What “Basic” Really Means

One day during my freshman year, my friends and I had a couple of hours to kill before SING! rehearsal. We took the subway to SoHo, and after 20 minutes of confused zig-zagging through the streets and arguing with both Google Maps and each other, we ran through the door of the popular store Brandy Melville only to find ourselves underwhelmed by the racks of dull, pink t-shirts. We spent about 10 seconds inside, and left shaking our heads and complaining about how basic every clothing item we’d seen was. By “basic,” of course, we meant bland, boring, unoriginal. We also meant mainstream and popular.
It’s a simple as this—“basic” is an insult intended to shame people for their likes and interests. It’s an accusation that we use to scare and mold each other into someone who we deem acceptable. It’s as if one day, all anyone wanted was to follow current trends and imitate celebrities, and the next, we were living in fear of anything that could prompt our friends and peers to call us basic.
Maybe it’s time to stop.
“Basic” is typically used to describe specific elements of arts and culture: restaurants, coffee shops, clothing brands and items, music, movies and television shows, hairstyles, and makeup. But it’s also used as an insult to describe people who like those things.
It’s easy to ignore the dangerous connotations of the term “basic,” because in most cases, we don’t sound malicious when we use it, but people, especially teenagers, use the term “basic” to pressure and alter each other. We’ve all done it: Retaken a selfie, avoided a brand of makeup, or walked out of a clothing store from an internalized fear of being basic.
At least, that’s what it’s like if you’re a girl. Basic is typically directed towards conventional feminine clothing and behavior and is often used by girls as a mean accusation to invalidate their female peers. Labelling makeup, popular feminine clothing, and other girl-oriented culture “basic” fuels the old stereotypes that girls are simple, all alike, and not to be taken seriously. So the label has more destructive potential than one might realize without giving it real consideration.
We all have the power to shape one another. Forcing the “basic” label on each other, targeting girls for having mainstream feminine interests, and using popular culture to shame our peers isn’t the best way to do that. Instead, we should guide each other toward a mix of mainstream and individual interests that complete our identities and help us build confidence, and if that means letting your friends make “basic” choices, let them.

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