When I was in middle school, a friend of mine had incredible style. Her lower-lid eyeliner was jet black and thin like a thread. She wore the coolest studded ankle boots, the most luxurious fur-lined zip-up hoodie, and the most skintight jeggings you’ve ever seen.
I remember asking her on three different occasions where she got her stuff from, and on three different occasions she shrugged me off, claiming that she’d purchased her entire wardrobe “somewhere in Europe.” Sure, b*tch.
Now that I am older and wiser and on TikTok, I know that my friend was, in no uncertain terms, gatekeeping. I asked repeatedly for the keys to the kingdom of the fabulous, and she refused to hand them over. I will admit that it was infuriating, but thanks to a new online trend, I’ve come to learn that the only thing more upsetting than gatekeeping is … not gatekeeping.
When I asked my friend where she got her stuff from, she shrugged me off, claiming that she’d purchased her entire wardrobe “somewhere in Europe.” Sure, b*tch.
“Gatekeeping” is a word that was, until recently, used to refer to the phenomenon of powerful political or corporate entities withholding important information from the public, like government-backed coups and foreign invasions in South America and the Middle East, or Philip Morris keeping their knowledge of cigarettes’ link to cancer under wraps. Today, it’s more commonly used to shame you for not sharing your grandma’s secret chocolate-chip-cookie recipe with the masses. “She’s gatekeeping cookies!” they’ll say.
The Internet really wants you to know that gatekeeping is morally repugnant. The culmination is a viral trend on TikTok that combines three of the worst things out there right now—the word “gatekeeping,” people’s continued and bizarre obsession with sharing their routines, and the normalization of unabashedly calling yourself “hot”—to create the monster that is “Hot Girls Don’t Gatekeep.”
The videos are structured as follows: A photograph or video of a hot girl being hot is overlaid with a compliment she ostensibly gets all the time. You’re so effortlessly pretty! How do you get your skin so smooth? How is your hair so impossibly long and shiny? The hot girl then proceeds to answer these self-inflicted compliments with a collage of different products she uses in order to become the very hot person that she is, as if CeraVe from your local CVS is the only thing preventing you from being a gorgeous, face-tuned blonde.
“Gatekeeping” used to refer to political or corporate entities withholding important information from the public. Today, it’s used to shame you for not sharing your grandma’s secret chocolate-chip-cookie recipe.
The hot girls of social media heard the cries of repulsion leveled against their gatekeeping, and they have decided they will no longer remain on the wrong side of history. Now, instead of passively allowing us to admire (or slowly grow suicidal because of) their hotness, they bombard us with constant, useless, and unsolicited information about their own consumer habits.
If we set aside the semantic tragedy of yet another word in the English language losing all meaning—see “literally,” “trauma,” and “dead”—we can begin to grasp what the viral gatekeeping phenomenon is really trying to accomplish, which is, of course, to sell us products. The aesthetics of the videos were quickly streamlined into glistening images of wellness, as if the algorithm can see inside the souls of social-media users and knows exactly how to whet their appetites.
It has been a decade now since Instagram first began to incorporate advertisements, and, since then, social media has degenerated into little more than an enormous, frantic bazaar. But now, instead of a peddler trying to lure you into his stall to sell you knockoff Ray-Bans or sandals or pistachio delights, it’s a hot girl on TikTok trying to dupe you into cashing out on overpriced creams. Make eye contact with her and you’re bound to spend at least $40.
This is not a metaphor—TikTok’s shtick of convincing us that we are one product away from being the person we are meant to be has on many occasions sold out whole warehouses of products. When it’s liquid blush, I admit the stakes are low, but the same cannot be said of Ozempic, a diabetes medication that people with actual diabetes are struggling to get their hands on because so many people are using it for weight-loss benefits, often without knowing—or caring—about its long-term effects on non-diabetics.
The fact that the “Hot Girls Don’t Gatekeep” TikTok format immediately seeped from the individual profile over to brand accounts (who started posing questions such as How do you get your photos to look so cool? or How do you get your teeth so white? in order to sell filter apps and toothpaste) only makes it more abundantly clear that this discourse was always meant to sell us something.
If we set aside the semantic tragedy of yet another word in the English language losing all meaning—see “literally,” “trauma,” and “dead”—we can begin to grasp what the viral gatekeeping phenomenon is really trying to accomplish, which is, of course, to sell us products.
But brands are brands—they’re always going to capitalize on virality in order to attempt to turn a profit. You, however, are an individual. Yes, I’m talking to you, hot girl, assuming you can indeed read and are reading this. Let’s take a walk. Let’s move away from the moralistic, anti-consumerist angle for a minute and have a real heart-to-heart.
On a personal level, my horror at “Hot Girls Don’t Gatekeep” really boils down to the fact that you are, plain and simple, bragging. And not just bragging, actually, but double bragging. On the one hand, you are bragging about being hot, and on the other, you are bragging about being a selfless person willing to share your secrets with the lowly public, who so desperately need to be more like you in order to realize their desires. It all begs the question, When did it become socially acceptable to be so overtly full of yourself? How is gatekeeping at a micro-level a more frowned-upon quality than immodesty?
I understand that certain girls might be totally conscious of what they’re doing, that they might merely be after the average $54K that influencers can rake in each year, but I am here to make a plea to you, dearest hot girl.
Life is hard, and I’m all for sharing guidance, especially when it comes to something that could really change a life—a great doctor, for example, or a therapist, or sunscreen that won’t give me acne. (Please D.M. me with any leads.) To this day I wish that that girl in middle school had told me where she got her jeggings!
But if you’re going to sell me something for absolutely no reason other than to create more content for yourself—whether it be your hair oil or your perfume—don’t do it behind the mask of pseudo-generosity, as if you’re doing me a favor by subliminally convincing me to smell like you, just so my crush can have an overwhelming sense memory of the hot girl who doesn’t gatekeep he once slept with the second I get into his car.
It’s not a crime to keep certain things to yourself. In fact, withholding certain information in certain contexts, such as which mundane serum you slather onto your skin every day, suggests self-awareness, and, perhaps more importantly, restraint.
On a personal level, my horror at “Hot Girls Don’t Gatekeep” really boils down to the fact that you are, plain and simple, bragging.
A lack of restraint seems to be at the heart of this trend, and at the heart of our culture at large. People’s constant need to publicize what they do and where they spend their time has the capacity to drain even locations of their charm. You see this occur all the time now—social-media accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers stumble upon a place with a whiff of authenticity about it, and although the place means nothing to them, they have to post it.
Of course you’re happy for the business owners in these places seeing the spikes in sales, but I can’t help but wonder what happens when the buzz dies down and all the regulars who had been keeping the lights on for years have mourned and moved on because their favorite cozy neighborhood restaurant has lost what made it special due to the line of people who all look and smell the same waiting outside for a table.
In the end, I’m not qualified to claim that the gatekeeping trend is fundamentally good or bad, but I think I can say that it is a delusion to believe that more (unsolicited) information equals a better society. Are we happier and healthier because we have the entire world of information at our fingertips? Do we understand ourselves or our history any better? Or is everything just more convoluted?
On the consumer level (and this I am qualified to speak on, because, if I am anything, I am a consumer), every “Get ready with me” and “Nighttime routine” video leads not to a feeling of community but rather to a feeling of emptiness and low self-esteem, which leads only to more consumption, which leads to more emptiness because, inevitably, the things we buy won’t save us.
This is all to say, if you have to sell your soul to the Devil and then turn around and sell me something, don’t do it in the name of God. So, please, go ahead and gatekeep your grandma’s cookie recipe—and, more importantly, your perfume.
Cazzie David is a Columnist for AIR MAIL and the author of No One Asked for This, a collection of essays about social media and millennials