Originally published in The Guardian

Everyone knows the familiar high-school subcultures – the populars, rebels and artsy weirdos who comprise the basic foundation of teen archetypes.

Now new subcultural types distinctive enough to be intelligible to adults have emerged, in large part via trend superconductor TikTok. You can read about VSCO girls (beachy and eco-conscious and inconspicuously rich) and e-girls (emo types who are very online) in publications such as the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review.

Yet the holy trinity of Gen Z teen girl taxonomy would not be complete without the soft girl, the internet’s new favorite girl-next-door.
Though she may be lesser-known than the VSCO or e-girl, the soft girl is nonetheless a codified persona mainstream enough to have her own BuzzFeed quizzes, viral hashtag challenges, and six separate Urban Dictionary definitions in 2019.

(The “softboi” also exists – he’s an emotionally exploitative lothario described here).

“I feel like the soft-girl aesthetic is really popping off if you look in the right places,” says Jamie, a 14-year-old West Virginian and creator of Reddit’s r/softgirl, over Messenger. “On TikTok, I see a lot of videos radiating soft-girl energy.”

That means, she says, “hair clips, soft colors, mom jeans, glossy lips and overall just a dreamy vibe”. You will find the soft girl online, pigtailed, clad in pastels, perhaps with a spray of faux freckles – or little clouds, or hearts – painted across her blush-pinkened cheeks and highlighted nose.
She may wear toned-down versions of this look to school and in daily life, but its fully realized, campy extreme can only be found when she broadcasts on social media, usually from her bedroom.

To read the full story, click here.

© Adrienne Matei 2017