Why TikTok's 'Vanilla Girls' Are Causing Backlash

It is no secret that TikTokers can be a little obsessed with semantics; the name of a trend might transform, but the trend itself remains the same. Whether this is to drive engagement, the algorithm favoring one phrase over another, or because certain TikTokers attempt to get away with problematic trends seemingly under the radar, we might never know. The point is that certain users may still try to go along with troubling trends and go unnoticed.

 Siren eyes makeup, for example, is just another term for the fox eyes makeup trend that caught a heap of backlash for appropriating typically Asian features (per Teen Vogue). And now, we're seeing the same story play out in a different way. As beauty writer and creator Alicia Lartey points out for Refinery29, the vanilla girl makeup trend bears a close connection to the clean girl makeup aesthetic, which was criticized for appearing to apply solely to those who fit into white beauty standards. "Vanilla girl beauty seems to be exclusively for white women. As a beauty content creator with a deeper complexion, I've found that when you look up most beauty trends on TikTok, countless white faces are shown first. With the vanilla girl in particular, diversity is seriously lacking," Lartey writes. 

What is the vanilla girl makeup trend?

Vanilla girl style is defined as skincare-forward and simple, emphasizing moisturized skin, minimal foundation, concealer, cream blush, trim brows, and mascara. And as Byrdie points out, the vanilla girl is more than just a makeup look but also an entire aesthetic dedicated to white, off-white, cream, beige, or egg-shell color palettes both in the home and with one's clothes. 

The result could shape the trend that values insulation more than expansion and homogeneity over diversity. As beauty writer and creator Alicia Lartey points out for Refinery29, even the word "vanilla" itself signals a specific kind of consumer. "I would argue that the word "vanilla" closes the door on anyone who has a darker complexion." 

A search through the hashtag #vanillagirl on TikTok yields results where most videos feature white women with blonde hair and blemish-free skin. (Though yes, filters could also be at work here.) This is not to say that you cannot like elements of the trend or resonate with them, but rather to reflect on what and who gets lost in aesthetic movements that revolve around a highly specific and often unachievable ideal. 

Social media users respond to the trend

Commenting on one TikTok from user @sincerely_zoya shows a montage of vanilla girl inspiration, a user wrote, "black girls can be vanilla too." The montage featured white women with almost all blonde hair participating in the trend. Even white women with brunette hair have attempted to differentiate themselves from the crowd. "Vanilla girl as a brunette," user @xoxo8886 says. 

TikTok user @justaregularwhitegirl raises suspicions about the trend, "Why do you wanna look so innocent? Why so childlike? What's going on?" she said. Comments on the video also raise suspicions. "I've noticed that for POC girls, it's oh ur, a caramel girl or chocolate girl like why can't we vanilla girls too," one user wrote. User @troublepuffs responds to the trend noting the potential dangers it could bring, "It just feels like WASP, tradwife, purity culture repackaged for Gen Z. And we know that kind of has like an alt-right pipeline. So I am glad other people are sort of questioning what this aesthetic is really about."

Then, @troublepuffs addresses a comment in another video, "White women looking and acting white is now a problem?" the user asked. "You heard all that and decided those are the behaviors of whiteness. I want to know why."