Written by Amy Britton
If you have been anywhere near Instagram or TikTok in recent years, you will have heard of the expansive world of aesthetics. Nowadays, many teenagers and young adults dedicate their lives to a specific aesthetic and everything that they do – including the sports, activities and books that they enjoy – is based around their aesthetic. One of the more popular aesthetics has to be dark academia. Usually around autumn time, this aesthetic crops up again on my Instagram, showcasing the fashion, film and media of dark academia.
Being a History student who has an obsession with old museums and literature, this seems like the perfect aesthetic for me. People who are a part of this community already romanticise studying my subject. The aesthetic revolves around a love of learning, especially for the classics. Discussing Greek mythology seems to be a favourite pastime of dark academics. After researching it a little bit, I found out that I liked a lot of the books and fashion that are classed to be a part of the aesthetic. I like that it often promotes the buying of thrifted outfits and minimalism as this is a more environmentally friendly way of shopping and also, the fact that it promotes a love of learning to young people. It seems as if dark academia has now made studying cool.
However, despite all of its positive aspects, it comes with a lot of criticism. During my research, I came across many problematic issues that are entrenched within the dark academia world.
It idolises elitist groups
Many of the classic dark academia photos that you see across Pinterest are images of expensive private schools and elitist universities. Even one of the key motifs stated by Aesthetics Wiki is ‘old money’, which is a term I find problematic by itself. It is not a necessity to be rich to be able to follow the dark academia aesthetic but the idolisation of elitist groups is dangerous due to their exclusivity and their mostly conservative viewpoints. Most people do not have the opportunity to attend private schools and study Latin, as these are withheld for the richest and most privileged in society. It seems to be widely believed that in order to become an academic, you have to have attended either Oxford or Cambridge but there are a multitude of incredible academics that did not go to these universities. History, literature and the classics should be accessible to all.
It is incredibly Eurocentric
All of the books that are promoted in dark academia are written by white authors. All of the actors in the films that are promoted as dark academia are white. All of the languages that are learnt in the dark academia community are European. Some of the most popular authors in dark academia include Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf and even Homer. Their texts all have the textbook mysterious and dark ambience that is loved by the community. It is rare that books by anyone other than white authors are deemed as dark academia – even though there are hundreds of books that revolve around the classics, learning and mystery that were written by authors from across the globe. It is the same for films. Arguably, the most popular dark academia film is The Riot Club, which is said to be based off of the alluring Bullingdon Club. With this club being the archetypal group of rich white men, it is no wonder that many find it problematic. The aesthetic of light academia, the counterpart to dark academia, is trying to combat this Eurocentrism by creating a more diverse list of films and literature that advocates inclusivity.
It bolsters unhealthy habits
Everyone knows that drinking three or more cups of black coffee a day is going to do some damage to your mind and body. But dark academia seems to find drinking copious amounts of coffee or tea and staying up extremely late to study as being the desired way of life. Overworking and burning out is not glamorous and pictures of overtired students should not be viewed as the goal in life. You can work hard whilst still practising self care. It is dangerous for those who follow this trend to act as if dark eye circles and caffeine is the ideal way of life.
There is a lack of body diversity
If you search dark academia fashion on any application, you will barely see a body that is above a size 8. For mid-size and plus-size people, it is difficult to feel comfortable following a trend when it excludes people who look like you. No one wants to promote a community in which popular followers of the aesthetic avoid posting photos of people that are above a certain size. In recent years, there has been a push for more accounts to include mid-size and plus-size bodies wearing the related fashion and doing activities that are classed as dark academia. But there is still a long way to go before the community becomes fully inclusive.
There is nothing wrong with committing yourself to an aesthetic or just following a few of its aspects. However, the most important thing is to recognise the community’s problematic actions and to rally others to help spread information on how to make the community more inclusive of minority groups. Due to the fictitious nature of the world of aesthetics, it is down to followers to broaden the genre’s meaning to allow for media created by people across the world to be promoted and to include those who have not been originally associated with dark academia. Some popular influencers within the community have begun to reiterate the fact that dark academia is open to everyone, no matter where they come from, which is helping to improve the way others think and talk about the aesthetic.
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