I know, I know, you’re as sick as I am of the [X]-girl-summer formulation (and let us not forget that we owe the template to Megan Thee Stallion in perpetuity), but allow me to submit one final entry into the canon: Cringe Girl Summer. To put it simply, for the next three months—or however long three-digit temperatures hold out in Texas, where I live—I am going to allow myself to be as embarrassing as possible because…why not?
The idea for Cringe Girl Summer has been percolating in my mind ever since I (barf) fell in love a few months ago, but Cringe Girl Summer isn’t only about freely calling your partner “baby” and posting earnest Instagram photos with long captions in honor of Pride. At its core, Cringe Girl Summer is about “letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” as Mary Oliver has it, or, in other words, being as supremely annoying as you want without worrying about the judgment of those around you. BuzzFeed News writer Katie Notopoulos summarized it perfectly in a recent tweet:
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It feels tenuous to link Cringe Girl Summer too directly to our current political moment, but let’s look at the facts: Abortion rights are being gutted, the LGBTQ+ community isn’t safe, climate change is running rampant, mass shootings are commonplace in the U.S., and the politicians elected to represent us seem more concerned with keeping their jobs than, you know, actually doing them. In the wake of all this, what’s a girl to do except try as hard as possible to enjoy her silly little life? (I’m not recommending sticking your head in the sand but merely noting that embracing cringe can be an extremely effective pressure-release valve when living through troubled times.)
Cringe looks different for everyone, so what’s cringe to one may not be cringe to another, but for me, Cringe Girl Summer is like this: posting about how much I love my partner without worrying (as I previously have) that everyone is making fun of me for being a simp; taking nonstop photos of every good-looking meal I order at a restaurant or cook at home; getting Chipotle as often as I want; trying on makeup at Sephora regularly the way I did when I was a teen; reading Us Weekly at the beach instead of ostentatiously flipping through a long novel by an author with a Russian surname; and—most crucially—deleting Twitter from my phone. Sure, some could say it’s cringe to be on Twitter in the first place, but I’m embracing a no-thoughts, head-empty summer, and abstaining from obsessively refreshing my TL is a huge part of that.
None of these habits are new to me, but for years I pretended to be the Cool Girl I thought I was supposed to be (when it came to my social media presence, anyway), refusing to actually illustrate what made me happy in favor of posting blurry photos of random stuff and tweeting in all lowercase. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but at the ripe old age of 28, I’m simply done trying to impress any of the people who live in my phone with how chill I am. In the immortal words of Cyndi Lauper, slightly paraphrased, people of all genders just want to have fun!
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The official book of Cringe Girl Summer may indeed be Rax King’s Tacky, in which King rhapsodizes about the pleasures of distinctly American franchises like the Cheesecake Factory and Hot Topic. I’m pleased to say that my first date with my partner was at a Cheesecake Factory, and we weren’t there ironically: (1) They make a genuinely good martini. (2) The food tastes good. And (3) The ambiance is right. I don’t want to sit in dark, hipper-than-thou wine bars with a scowl on my face this summer—I want a kind server to call me “hon” and tell me all about the cheeseburger-spring-roll special. Is that so wrong?
As much as I love the idea of feral girl summer, this year I want something else (but not something that in any way resembles the clean girl aesthetic). I want to nurture irrepressible joy, the kind that bubbles up when you’re a kid with no awareness of how the world is perceiving you. When I was little, that joy came from an afternoon spent on the monkey bars with Popsicle juice running down my knees, and to be honest the adult version doesn’t look so different, except that I can no longer hang suspended from my arms at length due to #gravity. Allow me to be so bold as to grant you permission to chase that joy, however it may look for you; cringe is coming for all of us, so we might as well embrace it.