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Exclusive: Emma Kotos On Decoding The “Clean Girl” Aesthetic and How It’s Changing Beauty Standards

Interview by Stephanie E.

Image(s) courtesy of Emma Kotos

It’s come as no surprise that in 2023 many are ditching the Kylie Jenner ‘it’ girl look for a ‘clean girl’ aesthetic. But what is it and why is it on the rise? The aesthetic consists of glowing skin, a pinch of blush, glossy lips, slicked-back hair, tote bags, and a simple look—think jeans with a tucked-in t-shirt. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a beautiful look, but can it be more problematic than we think?

According to Dr. Azza Halim, "Some may argue it was started by the likes of Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid whereas others say it is a Latina concept. Regardless of who started the trend it can give positive vs negative connotation as well as unnecessary pressure to meet society’s expectations or trends, especially for GenZ.

My approach has always been to focus on healthy glowing skin starting from the inside and then the outside—nutrition, exercise, and skincare. That to me should be everyone’s goal."

In the world of social media it seems to still be embedded in us that having a beautiful life is what is praised—even if now you’re flaunting a pair of jeans with minimal makeup. Some call it classist, fatphobic, and simply unattainable.

As the Kardashian/Jenner family make their way over to TikTok where this is most prevalent, users can’t help to feel, once again burdened with unrealistic life expectations. Today, we had the pleasure of catching up with Emma Kotos, Influencer, and Model to dive a bit more into this topic and give us her hot take.

SSM (1): Why don't you tell us a bit about yourself—where did you grow up, where are you from, what siblings, and of course, your relationship status?

Emma Kotos: I’m originally from a small town in Connecticut. I was homeschooled for most of my life and spent two years in college majoring in sign language interpretation. I always dreamt of moving to California to pursue my dreams of modeling and acting. When I turned 19, my sister and I packed up our car and drove across the country together to see what we could make happen. I’ve been living in California ever since, and have been extremely happy pursuing these goals.

SSM (2): How did you get started in your career as a model, influencer, and YouTuber? What would you say were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome?

Emma Kotos: When I was younger, there was this photographer I always wanted to work with, just to have some nice photos of myself. When I worked with him, he said he felt like I could really make a career out of this and asked to keep working with me. His name is David Blazze, and his pictures really helped me get on the map.

After moving to California, I spent a lot of time reaching out to people in the industry and doing as much work as possible to get my image out there and build my portfolio. I’ve also always had an interest in acting, as well as a fascination with YouTube. So when I had some extra time I decided to start taking acting classes and posting videos online. After being in a few small productions for acting I’ve realized it’s a huge passion of mine and something I’d like to keep pursuing.

SSM (3): As a model, you've worked with brands like Fashion Nova, do you feel like they adhere to the beauty standards presented currently? If so, how?

Emma Kotos: Brands like Fashion Nova always cater to what is trending at the moment. So I think they’ve done an amazing job at appealing to the trends over the last decade. And I think that they will start to evolve and change to what people are interested in right now.

SSM (4): Why do you think the 'Clean Girl Aesthetic" is becoming an emerging trend?

Emma Kotos: I think over the last decade or so the trend was really makeup brands, having the perfect body type, and always wearing luxury brands. But I think we’ve started to see over the last two years that people are leaning into a more natural look. People are starting to take an interest in skincare and overall wellness. It’s less about showing off and being perfect, and more about being relatable and showing a healthy lifestyle. I am very attracted to this new trend, and it makes me more and more excited about where social media is going in the future.

SSM (5): For a clean aesthetic do you have your favorite go-to items? If so, what are they and where can our readers shop for them?

Emma Kotos: Some of my favorite “clean girl” products are from Charlotte Tilbury and Kiehl’s skincare lines, they have transformed my skin so much that I never feel like I have to wear makeup. I’ve never been too much of a fan of luxury brands for clothing, so some of my favorite places to shop for a more natural and cozy aesthetic are Organic Basics, Everlane, Skims, Levi’s, Reformation, and so many others. Also, so many thrift stores have these brands sitting around for almost nothing!

SSM (6): In your opinion and based on your experiences what beauty standards do you think have been the most harmful to GenZ and how can this be combatted?

Emma Kotos: I think along with the makeup and luxury trends over the last decade, there’s been a trend of people all wanting to look the same. Almost doll-like. I believe unique facial features will start to see a rise in popularity.

I think something that’s been very harmful, especially for the younger generation, is that body types have been a trend. Even though everyone can’t have the same body, everyone’s body is completely different, there is such pressure for everyone to fit a certain standard. I hope that bodies will stop being a trend and that being yourself will be the ultimate goal.

SSM (7): Who do you look to for inspiration in your career and what keeps you motivated?

Emma Kotos: I don’t fit the standard of the typical model—I’m very petite in height and not stick thin. So I am very inspired when I see other models who don’t fit the usual standard. Brands like Fashion Nova and Skims—one of the amazing things about them is that they have a lot of diversity with sizes and also the models that they use.

It can be very difficult to keep yourself motivated sometimes in this industry, but when your work pays off, it’s so worth it. My friends and family are also huge motivators and a big support system.

SSM (8): What is something you wish more people knew about you that they don't get to see regularly? (i.e. hobbies, favorite shows, the process for choosing and creating content, hidden talents).

Emma Kotos: With social media, most of the time you only see the best parts of someone’s life. You see the nice shoot locations, the nice outfits, etc. And it’s hard to assume that a person’s life is not perfect. I’d love to remind people, do not compare themselves to others. They may see it on social media, but even those people deal with struggles too. I’m a huge advocate for mental health, I donate to charities and post links to support pages, especially on holidays. I love to also work with animals. I rescued my dog fuzzy Nelson two years ago now, and I can’t wait to rescue more.

SSM (9): Do you have any future projects you're working on and where can our readers follow you?

Emma Kotos: I’m currently working on some really fun projects for the brands' Playboy and Honey Birdette. I also have some productions I’ve worked on that will be premiering this summer. I can’t wait to share all my future projects with everyone! You can find me on Instagram @emmakotos and there I have a link to all my other platforms.


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