Ashleigh has a second birthday, and that’s the annual date when Starbucks reintroduces the pumpkin spice latte. She wears her Lululemon leggings to weekly pilates sessions. She takes a picture of every meal, angling her camera directly above her food, and flips between five filters before she makes a choice. Ashleigh loves her oversized sweaters and ugg boots, wears her hair in a messy bun, and her favorite movie is “Me Before You”. People love to point fingers at her and call her a modern slang term that rolls off the tongue so easily, it almost doesn’t feel like an insult: “basic b*tch”.
“Basic” is a modern insult that has trended for the last few years. It describes a girl who follows all the trends, and embraces being feminine— a girl like Ashleigh. The basic girl’s consumer patterns are unabashedly mainstream. For those unfamiliar with the common usage of this term, this may not sound like an insult, but rather a satirizing tease. But the truth is, calling someone basic may be the biggest put-down of all. It robs the girl of her individuality, telling her that she is the most predictable stereotype out there, and reduces her to something less than a person, a flat cartoon character. It tells her that there couldn’t possibly be anything interesting about her. “Basic” shames her lifestyle.
Making fun of someone as a stereotype is a way of distancing yourself from that concept. The same goes for terms such as “hipster” or “white trash”. By calling a girl basic, you’re rolling your eyes at her taste, and announcing to others that you are above that. It’s a clever way to flatter yourself: “Ashleigh is such a basic white girl,” you say, as you imply that you are better than her, that you are more interesting, more unique, and more intellectual. There’s a certain anxiety going on here, a social fear of being a conformist.
What’s bizarre in an interesting way is that for one to be popular, one needs to be a certain degree of basic. After all, society shuns those who are “too different” just as much as it makes fun of those who are basic. Like every other standard with which we judge people, there is a precarious balance that the perfectly likable person needs to strike: basic enough for social media, and weird enough for a reputation. So while calling someone basic may sound like a call for diversity and individuality, it does the opposite; it’s part of a grueling process in which “unlikable” stereotypes are whittled off until a very narrow spectrum of “likable” people are left— not too chill and not too passionate, not too intelligent and not too dumb, not too outspoken and not too shy, not too basic and not too unique.
Besides, the term may also embrace casual misogyny. After all, men are rarely called basic. There is no popular derogatory term for someone that likes beer, football, and buffalo wild wings- perhaps the “bro”, which is more of an endearing label. A part of what the basic girl is shunned for is her love for her feminine identity and feminine habits, and the insult, in part, targets what is “too girly”.
The truth is, there should be no shame in Ashleigh loving her pumpkin spice latte. The act of putting her down by calling her “basic” is much more criticizable than her seasonal sweet tooth. One shouldn’t have to be afraid to enjoy mainstream things— rom-coms and Taylor Swift songs do not have to be labeled a “guilty” pleasure. There is no guilt in enjoying what you enjoy. After all, some of the most fascinating people I have met in my life have been so-called basic girls. The next time you’re tempted to call Ashleigh basic, remember that she may also be a social activist, a poet, an astrophysicist, or one of the kindest souls you will ever come across.
-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)
Cover Image by Hannah Kim (’19)