Granola Girls and the Ethics of Aesthetics

By Lily Bourne

Although seeming welcoming and positive on a surface level, the “granola” aesthetic, along with many other lifestyles pushed on social media, can and will quickly deteriorate into yet another capitalistic push for over-consumerism. A clear pipeline forms from a niche community of genuine people sharing their interests to a large group of money-hungry social media creators taking advantage of interested viewers. However, even these situations can be understood on different levels, with arguments pointing out the classism of many “well-meaning” activists, especially within the granola community. 

Primarily, the granola aesthetic focuses on a connection to the outdoors, with an underlying theme of eco-consciousness and hippy-like values. Many self-proclaimed “granola girls” preach the importance of protecting the earth in order to ensure its beauty – a relatively positive and effective message. Most granola-related content is harmless; most include videos showcasing stunning nature, giving tips for hiking, and recommending the best national parks to visit all come up relatively frequently. However, the first issue quickly arises nestled within these videos: the clothing advice. These videos commonly start with a series of perfectly curated pictures, each focused on a “granola girl” in her established apparel – sweaters, beanies, overalls, general outdoorsy clothing – with gorgeous backgrounds featuring mountains, forests, and the great outdoors. These photos, usually found on Pinterest, serve as a tool to create an ideal aesthetic for the viewer to achieve, and a perfect setup for the creator’s next step. After interesting the viewer in the granola aesthetic, the video’s purpose becomes clear: “If you want to dress like a granola girl, go to my Amazon storefront.” These videos capitalize on the originally eco-conscious granola aesthetic, formed from reputable outdoorsy brands and thrifted pieces, to make a profit. As the videos get more popular, the granola aesthetic falls down the pipeline that many others have before, from an honest attempt to create a positive community to the unfortunate reality of overconsumption and the compelling nature of cheaper alternatives from less ethical companies. 

However, arguments can be formed in favor of videos promoting cheaper, although less ethically produced, alternatives. Many have claimed that the granola community has a classist undertone, and they are not wrong. Outdoor equipment is not cheap, and often creators will be criticized if not seen with gear from the determined “best” brands – companies like Patagonia and Carhartt – which can often cost upwards of $100 for a single sweater. These Amazon videos provide an accessible path for new members of the granola community to be included without committing to large purchases. In the same vein, they give alternative options to lower-income outdoors enthusiasts, who might have the same values but not the opportunity to exercise them. These arguments are valid, but also relatively easy to discredit. For example, granola activists argue that thrifting is a perfect alternative for those who do not want to pay high prices for new gear while also following the reduce-reuse-recycle message popular in the community without giving more money to large corporations like Amazon. 

Like most other arguments, there is no specific right or wrong answer. A balance must be maintained, and many members of the granola community have pushed back on the Amazon storefront epidemic, replacing those videos with lower-cost alternative choices and thrifting advice. The granola community is not alone in this struggle. An almost identical course of events can be traced within the Y2K aesthetic that rose to popularity in 2020. Originally centered around thrifting and second-hand outfits, fast fashion corporations seized a money-making opportunity and mass-produced cheaper, far less ethical alternatives. The pipeline is clear, and unfortunately most likely will not change. Over-consumerism has become incredibly normalized within society – not by accident – and trends come and go more and more quickly, all while bringing more and more money back to enormous corporations. The granola girl sensation is just one example of this shift in consumer culture, and a warning to us: be wary of new trends, and who is taking advantage. Even the most well-meaning of communities can be overrun by a money-hungry society. As a consumer, it is important to be aware of the morals of the companies you purchase from, and to establish a balance of expenses and values that you are willing to uphold.