Love & Sex

‘Feral Girl Summer’ is the latest dating trend to make single women feel inadequate

Picture the scene. It’s 6am on a Sunday morning and a young woman is skipping down the street. She is wearing last night’s clothes and a baseball cap she found on the floor of a nightclub loo. Her hair is sticky and smells like cheap white wine. There is red lipstick smudged across various parts on and around her mouth. She is young, wild, and horny as hell.

Introducing “feral girl summer”, the latest TikTok trend dictating how single women should spend the upcoming months. Authentic, messy, and liberated, the concept has been sold as the antithesis to its predecessor: “hot girl summer”, which was coined by Megan Thee Stallion that came to capture the post-pandemic spirit of last year. It trended on TikTok, Instagram, and just about every other social media platform in operation at the time.

The idea was that the summer of 2021 would be a sexual bacchanalia, one characterised by a sense of reckless abandonment to make up for lost time during lockdown. Women who embraced it were supposed to be free, fabulous, and above all else “hot”. Crucially, they epitomised a bastion of contemporary femininity.

But as many observed, the hot girl summer (or hot vax summer, as it was also dubbed in more gender neutral terms) didn’t quite live up to everyone’s expectations. Coronavirus cases were rising steadily throughout, festivals were mostly off the table, and holiday plans stayed in a state of flux. What’s more, there was nothing hot about the summer at all – remember the flash floods in London? Consider all this on top of the rise of FODA (fear of dating again post-lockdown) and it’s no wonder hot girl summer never really got off the ground.

Hence why the arrival of feral girl summer is gathering pace online, creating a much-needed dose of optimism for the months ahead. On TikTok, the hashtag alone has already garnered more than four million views. As for what it actually entails, the spectrum is broad: wearing “tiny outfits”, getting free drinks, and “dancing naked around a fire under the moon”, are all definitions that have been bandied around social media. There’s also a theme of subverting beauty norms, like not shaving your legs or brushing your hair. The general theme is unhinged chaos. Think Fleabag with a sprinkle of someone who has been at Glastonbury for three weeks.

Ostensibly, the feral girl summer is not about dating. But, as with hot girl summer, its definition is dependent on it. According to the dating app Badoo, 87 per cent of female users felt pressured to have a hot girl summer in 2021, with 71 per cent saying that this impacted their dating lives. This year, the app claims that 63 per cent of single women are keen to try “feral dating” because it means they can be their authentic selves. The app defines the concept as “ditching perfection in favour of having a fun, pressure-free dating life, and most importantly, not caring about what you look like or what anyone thinks of you”.

The hype has even reached celebrities. When Rebel Wilson was asked if she’d be having a “hot girl summer” on the TODAY show earlier this month, the actor replied: “I don’t know, I heard this thing called ‘feral girl summer’.” She defined the concept as “when you don’t care”.

Here’s when things get complicated. The feral girl summer is rooted in insouciance. Yes, it’s about female autonomy but fundamentally, it’s about not giving a f***. This attitude is similar to that perpetuated by the cool girl trope, a problematic yet seductive depiction of subdued femininity created for the male gaze. Both concepts exist as aspirational models of womanhood. The difference with the feral girl summer, though, is that it’s been disguised as feminism.

Similar to another recent TikTok trend, “Goblin Mode”, the feral girl summer encourages women to forgo beauty rituals in favour of more radicalised, unkempt aesthetics. You have to be your authentic self in order to qualify, and that, apparently, means throwing away your razor. But why? Because conforming to beauty standards makes us bad feminists? Is having hairy legs supposed to help us feel empowered when we have sex? And if it doesn’t, does that make us a failure?

The feral girl summer perpetuates archaic ideologies around womanhood that are neither nuanced nor helpful. The irony is that despite being marketed as the antidote to hot girl summer, it’s done exactly the same thing: put pressure on women to be someone that doesn’t even exist.

We can all embrace chaos for a night or two but not for an entire summer. Can anyone really go that long pretending not to give a damn? Is it even wise to try? And is there anything less authentic than relentlessly pursuing authenticity?

The feral girl summer is the latest in a string of toxic dating trends rooted in the very patriarchal ideals they seek to dismantle. Ever heard of a “hot boy summer”? Or a “feral boy summer”? Of course you haven’t, because men are fine just the way they are. It’s women who are constantly targeted with trends like these because we are the ones expected to re-shape parts of ourselves in order to fit whatever mould society is championing at the time.

But the thing that feral girl summer is flogging is a lie. Because it’s cool to care. And it’s cool to look after yourself. What’s not cool is consistently making single women feel inadequate by peddling sexist tropes of femininity. Be a “feral girl”, and you’ll wind up hungover, broke, and emotionally drained. Be yourself, and might just have the best summer of your life.

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