Media coverage implies that ‘tomato girl summer’ and ‘blueberry milk nails’ are being embraced on TikTok—but the girlies aren’t so sure

For months, I’ve refused to learn what “tomato girl summer” means, though I’m told the viral aesthetic has accrued 4.1 million views on TikTok. Like the “euro summer” trend that came before it, videos bearing the hashtag consist mostly of women poolside and in piazzas—a sort of glorified Pinterest board, set to music. Others show women applying tomato girl makeup, or its cousin, strawberry girl makeup, both of which are defined by the liberal use of red-toned blush, a wine-smeared lip, and a glowing, rosy base. In the comments, many point out that the names of micro-aesthetics seem to have devolved into nonsense, or bemoan that they’re getting incessant notifications from online retailers like Cider and Princess Polly to shop “tomato girl” fashion.

“‘Girl types’ are the bane of my existence,” comments one woman. “I JUST WANT TO EXIST UNLABELED.” Others agree: “This is literally just Italians.” “TF is a tomato girl.” “Tomato is not an aesthetic.” “Now u all making things up.” Inevitably, a brand chimes in: “Wake up babe, a new type of girl just dropped.”

For the most part, the discourse around micro-labels follows a familiar pattern: Skeptical girlies question whether they’re manufactured by brands to sell products. Other girlies (of the tomato, strawberry, and coconut variety) insist that it’s “harmless,” “fun,” and “not that deep,” claiming that micro-aesthetics make it easier to find clothes you like while criticizing dissidents for being bothered over something so silly. Someone chimes in with an anti-capitalist critique, arguing that, with the ever-evolving trend cycle, everything is that deep—and the proliferation of ever-more-niche aesthetics is just another marketing psyop disguised as community-building (see: Barbie.)

I first encountered “tomato girl summer” in my inbox, in the form of PR missives using the TikTok trend as an opportunity to announce that “ruffles are breaking the internet,” “crochet is a vacation essential,” and “sandals are the summer shoe.” “Don’t forget a statement vacation hat!” a publicist from Boohoo reminds, noting that the phrase ‘Euro summer’ has seen a 153 percent rise in searches this past year.

Before tomato girl and strawberry girl, there were coconut girls and vanilla girls and clean girls. They eat girl dinner and take hot girl walks and do girl math, rebranding everyday activities vis-à-vis the -girl suffix. Though the impact of these more experiential trends is different than the previously mega-popular -core, both share a faith in the transformative power of labeling: the process by which everyday activities like feeding oneself become a source of communal bonding.

In principle, girl dinner embraces imperfection. “It’s a pleasant departure from diet culture, and from all these rigid expectations of what food should be,” nutritionist Kathrine Kofoed told the New York Times, suggesting that girl dinner took off because it affirmed the way many women already eat, serving as a foil to aspirational food content. In the months since those chaotic snack plates went viral, however, girl dinner has mutated, becoming so algorithmically popular that those same bloggers now apply the hashtag #girldinner to the elaborate recipe videos it was intended to replace. In my inbox, a publicist uses ‘girl dinner’ as an opportunity to sell me on the concept of pistachios, which have allegedly “been called the flavor, fragrance, and even color of 2023,” though it’s not clear by whom.

The hot girl walk, much like hot girl summer, is meant to describe an affective state, not a physical one. “The hot girl walk is a mindset,” said TikToker Mia Lind, who started the trend, describing it as an effort to “un-gatekeep being hot.” It’s not how long or how fast you walk that matters, she says; what’s important is that you focus on the things you’re grateful for, your goals, just how hot you are, and not on the male gaze. It was an immediate sensation. But now, if you scroll through the #hotgirlwalk hashtag, the top video is about using the practice to lose weight. In my inbox, brands continue to capitalize on the trend, suggesting I take my hot girl walk to the next level with “must-have activewear.”

Just as hot girl walks are—on a material level—no different from the act of walking, it’s hard to spot the difference between tomato girls and strawberry girls. Women debate this in the comments, pointing out the similarity as evidence that the labels have little meaning, or else proposing their own taxonomies to differentiate them: “Strawberry girl is daytime, tomato girl is evening.” “I feel like strawberry is Kylie and tomato is Kendall??” “Kylie is cherry tomato and Kendall is SO heirloom tomato.” “Wait, guys—is this serious or satirical?”

“Being a tomato girl has less to do with one’s makeup and attire, and more to do with their willingness to engage in the modern trend cycle; after all, today’s tomato girl is yesterday’s coastal grandma.”

In real life, I have yet to meet a tomato girl, or a strawberry girl, or a coconut girl—but maybe that’s because, sans label, they blend into the crowd. When you actually distill the elements that comprise such trends, it’s clear that these aesthetics are defined not by a meaningful divergence from the norm, but by the act of labeling (and re-labeling) what’s already popular. “Blueberry milk nails” are just blue nails; “latte makeup” is a brown smokey eye; a “vanilla girl,” with her neutral attire, healthy hair, and fresh, natural makeup, is the latest iteration of “that girl” wearing “no-makeup makeup.” Viral hashtags don’t describe a trend’s cultural impact—they create it, offering algorithmically-optimized ways to participate in mainstream culture, or take elements of someone else’s. As many have pointed out, “clean girl” may be trending now, but her slicked-back hair and gold hoops have been staples in Latina and Black communities for generations.

If one were to scroll through media coverage of these micro-aesthetics, they might arrive at the conclusion that tomato girl summer and blueberry milk nails are being uncritically embraced by Gen Z women. But the comments section tells another story: In the age of algorithmically “curated” shopping lists and “personalized” product recommendations, many are fed up with the language of individualism being leveraged to sell them things. They’re debating about Guy Debord in the comments, referencing Theodor Adorno, and offering their own theories on today’s increasingly homogenous visual culture and the people who defend it. What started as a TikTok about blueberry milk nails spurs radical conclusions: “Every aspect of our lives is manufactured to sell us something.” “I had an existential crisis over the fact that I don’t really like anything, I’ve just been effectively marketed to for decades.” “We must become our own niche and stop conforming to aestheticism.”

But that’s not what the media is covering. The consequence is, inevitably, that the discourse around such trends ends up amounting to something like “girls = wrong and/or stupid,” writes Rebecca Jennings for Vox. “Women on TikTok know what they’re doing when they dub their meals ‘girl dinners’ or coin terms like ‘hot girl walk,’ she states: many of them are courting controversy, and with it, virality. Trend forecasting is no longer the province of fashion brands and women’s magazines; instead, they’re racing to keep up with (and capitalize on) the micro-aesthetics made up by social media users.

For every girl questioning the meaning of such labels, there’s another who insists that if you know, you know—refusing to define what a tomato girl is, and suggesting that, perhaps, they’re not even sure. Perhaps being a tomato girl has less to do with one’s makeup and attire, and more to do with their willingness to engage in the modern trend cycle; after all, today’s tomato girl is yesterday’s coastal grandma. “Signaling by buying products is easier than self-reflecting and actualization,” one TikToker notes. “I think that’s the reason people are so defensive about the things they like,” another agrees. Others point out that the trends provide the illusion of social bonding, something young people are starved of.

On TikTok, the all-knowing algorithm offers a rare promise: The opportunity to get to know yourself better, based on the communities it sorts you into. People often credit it with knowing they were queer before they even did, or with serving up videos about undiagnosed autism or complex PTSD—presenting a clear name for symptoms they failed to identify. On GirlTok, the same sense of self-discovery plays out, with an added sheen of aspiration: “These videos made me realize this is what I’ve always wanted to be,” writes one commenter on a tomato girl video. “I finally know who I am,” states another. “Just realized my daily makeup has always been strawberry girl.” “I have now realized I’m a strawberry makeup girl who wants to be a tomato girl. Wish me luck!”