TikTok’a Obsession With ‘High Value Friendships’ Is Getting Weird

Photographed by Jessica Garcia.
Here’s one way to alienate yourself from your current friendship group: announce to God and the entire internet that you desire a whole new set of friends, specifically “Bad Bitches” or rather “baddies” who have similar prospects in their careers and dating life, and, most importantly, are as physically attractive as you are.
It almost feels too crass to write down, like an archaic noughties high-school movie where only “pretty girls” sit at the popular table. And yet, over the past month, some TikTok creators have expressed a desire for high-value, transactional friendships, where being “aesthetically pleasing” is a necessity. Whether made ironically or in harmless fun, the #prettyfriendgroup and #baddiefriend hashtags have many videos from fun, fashionable and, objectively attractive folk who fraternise with people who fulfil a similar brief. And the result is very good social media content. But given my top requirement for friendships these days is basically just “do you like memes?” I have to ask…is everyone OK? 
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 “I often wish I had more female friends that look like me,” said TikTok user Ivana aka ‘Miss Lucas’ in a now-deleted viral video titled ‘I need more baddie friends’. “Aesthetically like me. Verbally like me. Somebody who has choices [in men] like I have choices,” she clarified, adding “I know that might sound really vain… I love all of my friends… and I love them all for different reasons… but I wish I had another baddie friend.”
The ill-advised video caused an influx of criticism from people who said she wasn’t “looking for a friend” only “someone to compete with.” Temporarily banned from TikTok and experiencing a storm of backlash on Twitter, Ivana went on podcast So Shameless earlier this month to further clarify her comments. “I can see all sides [of the argument]. I want more friends… I don’t want to swap my friends…all my [current] friends are baddies…” she stressed. 
Still, judging friends based on whether they are “baddies” or not opens up yet another uncomfortable tab: by whose standard is someone attractive and a “baddie”? What insidious beauty standard are you projecting in the process? As So Shameless podcast co-host Ms. DajahBelle questioned Miss Lucas tentatively: “When a light-skinned girl [with dark-skinned friends] on the internet says I wish I had more friends that are aesthetically pleasing, it’s like… what does that mean?”

Judging friends based on whether they are “baddies” or not opens up another uncomfortable tab: by whose standard is someone attractive and a “baddie”? What insidious beauty standard are you projecting in the process?

It’s a good question. TikTok creator baddieofbengal shares a similar criticism. “One thing I find really weird is people trying to build these baddie friend groups,” she says in a recent video. “Where they’re only friends with people who fulfil a certain type of look and aesthetic and that look is usually thin, lighter-skinned or just conventionally attractive. That tells me anything you need to know about a person…” she shared.
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So what’s going on here? Is desirability politics at play in the Baddie Friend game? As Gabe Abdellatif writes for the Tab, “the politics of desirability dictates that who we find attractive is largely influenced by culture and society. No matter how innate one’s preferences or tastes may feel, media and popular culture are major influences in determining what is desired.”
Simply put, the oppressive nature of western beauty standards — lighter skin, thinness, wealth, etc — can influence whom and what we love, especially if these traits are closely tied to success, employability, dating and overall happiness. So who’s to say it isn’t the same case for friendships like these?
“I am elevating in my life and I would like to have more friends that are doing the things that I’m doing,” explained Miss Lucas in the So Shameless podcast, doubling down. “And yes, I want friends that are confident and are pretty. I definitely shouldn't have said aesthetically [in the video] when what I really meant was [friends who match] my aura… the vibe…”
Sure, pursuing relationships based on mutual interests and shared vibes is a basic ask for any friend group, even if some of those priorities are somewhat shallow by other people’s standards. Is there ever a reasonable case for embarking on a relationship based on anything but compatibility?
Take the concept of “high-value dating” and “high-value friendships” , phrases also trending on social media. It sees some people explicitly and unashamedly communicating their extremely high standards for potential partners (read: very deep pockets) and finding friends who are, as one TikToker put, “living the lifestyle I want to live.” It’s problematic but it sure is honest. And what's wrong with setting standards for who you feel you deserve?
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With more people attempting to be the “main character” online, romanticising aspects of their lives and sharing it for the world to a trending beat, it seems these pervasive glossy standards for our feeds are continually seeping into our IRL world... Friendships built on aesthetics aren’t remotely realistic.

But viewing friendships as a means to upgrade or mirror your lifestyle doesn’t feel like the wholesome, inclusive, fluffy relationships I was led to believe friendships are in TV sitcoms. Unless you’re a fledgling celebrity trying to shift ranks into the big leagues of fame (by social climbing), I’m unsure what having Baddie Friends is really meant to achieve. It’s a conversation that has led to saddening debates about which friends are “weak links” in the pursuit of dating a certain calibre of person, achieving a certain lifestyle, and, especially icky, gaining high social media followers.
With more people attempting to be the “main character” online, romanticising aspects of their lives and sharing it for the world to a trending beat, it seems these pervasive glossy standards for our feeds are continually seeping into our IRL world. 
Friendships built on aesthetics don’t seem like they’ll have longevity because, well, they aren’t remotely realistic. When I think of my own friendships — a hodgepodge of people from all weird walks of life — the best and worst of the bunch have all had their fair share of messiness (and ugly crying). Find me a Whatsapp group without arguments, careers without knockbacks, homes without mess, and picture-perfect friends with unblemished lives. I’d be bold enough to say they don't exist.
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