Being a woman in the 21st century is an experience heaving with revelations. Perhaps it’s the visibility of the digital age or the defiance of generations past and present – perhaps, for the first time in all of human history, women across the world are more intertwined than ever with each other, able to revel together in the simultaneous nuance and similarities of the feminine experience.
The summer season is coming to a close in the northern hemisphere and we are getting ready to embrace spring in the south. In June, writer and content creator Lola Kolade laid down the latest revelatory epitaph, introducing Tik Tok girlies to: ‘rat girl summer’. In a clip viewed over 4 million times, Lola describes ‘rat girl summer’ as a time in which “we’re scurrying around the streets, we’re nibbling on our little snacks and generally finding ourselves in places we have no business being in.”
In a usual digital response, girlies all over the world jumped to welcome this beautiful antithetical manifesto as an antidote against the pressures of the ‘perfect summer’ that see us awash with body shame, FOMO and more. Maham Javaid of the Washington Post wrote, “since then, #ratgirlsummer has been shared more than 25 million times on TikTok. The trend is reminiscent of 2019’s Megan Thee Stallion-inspired Hot Girl Summer, but Kolade told The Washington Post that ‘the word hot triggers people to focus on their appearance in a way that Rat Girl Summer discourages.’ ”
Rat Girl Summer vibes from Pexels by Koolshooters
Rat Girl Summer Vibes from Pexels by Polina Tankilevitch
The principles of rat girl summer are simple. Embracing our rat energy means being adaptable and sneaky (but still cute and kind) – it’s an approach towards the most coveted season of the year that demands us to carry far less shame about ourselves and our appearances, employ more spontaneity in our choices and to do this armed with our favourite snacks and drinks, scurrying towards experiences that fill us with joy and fulfilment. Rat girl summer takes the notion of ‘hot girl summer’ and its inextricable ties with the male gaze and asks us to be ourselves for ourselves. As Lola says, the four main qualities of rat girl summer include “going outside (you can’t scurry from bed), allowing yourself to ‘nibble’ or eat any food you like, killing the cringe (to be cringe is to be free) and not overthinking anything.”
Asserting our identities in the digital age is fraught with highs and lows. On one hand, we find ourselves among like-minded communities, ideas, trends and humorous anecdotes in order to cope and thrive within the human experience. On the other hand, there has never been more pressure to curate the way others perceive us. Ingenious concepts like ‘rat girl summer’ are a giggly, silly remedy for women who have been socialised to constantly measure our worth, appearance or intentions against society’s expectations. What more could we want out of the balmy, sweet summer days than to show up without a head full of over-analysis, existential dread or concerns generally not conducive to wearing cute bikinis and flailing beneath the sunshine?
Co-current to #ratgirlsummer, creator Oliva Maher shared an assemblage of breads, cheese and grapes, coining it as ‘girl dinner’ and ‘mediaeval peasant dinner’. Suddenly, the ‘girl dinner’ trends erupted overlaid with the jingle “Girrrrl dinner, girrl dinner, girrrrrl dinnnner” as women everywhere shared their favourite concoctions and feasts. Everything from aesthetically driven charcuterie boards to flaming hot cheetos dipped in sour cream, the girl dinner movement saw women honing on a seemingly singular feminine truth; we like to snack and our penchant for weird and wonderful flavours is a kind of shared code.
Usually, we hesitate to define anything around womanhood (and in speaking womanhood, I include femme folks and trans women) with absolutism – often, absolute assumptions have sought to keep women defined by prejudices and projections, hindering the innate experience of complexity held by every single person on the planet. Yet, the reclamation of the word ‘girl’ in this instance is neither diminutive nor diminishing; instead, ‘girl’ speaks to our softness, hilariousness and power. Concepts like ‘girl dinner’ or ‘rat girl summer’ unify the feminine experience under a banner of interdependence with one another and adjusts the hyper-focus of being a woman as merely synonymous with victimhood, oppression or inequality.
Love Sweets from Pexels by Jill Wellington
While it continues to be an ongoing fight for liberation for women in every part of the world; part of our recourse must involve the evidence we have that being a girl is truly, deeply and magnificently beautiful. As Emily Heil wrote for the Washington Post, “Emily Contois, a media studies professor at the University of Tulsa who studies food and gender, likes the pure idea of Girl Dinner — that women can be freed by the expectation of society to nurture and provide for others, that they can enjoy the kind of self-indulgent “you do you” eating that men have long felt entitled to. “there’s this lovely connection among women, this sort of happy, open-mouthed grin of recognition and understanding, a sort of camaraderie,” she says.”
Found within these viral movements is a kind hyper-tension, too. Namely, the tension between aestheticism and ugliness. The latter, I use to refer to the push back we have seen against curated, influencer culture. Pioneered by fashion girlies like Clare Perlmutter AKA tinyjewishgirl, ‘ugly fashion’ is a move towards wearing what we want with surrealist, reckless abandon. Rat girl summer tells us to abandon aesthetics if it gets in the way of our scampering and scheming – it’s more about how we feel than how we look. With girl dinner, the juxtaposition between the perfectly arranged charcuterie board against crumpled chip packets and soda cans are invitations to witness the feminine experience as equal parts beautiful and messy. I argue that this tension furthers the acceptance of women (by others and ourselves) as complicated, evolving and poetic beings.
I can think of no more noble cause this summer than to scamper my way into rat girl summer – with a Coke Zero in one hand and La Roche Posay Fluide Invisible SPF50+ in the other.
Written by: Holly Beaton