• Zoe Williams

hot girl summer: feminist statement or controversial hot potato?

Unless you’ve been boycotting social media, you have undoubtedly heard of the infamous ‘hot-girl summer.’ Whether it’s in an Instagram caption, TikTok video, or email campaign, hot girl summer is a term that has pushed its way into our everyday language; and isn’t going anywhere soon.

girl posing for a selfie / fully grown

What appears to be a harmless catch-phrase for women having the summer of their dreams has instead been brewing a storm of controversy and social pressure. With over 2 million tags on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, a quick search of this catchy hashtag instantly floods you with photos, videos, and workouts all directed towards achieving this idyllic state of being. But do I really have to wake up at 7am, drink a green smoothie, dump my boyfriend and jump on a boat in a bikini to achieve the hot girl summer status?

the origin of the hot girl.

From my research, the term ‘hot girl summer’ was first coined by twenty-six-year-old rapper, songwriter and college student Megan Thee Stallion as part of her persona hot-girl Meg. In a radio interview with KissFM, Megan explains how the phrase first came about when she produced her mix-tape Fever. The term proceeded to go viral on social media before she released a song under the title in 2019. Since then, it has gained its place in the canon of pop culture, and fans have turned to her in their millions to know the meaning behind her creation.

Her answers, whilst somewhat vague, seem harmless enough and spread a positive message about confidence, self-love, and mutual support between women. She tweeted that hot girl summer is about being ‘unapologetically you’ and ‘living your truth, focusing on normalising women and girls being their authentic selves. Her statements also encapsulate the actions of men; it’s about, ‘men and women having a good time, hyping up your friends, doing you and not giving a damn what anybody has to say about it.” In a separate interview, when asked about the rules of hot girl summer, her three simple steps included being kind, confident and the life of the party. This seems simple enough, but where has all this tension and expectation come from if this is the case? More importantly, can we consider it as a feminist statement?

At its heart, Megan’s definition of a hot girl summer is one of personal freedom. In a world that’s still struggling to shrug off outdated preconceptions about women’s choices, appearances and behaviour, Megan’s call to simply be ourselves and enjoy the summer is difficult to resist and is undoubtedly the reason for its huge popularity. Yet the good intentions of this message seem to have gotten lost along the way and, like most trends, taken on a life of its own. As a result, self-care has become equated to a specific workout routine, diet, and personal freedom to engage in hookup culture.

hot boy summer?

Disgruntled men fought back with their own #hotboysummer whilst others have called for dropping the word ‘hot’ altogether, opting instead for ‘happy’ or ‘healing girl’ summer. Whilst the majority of this seems to be done in lighthearted humour, it seems to me that there are tensions and misconstrued ideas about female empowerment brewing below the surface. Much like FOMO (fear of missing out), hot-girl summer has accumulated certain pressures. The expectation of being young, happy and having the best summer of your life is a heavier burden than one might expect, and for those not feeling this way, the call to have a ‘hot-girl summer’ can feel like more of an expectation than an exciting prospect.

Add a worldwide pandemic into the mix, and you have a generation of anxious individuals dealing with loss, money issues and concerns about the future, now desperately trying to make the most of the summer to account for lost time. In addition, whilst Megan’s definition of a ‘hot girl summer’ is open for women everywhere, others have implemented their own criteria: to be single and negate any serious romantic attachments for the summer season. This in itself seems problematic as it implies that for a woman to be free and act without fear of judgement, she must be single. The obligations of a loving relationship would place a restriction on this freedom. Surely this is driving a deeper wedge between the sexes rather than striving for equality? Many have also commented on the unspoken implication of hookup culture, which reinforces female empowerment through sexual liberation.

too hot to handle?

Now, of course, we want women to feel free of any obligation to form a romantic attachment - no Mrs Bennet in the background planning our future weddings please - and naturally, we want to explore our sexuality without retribution. This in itself is in keeping with Megan’s original definition. Yet, something about the way ‘hot-girl summer has started to come across that creates an edge to all of this. The root of the problem? Our language.

Despite our progress in moving towards equality for women, our language has been slower to evolve, and the terms used to describe women are often tinged with underlying misogyny and sexism. Don’t believe me? Google hot-girl and see what images come up. The results (not surprisingly) are less geared towards promoting female empowerment and more towards objectifying and promoting a particular type of woman. Whilst hot girl summer can be considered an attempt for women to reclaim this language and decide for themselves what it means to be a ‘hot girl’, the fact that numerous women have called for alternatives seems evident of the discomfort created by the connotations and expectations the term carries.

beyond the hashtag.

Of course, we know that a hot girl can be a happy girl and any body shape she wants because none of these qualities is incompatible. But if hot girl summer is continually used to sell bikinis, encourage diets, and imply promiscuity, it seems at risk of sliding back into the patriarchal doctrine we tried to rescue it from. Subtly, a phrase that was supposed to resonate with and unite us has instead begun to single us out. All of this comes in addition to Megan’s own difficulty with claiming ownership of her creation as she fought to trademark the term before it was commercialised. Overall, what started as a call for female empowerment seems to have become a controversial question mark. Yet despite this, it is possible to view the hashtag positively as an example of the strong familiar feeling that exists when promoting women’s rights. At the end of the day, everyone wanted the hot girl summer because it promoted freedom, friendship and a jolly good time! And whilst I hope that one day we won’t need a hashtag to tell the world that women can do whatever the f*ck they want… perhaps we can resurrect the spirit of Megan’s original message and support women everywhere to enjoy the summertime… without telling them how to do it.

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