By Rachel Ponte

Source: Viktor Hanacek, Picjumbo.

“Either Santa gets lists today or Christmas is canceled” lights up my phone screen as my family group chat pings. This text serves as a reminder to my sister and me to promptly send in our Christmas wishlists. Doing so allows my parents, who still hold the “Santa” moniker, to create their Christmas magic.

This reminder sparks my question of what I want for the holidays this year: something I have always spent time curating ideas for since I was a small child. I have spent many seasons struggling to create what I deemed a long enough list, often filling it with random items just to lengthen my list. While I enjoy the gifts at the moment, I can’t help but think about the countless things I’ve received in the name of Christmas but were soon forgotten. All the forgotten gifts of Christmas past.

Like many other university students, I spend a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through TikTok each day. With the impending holiday season, my feed has doubled with ads curated to my every want and need, sneaking its way between my algorithm’s daily lifestyle content. No matter what content I consume, I am constantly being sold something —a product, an image, or the exclusivity of being “that girl”. My typical TikTok influencer subscription has shifted its content towards being the “it girl” of the holiday season. This inundates my feed with must-have holiday party dresses that perfectly pair with a makeup tutorial chock full of products from holiday-exclusive makeup collections. I am overwhelmed with constant recommendations on elevating my everyday style to live in the cool girl’s winter wonderland this holiday season.

Having come from a Catholic high school that put me in an expressionless uniform throughout my teenage years, building my aesthetic has become central to my personality throughout university. Consumerism and overconsumption have been rationalized by my lack of style development in my adolescent years and the support I constantly feel from other young adults on social media.

As I continue my daily social media scroll, I quickly become aware that I am clutching a specific image that my TikTok feed is trying to sell me. The “clean girl” or “it girl” aesthetic dominates the caption of nearly every fashion and beauty video I scroll. I am quickly drawn into the effortless cool of the girls on my screen; they tell me this is the coolest and most trendy form of existence—and I immediately feel that I must adapt to this aesthetic. 

As my fashion sense and personal style identity were stifled in high school, my need to develop a trendy look is insatiable, and TikTok provides the ideal sounding board for a consumer like me. 

With its growing use over the last decade, social media platforms have become a unique platform for brands to advertise and connect with consumers like never before. TikTok, in particular, possesses an exceptional quality that is unlike other social media sites. The short video format that TikTok has become known for lets users create sharp, curated content that engages and relates to viewers, perfect for encouraging consumerism. With the boom of content creators of all genres, lifestyle, fashion, and beauty marketing strategies have found a new world of effectiveness. The style of content TikTok curates for users enables creators to embed product placements in their lifestyles, showcasing its use in every facet of life and associating these products with their image and aesthetic. This has even become something users emulate in their own content, making videos on how to recreate celebrity looks using these must-have trendy products; think the craze of Hailey Bieber’s “brownie glaze lips”. These products may not be particularly innovative or new. Still, they are repurposed to sell an image of the “it girl”, trapping consumers in its clutches and pushing them into overconsumption to own the image and feelings of popularity sold to them.

These marketing tactics are effective: I see it in how my algorithm gathers content in a perfect curation. It has captured every idea and conversation I have had in the last week into consumable advertisements, which drives my consumerism. Even my favourite brands have begun to adapt their marketing approaches on TikTok to include these popular images of self-branding. What appears to me to be another “model off duty” outfit inspiration slideshow is an expertly curated ad from Aritzia about achieving these popular TikTok fashion aesthetics using their products. I am shown that to be the “it girl”, I need items from this year’s fall season; last season won’t do. I need the right makeup products; drugstore dupes aren’t good enough, and the “cool girl” wears Dior lip oils!

Holiday mass consumerism ads are the perfect way to perpetuate this popular identity I am plagued with; I’ve yet to be bombarded with the post-holiday haul videos, showing me this season’s must-have items that I missed out on. Better luck next year to be the “it girl” of the holidays. The “it girl” of TikTok is constantly outdoing herself, finding new and costly ways to upgrade things she already has. I feel compelled to do the same, and I do.

The effects of TikTok on consumerism are no secret; even TikTok itself boasts the marketing capabilities the platform holds for brands due to its unique form. According to an article by TikTok, approximately 37% of users purchase an item after seeing it advertised on their TikTok feed. This is certainly not an insignificant percentage, and as I look around my room, I can see several items that draw me into this statistic.

The holidays seem the perfect time to stock up on everything you’ve been missing throughout the year. Companies are unafraid to use platforms like TikTok to market their “exclusive holiday collections” as an alluring brand that drives people to overconsumption. TikTok content creators further encourage this, working holiday-exclusive items into their routine, ingraining them into another idea of what it means to be “that girl”. But by the time holiday shopping rolls around, and you can finally snag the “it girl” item you’ve been eyeing that has been sold out all year, it is already a ghost of the it girl’s past.

This is an ongoing phenomenon that I’ve only felt has been intensified by the holiday season, upping the ante and stakes of the exclusivity I hope to buy into. When I do cave, however, I can’t help but think about all the waste I create. How often have I chucked old Christmas presents, once coveted holiday exclusives, into the donation pile? The answer is more times than I like to admit. 

In recent years, I’ve been more reflective with my wishes, only asking for what I need. What were the three Christmas gifts I received last year? Earmuffs, my favourite perfume, and a Lego set (a Christmas tradition in my family)—all items I used regularly within the last year, except the Lego set. However, I do admire it with joy every time I visit my childhood bedroom. These wants that step away from the “it girl” image my TikTok has tried to sell me, these are indulgences of my personal brand. Curbing this consumption during the holidays is difficult, especially when you are constantly faced with advertising of who you should be: “that girl”. 

I don’t have the answer to avoiding overconsumption; if I did, I would own far fewer duplicate hoodies and only have one lip gloss tube. I, too, am victim to the marketing of my TikTok page to be the “it girl”. However, I want my habits of consumerism this holiday season to contribute to enriching my image instead of buying products that shape me into TikTok’s idea of who I should be to be cool. I would like to believe I am “that girl”, but hopefully for reasons beyond my consumerism habits.

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