Is 2016 The End Of The It Girl?

Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
We should’ve known better: Kylie Jenner kicked off 2016 by stating this was year in which she’d be “realizing stuff.”

“I feel like every year has a new energy, and I feel like this year is really about, like, the year of realizing stuff,” she said in an episode of Kylie Up Close. “And everyone around me, we’re all just like, realizing things.”

Of course, none of us realized at the time that we’d be the ones realizing most of all. Mainly, that by the end of the year, we’d find ourselves over the superficial, frivolous, It Girl™ entity — especially as the rest of the world began caving in on itself.

Which sounds nihilistic, I know. But even compared to the current state of international and domestic politics, pop culture hasn’t been free of near-tragedy or glimpses into real life this year. Back in October, Kim Kardashian was held up at gunpoint in her Paris apartment, while a month later Kanye West was hospitalized for a mental health crisis. Gigi Hadid opened up about her autoimmune disorder, Zayn got candid about his battles with anxiety and an eating disorder, and Kid Cudi spoke frankly about his struggles with addiction and depression. So while there were still some elements of the bright, shiny glaze with which we’d been painting the entertainment industry over the last decade, real life still found its way. Which actually made the need for anyone to be “It” all the more irrelevant. Why would we put anybody on a pedestal when we know they’re human just like we are? Why, with this in mind, would we even need It Girls anymore?

Why, with this in mind, would we even need It Girls anymore?

Well, we don’t — and we know it. While it was interesting to watch the birth of the reality TV socialite upon The Simple Life’s premiere back in 2003, social media stepped in to change the game as the decade progressed, allowing us to feel that much closer to the people we idolize. Thanks to geotagging and web sleuthing, we could frequent celeb hot spots, check into their favorite restaurants, and buy their merchandise live and in-color (shout-out to Kylie Jenner’s many Lip Kit website crashes). We could follow their flights, predict their next steps, and channel their aesthetics. We could mold our own identities around the equally curated identities of the famouses we didn’t know. And since doing all this acted as a brief (and terrific) distraction from actual life, it also seemed completely important.
Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
But when something bigger comes to pass, living vicariously through the lives of Victoria’s Secret models doesn’t seem so urgent. Even prior to the election, the internet erupted with criticism over our approach to celebrity culture in the wake of Kim Kardashian’s robbery. As details of her assault trickled out, people had to be reminded that Kim was a person — a victim, that despite her notoriety, she was a woman who had undergone a horrific ordeal. And in response, she went underground, protecting herself through isolation, and setting the rest of us up to change our relationship with the way we view the people we think we know.

Namely by realizing that we don’t know them at all. And as the election gave way to waves of hatred and intolerance amidst the realities of a Trump-led government, caring about whether so-and-so ate a burger or who posed with whom on the red carpet seemed less and less urgent. To even pretend to care seems like a colossal waste of time. Because when we find ourselves trying to navigate a world rich in racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism (to name a few), thinking about what Gigi wore to the gym isn’t a priority anymore. I mean, It Girls are fine, but what are they doing? How are they helping, outside of trendsetting?

I mean, It Girls are fine, but what are they doing? How are they helping, outside of trendsetting?

This isn’t a mandatory call to models or singers or artists or anyone to step up and stand for something — even though it seems like a waste for them not to use their platforms to say or do anything definitive or helpful. It’s just that we don’t have the space for them to exist in the same way they did before. They can’t be the centre of the universe or the be-all and end-all in terms of fashion or culture — especially since those things tend to thrive when created in reaction to the current state of the world. And the current state of the world is, well, bleak. It is not private jets and activewear and runways in wings, and we know that. So that means those realities can’t be the front and center of our mindset — although they can still be a part.
Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
It would be naive and unfair to claim that because everything’s gone to shit (and other sentiments), we don’t have time for distractions. Alternately, distractions can help. They offer a reprieve from the barrage of bad news and scandals; they’re a means of self care if you need a second to gather yourself after sifting through @replies. But that’s the fate of It Anybodys in 2017 — they’re not the narrative, they simply help populate it. The status of Kendall and Harry Styles’ relationship (or lack thereof) can help entertain us, but we know now, more than ever, that there are many more pressing things than the relationship status of two A-list twentysomethings. And presumably, they know that, too.

Because these young women aren’t stupid. And it would benefit the entire cultural landscape if we lost the idea of “It” as we know it — if we viewed women as more than just a passing gimmick. And while we’ve seen what being in the spotlight can do to boost brands, it’s hopeful to think that Nike contracts aren’t all somebody wants — that maybe influence can be used to drum up support for protests, causes, and charities, without those engagements acting simply as plot points on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. It Girls as we know them deserve to be more than just walking billboards. So maybe if our approach to — and expectations of — them shifts, we’ll see their approaches shift as well. In the wake of those shifts, we won’t need to label anybody as an It Girl anymore, and everyone can just be a person.

Whose clothes, of course, we’re still totally into.

More from Pop Culture