As we enter the fall, it can feel like our lives become defined by an endless cycle of homework and classrooms. Yet, instead of being allowed to crumble under the pressure of an overwhelming workload, we’re encouraged to romanticize academics.
Trends such as the Dark Academia aesthetic and Gilmore Girls autumn have re-emerged with the change of the seasons. As #academia on Instagram reaches over 26 million posts, we are constantly exposed to aesthetic edits of perfect grades and color-coded notes, often paired with imagery or audio from popular media such as The Secret History, Dead Poets Society, and even Harry Potter.
Romanticizing university life, whether by dressing in a certain style, taking aesthetically pleasing notes, or wearing wire earbuds in the library, can put students in a more academically oriented mindset. It may allow them to see their schoolwork in a more positive light, making it easier to stay motivated and even alleviating stress.
However, to what extent are these aesthetic trends romanticizing hustle culture, a mindset that emphasizes working long hours at the cost of self-care? By idealizing a concept of education that is born from fictional representations of characters like Rory Gilmore and Hermione Granger, students are in danger of sacrificing their mental and physical health in order to maintain a lifestyle that aligns with the carefully curated academic aesthetic they encounter online.
Perhaps unintentionally, much of the media that romanticizes studying pushes an underlying narrative of the importance of efficiency and productivity. Over time, this narrative can shift students' self-worth to depend on their levels of productivity, perpetuating hustle culture.
Students are pushed to make grueling hours of studying seem effortless. As extreme study patterns and perfect academic performance appear to become an achievable standard, students can feel even more pressure to overwork themselves. However, carefully curated slices of life on social media and fictional representations of academics fail to show the ugly side of this facade of “effortless” performance: the impossibility of maintaining constant productivity, and inevitable burnout, failure, and social isolation.
When academics become too heavily integrated with students’ identity, it can have dangerous repercussions. Defining yourself through this lens can lead you to ignore other facets of your life, such as extracurriculars, hobbies, and interpersonal relationships. In short, you come to see yourself as a student rather than a person. This increases the pressure on students to fulfill an unrealistic set of expectations and makes any academic failure more personal and devastating.
While aestheticizing academia can function as a coping mechanism for dealing with academic pressure, it ultimately creates a dangerous mindset that increases students’ stress. By understanding the dangers of hustle culture and the toxic elements of this aesthetic identity, we can take a critical approach to the romanticization of education.
However, there is a crucial difference between participating in an aesthetic and cultivating an aesthetic identity, and it is possible to romanticize elements of academic life without allowing that aesthetic to define you. There is nothing wrong with participating in these trends, finding enjoyment in buying a new notebook, studying while surrounded by books at the library, or wearing Rory Gilmore's iconic sweater to class — it is simply important not to let what began as a trend escalate into an unhealthy lifestyle.