lockdown.

Against this backdrop, the sudden pivot to projecting extreme self-confidence is a welcome change. Without any external criteria, the idea of being “hot” is inclusive and community-building. “Being hot is a mentality or a mindset. Some people believe that being hot is an appearance but I see it as a way of life,” says North Carolina-based content creator and student Morgann, 15. Still wearing the same tracksuit bottoms for the entire week? Hot. Can’t remember the last time you washed your hair? Still hot! 

There is, however, one caveat to the new wave of hot girl shit, according to Dr. Viren Swami, a Professor of Social Psychology. “There’s lots of evidence to suggest that attractiveness isn’t just about a person’s physical appearance,” says Dr Swami. “It is also about your perception of their personality. We generally call these halo biases. Therefore, someone who comes across as being confident will seem more attractive. The caveat though is that confidence on its own is useless. You have to pair confidence with niceness.”

While he makes clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with someone who lacks confidence or does not want to live up to appearance ideals, Dr Swami’s comments are a sobering reminder, as always, that any advice you receive off TikTok should be taken with a pinch of salt. The idea that being hot is as simple as changing your mindset is an optimistic way to promote confidence and acceptance of the skin you are in. However, it is also important to remember that individual perceptions can only go so far against societally ingrained standards of beauty. Dr. Swami notes, “There are political arguments about how we challenge narratives about who is attractive and why they are attractive that go beyond individual agency.” 

While the larger oppressive systems of capitalism, racism and patriarchy mean that hotness is a limited kind of social capital, there is also something to be said for taking back control of what it means to be hot and how we can choose to show up in the world. If it makes you feel hot, then ultimately it is really not that deep.

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