Women of color use social media to reflect on their 'white girl phases' in high school: 'I really wanted to fit in'

On Feb. 6, Tina, a Vietnamese American TikTok creator who goes by the username @tinacolada21, posted a video asking other women on the platform if they had gone through a “white girl phase” like she had. Having “an obsession” with younger-skewing clothing line Victoria’s Secret Pink, taking daily Starbucks photos and packing American lunches were defining characteristics of what Tina considered to be the “white girl” experience.

A “white girl phase” is when someone tries “to conform to stereotypes that white girls have in order to fit in with them,” Tina told Yahoo News. Being from Minnesota, Tina said she believes she had this phase because she attended a predominantly white school, and “you’d only fit in if you were a stereotypical ‘white girl.’”

She added: “It was hard to bring my culture into topics because a lot of people didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand.”

Credit: @justwhitegirlthings via Tumblr
Credit: @justwhitegirlthings via Tumblr

In fact, Tumblr accounts like “Just White Girl Things” and “Super White Girl Problems,” which were active in the 2010s, were dedicated to sharing a series of “clichés” pertaining to the aesthetic that Tina describes.

Drawn to 'stereotypical, middle- to upper-class white culture'

Dr. Marinette Asuncion-Uy (@the.brown.psych) is a Filipino American psychologist and social media creator in Florida who has worked with teens of color who have also gone through this so-called “white girl” phase. Asuncion-Uy defines the phase as a period in which young people “may embrace attitudes, behaviors, language, fashion, beauty standards, aesthetics and social beliefs predominantly associated with stereotypical, middle- to upper-class white culture.”

Social media’s “prevalence of narrow, Eurocentric beauty standards,” a desire for acceptance among peers and the legacy of colonization that contributes to “internalized racism and a devaluation of one’s cultural heritage,” Asuncion-Uy told Yahoo News, are among the key factors that influence this phase.

Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups are compared,” the National Museum of African American History and Culture writes on its website. The “normalization of white racial identity” in American history, the site argues, has fostered the belief that “nonwhite persons” are “inferior or abnormal.”

‘It was just the way we were’

“The majority of my friends were white, and if they weren’t white they also acted like they were white. It was just the way we were,” Chinese American TikTok user @mochi.eggtart says in a video she posted on Feb. 16. She, like Tina, admits to having gone through a “white girl phase.”

“I really wanted to fit in with what I thought was ‘cool,’ and this was [the] early 2010s before being cultured was the new norm,” @mochi.eggtart, who grew up in a California suburb, told Yahoo News. “I think that lack of representation also played a big role [during] that time because as a middle schooler, I never saw Chinese people being highlighted positively in [the] media. I also grew up in an immigrant household and [wasn’t] surrounded by my own demographic, so white crowds ended up being [what] I gravitated to.”

Decolonization and fiercely embracing your identity

Asuncion-Uy believes “decolonization” — that is, the practice of freeing spaces from the cultural and social impacts of colonization — is integral to moving past the “white girl phase.”

“Among the many things that decolonization teaches us are discovering our roots, learning about our history, including the struggles, oppression and sacrifices our ancestors went through so that we can be heard and be seen, and recognizing the strength they passed down to us,” she told Yahoo News. “It involves critically evaluating the portrayal of race and culture on social media and seeking out media that celebrates diversity and provides authentic representation.”

Practicing “fierce” self-love and recognizing your “unique presence in this world” Asuncion-Uy added, are invaluable.

“If you're grappling with identity, sharing these feelings within supportive family networks, peers and community spaces that offer validation and understanding is vital. Consulting a mental health professional who appreciates the complexities of racial identity can also be incredibly beneficial,” she added.

Looking back, Tina regrets going through this phase and letting outside influences make her feel ashamed of who she is. The hope, however, is that young people of color will continue to grow more comfortable taking pride in who they are.

“I’ve learned to embrace and love my Vietnamese culture so much,” she told Yahoo News. “I’m so glad that Asians are getting more attention in the media nowadays. I hope that that will persuade the younger generation to embrace being Asian, even if it makes you different in an all-white school.”