The Basic White Girl label
A harmless stereotype or a subgroup formed under the pressures of modern society?
I’m not one to shy away from sharing parts of my life online. This girl loves an insta story, a sub-tweet, an idyllic country landscape or a dreamy shot of the sea accompanied always by a moderately thought-out caption — or poem on the best (or worst!!) of the days, dulled as the rest are by the ennui of the quotidian.
About to embark on a trip of a lifetime, I seriously considered the burden of insta(nt) updates and the worries that accompany them — am I doing this moment justice? how original is the shot? is this really me?! I considered the feeling of liberation that might come from travelling social media free and whether it would lead to a fuller, more meaningful experience. Obviously I discarded the idea of an instagramless trip as the 3am ramblings of a sleep-deprived brain. Taking as a given the Sontagian concept of the untruthfulness of images, what was left to worry about was image instead of the image and how closely it might resemble a stereotype: the Basic White Girl stereotype, that harmless, but damning label.
Unwittingly labelling myself as such would of course not reduce my own travelling experience, but it would add an undertone to all online content created during it. According to the sociological theory known as Labelling theory, subscribing to the BWG stereotype might affect not only how others perceive me, but also how I may see myself. While I couldn't say without bias whether I fit in the particular stereotype, what’s interesting to me is why I want to escape it.
BWG is a label given not for the sake of discriminating against the person or to constitutionally or systematically harm them. It is a label given mainly as a criticism not to the person exactly, but to the idea of a type of person. Criticism against a being whose basic needs have been met, who chooses to spend their time enjoying themselves in the according stereotypical fashion. A being who follows a certain trajectory and enjoys similar activities to those of their social circle. A label tagged on a stereotype like all others, only harmless, unlike some.
No one enjoys being reduced to a stereotype, yet many a young women have accepted the label basic as a crown of honour. Partially a self-fulfilling prophecy, partially a radical achievement of post-feminism, the Basic White Girl can accept every label that is thrown her way. Bossy? Fuck yes! In Sophia Amoruso’s words, we’re ‘girl-bossing’ it! Hoe? You know it! As far as the basic white girl is concerned thot (i.e. that hoe over there) is a compliment. As is to be thicc, a skinny bitch, a ‘stupid hoe’, etc. The BWG has managed to turn every criticism on its head and move on to simply enjoying the little things in life — a sparkly top, a winter candle, an iced-latte. Because it so happens that self-love is the epitome of being basic.
Self love is considered a luxury and under the umbrella of pseudo-intellectual, anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist critique, the BWG’s habits and acts of self-love are vilified — to put it harshly. Yet like every other social group, these habits fulfil needs that are not met by their immediate environment. While an intersectional critique is likely to shun the extent of this issue, it is still a reality the BWG is not the dominant group in our society. The unfulfilled needs may span from mutual support from their social environment, a boost of self-confidence in a world that is always so critical or even a spiritual need born from the secularity of modern life in the form of practicing meditation or yoga.
I am not shy about my views on veganism, ethical fashion, the pros of living in a sustainable fashion (she writes while flying over the Pacific ocean for recreational purposes). No but you see that’s the point. I know that I am both hypocritical and proactive. Whatever the criticisms against the materialistic aspect of the BWG’s habits are not unfounded, but what is really hidden underneath? Is it an ecological, economical, cultural battle or an enduring underlying misogyny? Perhaps both, maybe neither. But who among us is free of the constrains of our socio-economic system? Who can confidently say that they live a hypocrisy-free existence? We are all dissatisfied by the dominant system and that’s why we choose to break off in sub-groups. The Basic White Girl has the privilege of not been systematically oppressed for being (un)willingly stereotyped. Others don’t have that luxury.
This fact should not put the more privileged against the less or vice versa, but alongside each other. Acknowledging that no lifestyle under capitalism can be harmless, we ought to unite and support each other. The needs that stay unfulfilled in a society might not be the same for all and they are definitely not all of the same importance. But they remain needs created by the same system.
I may try to escape the basic white girl label, but we can’t help being shaped by our environment. The only force of progress is to continue being critical against every aspect of social life. However, instead of rounding certain of my habits and interests under the label of cheap, low-brow and basic, I’d rather move on and embrace it like so many wonderful, smart and kind women I know. After all, stereotypes are so for a reason. It’s not exactly my fault that I found myself facing a break up one day before embarking on 5 week road trip, unwittingly pushing me full force into my very own ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey. I am cringing just typing that — I may strive towards being acceptive of my BWG side, but come on, there are limits. Bad literature is just bad literature. Right? Perhaps a discussion for another day…