Credit: Pixabay

A love letter to the teens of 2014

By Lauren Lilley

Rusted leaves and stripey tees, it’s Tumblr girl autumn.

As this October approaches this year, some of us will be pulling out a different costume. Never mind Halloween, for the retired Tumblr kids, it’s time to dust off those leather jackets, fishnets, and that striped t-shirt. For those of us who revelled in the side of Tumblr that was full to the brim of quotes from books we hadn’t read, whacking anything with pink neon lighting on our blogs under #the1975, for those of us who believed flowers in our Dr Martens was the peak of culture; the return of Arctic Monkeys and the 1975 this October has our inner teenage selves screaming. On top of this, Taylor Swift is dropping a new album at the same time, to bring together the two sides of teenage angst that Tumblr captured so perfectly. So, is it time to return to the Tumblr aesthetic? 

As a 14-year-old, I spent many, many hours scrolling through Tumblr, ignoring my French teacher to reblog gifs from Skins and outfits that I knew my mum would never let me buy or wear. But now, I’m an adult with my own job, my own money, and my own style and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting to finally be able to dress in all those outfits I reblogged back then. I still adore The 1975, I pre-ordered the vinyl of their newest album this morning, and I’ve finally read the books that filled the Tumblr quotes accounts, leading to my love affair with the writing of authors from Nawal El Saadawi to Albert Camus. So, when I look back on the images in the archive of my Tumblr blog (which I have pulled up as research to write this) and think of the new things I learned from it, I feel a sense of nostalgic longing for the Tumblr era and its style. 

Tumblr introduced me to an amazing array of established and new talent, musicians such as the late Viola Beach, artists such as Henn Kim and the wonderful filmography of Wes Anderson. It inspired my friends and me to draw, to sing, to create whatever we could and that is something I would credit as a key life skill. The ability to have a creative output certainly helped me through the pandemic. Tumblr also educated me. It’s where I first learned about the history of the Pride movement and began to expand my understanding of gender. Whilst Tumblr feminism gets a fair amount of slagging, and rightfully so, it was also the place I first turned to when I was looking to understand female solidarity and to deepen my understanding of feminism as a political theory as a curious 15-year-old.

Whilst I do undoubtedly remember Tumblr fondly, this rosy view of the website wasn’t the full picture. Tumblr caused a lot of people a lot of harm, with its glamourisation of eating disorders, drugs and the easy access to porn that glorified violence against women. When all of these factors were combined with the format and subsequent pressures of a social media platform, Tumblr definitely became a dark place for a lot of people, and no number of gifs of people dancing or photos of puddles can hide that. Tumblr allowed and encouraged anonymity, bolstered communities with dangerous ideologies and exposed users who were ultimately still children to access information and images that they should never have been interacting with. 

Unlike many of the other forms of social media however, Tumblr never really became popular with the generation of our parents. There were no embarrassing mums or supervisory aunties on Tumblr. This, however, was a double-edged sword. On the one hand Tumblr, like many forms of social media, allowed many people to find their communities and to be their authentic selves online, without fear of discovery. Many of those who couldn’t be open about their sexuality or gender identity, would credit Tumblr as their saving grace; the place that taught them to be proud and showed them that love in any form is valid. It is undeniable that there are people who have been able to carry on living because of the unique community that they found refuge in on Tumblr. However, the lack of supervision on Tumblr unfortunately made it a hub for grooming, particularly of young girls, who had no idea how to protect themselves. So, whilst my inner child is desperate to wear a pair of overly ripped jeans with some fishnets and one of my many pairs of battered Doc Martens whilst dancing around my bedroom to the iconic riffs of AM, if the 2014 Tumblr era returns, I hope it can be a safer version. 

Regardless of whether the Tumblr aesthetic does return to mainstream this Autumn or not, I will personally be regressing to the style of my 14-year-old self and listening to Arctic Monkeys on vinyl. Rock and Roll is Dead, God Bless The 1975!


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