2023 brought with it something I am unsure any of us could have anticipated: a deep appreciation of girlhood. There has been a deep lust for the simplicity of being “just a girl living in her deluluworld” that outright refuted the maturity of the “clean girl” trend that we adored in 2022. The “grown up woman” has truly been ditched this year, and it has been made abundantly clear through various cultural outputs that this “woman” is no longer particularly inviting.
Younger pop artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Sabrina Carpenter and Tate McRae, and classic artists like Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and Beyonce used this year to redefine nostalgia, femininity and age. Films like Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla and Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex encapsulate the reality of navigating the tricky coming-of-age process that girls endure; they bring a visual transparency to how sexual and romantic relationships that growing older bring complicate feminine identities. Female creatives used this year to express the need for a new label to replace “woman”, and that’s exactly what the year provided.
Female creatives used this year to express the need for a new label to replace “woman”, and that’s exactly what the year provided.
Whilst the creative endeavours previously listed do show this cultural turn to the “girl”, the film that this year will forever be synonymous with is the most fundamental. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie completely blew up the industry in its remembrance of the children’s toy. Whilst the film was a comedy, its serious suggestion of a need to rework feminism is intrinsic to the rejection of the “woman” in 2023. It captures the loss of vibrance and wonder we experience as we move away from the dolls we once played with together: it captures the losses we face as we move to “woman”. And thus, the film paves the way for women to reclaim their sense of girlhood.
Isabel Cristo discusses this active participation in ‘girl’ culture by consumers in recognising that “It’s women who are dressing up in pink and chirping “Hi, Barbie” at each other at the movie theater.” With the mass media environment that TikTok enforces, women (or girls) from across the globe have been enthusiastically rejecting the dated notions of femininity. As a collective, we have been hot girl walking, pottery painting, creating the ultimate ‘girl dinner’ and re-wearing the ribbon that our mothers once tied in our hair for us. Just as we walked into the cinema to watch Barbie as women and left as girls, we walked into 2023 chasing maturity. But why has there been this sudden shift in culture? Why is it that the mature notion of “woman” no longer fits the millennial or gen-z female?
“It’s women who are dressing up in pink and chirping “Hi, Barbie” at each other at the movie theater.”
Some could argue that this disdain for maturity lies in what has been coined as the “pandemic skip.” In Glamour UK’s investigation of the new phenomenon, they use psychologist Nova Cabban’s definition to explain the impact of Covid-19 on our self-identification. “The pandemic skip [is] the ‘sense that we have missed out a chunk of time’ […] ‘As a result of this ‘missing time’ there is a disconnect between the stage of our lives we feel we are at and the reality of the age and stage we are in.’” If we twin these notions of the pandemic skip and the youthful feeling that we as a collective crave, there is no wonder that ‘woman’ no longer fits the masses.
Buzz-words like “inner child work” and “inner child healing” that have been brought into the cultural imagination may also be part of the story for this renaissance of girlhood. The therapist methodology has long existed, but regained popularity in its circulation through a TikTok trend at the end of 2022. The concept of “inner child work” is based on the attempt to heal old trauma wounds in making peace with the child that experienced these traumas. Perhaps, it has entered too much into the forefront of our minds. The term has been taken to a new extreme in a mass movement for those that identify as female to move from labelling themselves as ‘girl’ rather than ‘woman.’
Buzz-words like “inner child work” and “inner child healing’ that have been brought into the cultural imagination may also be part of the story for this renaissance of girlhood.
Either in the “pandemic skip” or in the popularity of the “inner child,” we can cite this drive to appreciate the “girl” over the “woman.” But this would make it too simple. I think what we really need to ask ourselves is: what truly distinguishes woman from girl? Where the notion of womanhood bears the responsibility of having it together, girlhood allows a sense of freedom. Girls are only responsible for themselves, girls do not bear the weight of handling romantic attachments, girls do not think about their biological clock, and, most importantly, girls can make mistakes and know they have the room to grow from them. Where womanhood is sexualized, complicated, and laborious, girlhood is fun, innocent, and exciting. When we put it in simple terms, it is no wonder that we have not rejected this label sooner.
As Nicki Minaj’s new track “Pink Friday Girls” and its sampling encapsulates, “girls just wanna have fun”. There is something distinctly appetising in the possibilities of girlhood that the strictness of womanhood cannot afford. Maturity no longer suffices, and I am truly glad that this is the case. Girlhood is having its revival, and we can be sure that this will continue as we progress into 2024.