From dollhouses to dreams: Girls are loving girlhood

5 Mins read

Girls are loving girlhood like never before, but what’s really behind the bows, ruffles and revived sisterhood?

The Barbie movie was on everyone’s mind this past summer. With women of all ages picking out their best pink outfits, gathering friends, mums and sisters, before stepping into a world of girlhood and glitter.

But what does this really tell us about our relationship with our younger selves and why do we keep running back to it?

The film, directed by Greta Gerwig, had record-breaking success during its opening weekend with a gross profit at almost $1.5 billion (£1.19 bn as of November 2023) but this is hardly the first of the award-winning director’s accolades.

Gerwig has a history of flirting with female experiences and the transition from girlhood into womanhood. Ladybird, Little Women and now Barbie have all commented on the growing pains of being a woman, but each with a distinct variation that hits a different spot each time. 

Margot Robbie posing in a swimsuit and sunglasses with  the title pf the film, Barbie, positioned in front of her
Barbie broke box office records [Warner Bros. Studios]

Ladybird is filled with nostalgia. This first of Gerwig’s solo projects amplifies a teenage angst and the complexities that come with mother-daughter relationships, whilst her sophomore Little Women is like a direct poke at womanhood and the unavoidable fate that awaits us all. And Barbie sits between all of this.

Nonetheless, these are tales of loss and longing, and it is the sisterhood that Gerwig’s work fosters that keeps girls returning.

But the female fascination with our younger selves is not limited to the largest of screens. TikTok too has been overflowing with trends and hashtags that are reminiscent of childhood.

The #girldinner hashtag currently has 2.5 billion views and is only one of the examples of women romanticising their daily and otherwise mundane parts of life.

One creator shows her ‘girl dinner’ to be five hash browns with ketchup, a chocolate cookie and her Lost Mary vape on the side.

The comments quickly flood with other women relating to the simplicity of such a meal and the nostalgia it carries.

One user tags her friend with “reminds me of you in year 8”, whilst another says “the way this actually looks like my dinner when I’m home alone.”

@esmeececilia #slay #girldinner ♬ original sound – karma carr

This trend is a chance for people to realign themselves with their interests and is a celebration of girlhood on a wider scale – in whatever way someone finds most fitting.

Whether it be barricades of women in the brightest of pinks at your local cinema or even doing their makeup and making dinner for a social media audience, it does not appear to be a comment on femininity but rather the freedom to explore it in whatever way feels best.

But this freedom is new.

The global pandemic stretched approximately two years and forced many adults, who otherwise would have been living independently, back into the comforts of their family homes.

A US-based Lending Tree survey shows that nearly a third of Gen Zers and Millenials moved back to their parents’ home during the pandemic and two-thirds of them still remain there. This is a large fraction of people who were and some still are physically reverting into younger versions of themselves.

The financial and emotional safety of the family home allowed many people to take a pause on the harshness of adult life. Many people adopted hobbies that they had once dropped somewhere along the road to adulthood – people were painting, baking, knitting and playing sports once again.

More widely, the pandemic was a major moment of reset where it gave people the opportunity to reassess aspects of their lives, and this has since led to reprioritising things that may have otherwise been forgotten.

Self-care and mental health were valued above work and careers for the first time. So for many, revisiting part of themselves that brought them comfort when they were younger is exactly what they were looking for in a pandemic renaissance.

Girl laying on a bed wth sunglasses on, surrounded by bags and with a makeup brush in hand
Girls love girlhood [Ruby Gould]

Hadiyah was fresh out of university when the pandemic hit and was just about paying the bills in London as a freelance set designer.

“It was just when I thought I had it figured, I had a few jobs lined up when all my plans went up in the air,” she said. The film and production industries suffered hugely during these years, so for a newly freelance designer, these were unprecedented times.

“I was able to do three months before there simply was no work and I had no choice but to move back to Surrey, into my childhood bedroom,” she said.

“It was a lot to adjust to because I hadn’t properly lived at home with my parents in over three years and suddenly I also had all this time on my hand and with very little to do.”

Her hobby of choice? Gardening.

“Having lived in tiny London flats for the past years with the far chance of any green space, I had completely forgotten the joys of gardening. But especially during the summer months, my mum and I were in our garden near enough to every day. It became a way for us to bond and also pass time doing things I used to enjoy.”

Since then, Hadiyah is once again in a houseshare in East London, but while she is working, she has carried pieces of her garden to the City.

“Still no garden, but growing my own vegetables is something I do even after Covid – they just exist in pots on my balcony!”

Post-pandemic, people have certainly been affected behind closed doors, but out and about we see fashion choices also reflecting this new age.

Designer and namesake brand, Sandy Liang, has long been attached to sentiments of bows, hearts and other whimsical motifs that relate to childhood nostalgia.

Liang graduated from Parsons School of Design back in 2014 but her pieces only gained mass popularity beginning 2020 and since then are often labeled as the pinnacle of girly fashion.

Three models stood in a green space with uninforms on.
Sandy Liang ‘Uniform’

Natalie Michie is a fashion and culture analyst who looked at Liang’s most recent Spring/Summer collection and explored its overarching theme of “girlhood escapism” – A direct inspiration from the renowned film Virgin Suicides.

She goes on to delve into details of the debut show where a model can be seen using a large shell to imitate a mobile phone, a reflection of “a girl who wants to detach from reality.”

When assessing the collection as a whole, Michie infers that whilst each look is well curated, there is a sense of uniformity amongst the models.

The recurring accessories and colours show a unity amongst women that Liang has long reflected in much of her work and this collective longing for a girlhood that can never be physically returned to is reflected off the runway too.

Whether it be on screens or on the streets, women are undoubtedly compelled by who they used to be.

Dr Ranjit Kaur is a psychologist with 19 years of experience and has also noticed a trend amongst young women, especially with the term ‘healing my inner child’ being at the forefront of many of her sessions.

“After a lot of time at home, I think many of us had time to assess where we were mentally and emotionally so for a lot of us that means finding and aligning with who we were as children,” Dr Kaur told us.

“For many of my clients, I have seen how this has hugely benefitted them in healing parts of themselves that were overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of adult life but at the same time I think many people have used it as a respite and escapism.”

Dr Kaur goes on to say that the difference is dependent on what the individual’s childhood was like. For some, it may be that in their youth their needs were not met so they are reliving those times on their own terms, for others it may be a friendly nostalgia.

Nonetheless, this is a change that will continue to inflence all parts of life.

Whatever route or avenue women have been taking towards reuniting with their girlier selves, there is no doubt that this is being done in the masses.

A community is being built on the shared desire to live (or relive) a more carefree lifestyle at a time where there is unprecedented uncertainty in most social and financial aspects of life – and Barbie is waiting in a pink convertible Corvette to take you there.

Featured image courtesy of Ruby Gould.

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