Sometime last November, Chelsea Uchenna, an 18-year-old makeup artist based in the U.K., uploaded a TikTok video imitating singer Megan Thee Stallion mouthing the words “I can’t talk right now, I’m doing hot girl shit,” before breaking out into a goofy dance to the tune of Stallion’s “Girls in the Hood”.
Barely three months later, an audio clip she borrowed from one of Stallion’s online interviews remains one of the hottest memes of the new year.
Over the past couple of months, “hot girl shit” has swept through social media like a heat wave. These videos feature people, mostly those who identify as women, embracing their most everyday, banal moments—shaving their upper lips, putting on face packs, savouring the last few puffs of a joint, involved in an intense gaming sesh or simply taking their 23rd nap in the day—under the guise of doing something that could be considered hot, a term that generally refers to the sexual attractiveness of a person.
These short lip-sync videos are candid, anticlimactic and sometimes just plain absurd. But what they may lack in logical reasoning, they make up for in deeper meaning: letting the world know that being “hot” isn’t just equated to someone’s physical appearance anymore. That being hot is a mentality, a mindset that involves extra dollops of extreme self-confidence, and something to be found inherently within us rather than something you’re blessed at birth with or what your cosmetic surgeon helped you achieve.
And just like that, we’re TikToking and Reels-ing our way to chipping away centuries of female objectification and sexism, prompted by the male-dominated industry ideal of how women should look and behave to “qualify” as hot.
And while Stallion first shattered the deep-seated expectations placed upon the appearance of women with “Hot Girl Summer” — a song which preached that the idea of hot was all about being unapologetically self confident — this moment is especially important since it goes beyond the singer’s fans.
“This trend proves that ‘hot girl shit’ lies on a spectrum, and is ultimately just about feeling confident,” Uchenna, the first known creator of this meme format, who goes by her screen moniker @makeupbychelseax, told VICE. The young creator sees the trend as a way to reclaim the identity of what a “hot” girl should be, after centuries of the concept hanging on the hinges of the male gaze.
The male gaze, as defined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, refers to the way women are projected in cinema by male directors. Mulvey theorises that essentially the male gaze hypersexualises women, reducing them to objects of attraction for the male lead. The male gaze, which has been dominant throughout the history of pop culture, ultimately drives the perception of what the ideal woman should look like. Over decades of women being seen through a stereotypical lens in pop culture and art, mostly crafted by heterosexual men, the male gaze has also conditioned many young women who consume this content to strive to achieve the same standards of the perfect on-screen female lead. And over decades, the male gaze goes beyond visual mediums to dictate how women should behave in real life, with an overwhelming pressure that hypersexualises woman as aesthetically pleasing objects for the pleasure of heterosexual males.
Feminists note that this projection seeps into industries like advertising, where objectification and sexualised portrayals of the female body can be found even in situations where sex or representations of sex have nothing to do with the product being sold.
And it’s not just in what we see on-screen. Meme culture has also been accused of letting sexism and objectification of women run rampant. In fact, feminist research concludes that instances of online sexism and harassment are often framed in an “acceptable” way when forms of humour are used to subtly embed these ideals.
“The stereotypical idea of the ‘hot girl’ would be a tall, skinny, fair girl with big boobs,” Shreemi Verma, a film critic and marketing professional told VICE. Verma, whose interests include analysing pop culture tropes, pointed out that the “hot” girl is a socially conditioned prototype, a fantasy fuelled by the lack of female filmmakers and critics in the mainstream industry. “Almost every woman does things like shave or wear a face pack, and I think why so many of us connected with this meme trend is because of how real it was. Even actors [considered traditionally hot] like Cameron Diaz need to shave their legs and may sing while drinking wine; you just probably wouldn’t see that in a film directed by a man.” Verma stressed that by showing the raw reality behind what can be considered hot, this trend became a relatable way for women to challenge the on-screen stereotype.
Especially as lockdown life made us more open to going permanently braless or living in our sweats, the idea of “hot” continues to evolve into a more empathetic, all-encompassing ideal.
“Doing hot girl stuff has stereotypically meant things like putting on makeup, dressing sexy, or twerking, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the beginning of these videos made some men expect women to be scantily dressed to be hot,” Supriya Banerjee, a 24-year-old social researcher based in the Netherlands, told VICE. After skimming through some Reels on her Instagram feed, Banerjee decided to upload her very own version, where her “hot girl shit” saw her cleaning a menstrual cup. “I was wearing a sports bra, and I guess people were hoping to see me work out, which is something that would ideally be considered ‘hot girl shit’. But the video switched to boiling my menstrual cup. That’s what I love about this trend: It normalises simple things like art, dance or cooking meals for children as things a hot girl does.” For Banerjee, the trend has a simple underlying message: that everything women do can be considered hot girl shit.
“This trend is a fun, snackable way to show how real women look and behave,” agreed Verma. “Today, many people even consume news through memes, so it’s a great way to send a subliminal message without antagonising anybody.” Verma added that this format sidesteps the preachy nature of marketing campaigns that project the “real” woman by simply showing the real woman doing real things, no frills attached.