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Blueberry milk nails and tomato girl summer: why cute names are controversial

Is the internet finally fed up with aesthetic labels?

Vogue calls them summer’s most-wanted. Glamour says they’re the hottest trend of the season. TikTok calls them a product of America’s individuality crisis and the perception of choice offered to us by capitalism. What could possibly be causing such passionate yet opposed reactions? Blueberry milk nails, of course.

At first glance, blueberry milk nails appear to be your average, slightly summer-y manicure — a pale blue that can be seen as a more subtle alternative to the bold pinks that had a pop popularity in light of this summer’s Barbie-mania. It’s the kind of subdued colour you might gravitate towards when you’re trying to Sofia Richie-fy, but you’re not quite ready to pay salon prices for “quiet luxury clear”.

The origin of the trend is often pegged to celebrities like Dua Lipa, Sabrina Carpenter, and Richie herself — all who have been spotted with light blue nails in recent Instagram photos. But the trouble didn’t start until those light blue nails got a new name — blueberry milk. It’s not exactly clear who made the call that this particular shade of light blue was that of blueberry milked, but once they did there was no turning back. Soon, creators took to TikTok to breathlessly announce blueberry milk nails as the manicure of the summer, only to be met with almost uniform animosity. 

In one video, frequently responded to by dissenters, a young woman announces that blueberry milk nails are now “a thing” (“in case you missed it”). The energy in the comment section below the video can only be described as… tired. “Light blue? For summer? Groundbreaking”, says Luke, “Are y’all okay”, wonders Darcei. “I’m tired”, says Liv. 

In a stitch with over 1.9m views, @biriyanibby_ expresses her frustrations with the label. “It’s like if Sofia Richie and Hailey Bieber fell off the face of the earth tomorrow, would you all be ok?” she asks, pointing to the oversized influence certain famous women like Richie and Bieber have on what’s considered cool to wear — including the most basic elements of self-presentation, like how you part your hair.

Of course, blueberry milk nails are not the first trend to have a name that’s more frivolous than factual. Last summer, glazed donut nails, a sparkly-sheer milky shade, went viral through their association with Hailey Bieber. While there was the occasional commenter reminding us that Bieber did not, in fact, invent pearly nails, the internet’s response was pretty positive — with creators sharing tips on how to get the perfect glazed donut nail yourself. 

Blueberry milk nails seem to lift the veil on the longstanding marketing mechanism of rebranding an existing product with a name that speaks more neatly to a current cultural mood.

So, what changed? Why does the very mention of blueberry milk nails cause comment section casualties, when glazed donut nails just made us excited and eager to try out a new look at the salon? @C.a.i.t.l.y.n, a creator who makes videos applying social and political theory to contemporary culture, offered her opinion on why this trend made the internet “uniquely upset”, in a video that now has over 3m views. She explains that we’ve caught onto how certain products become a “proxy for a certain kind of person” — pointing to another trend on TikTok in which people show the products they're so attached to they’d want to take them into the afterlife. Creating an identity through these products, she says, represents the perception of choice under capitalism, when really they’ve been focus group’d to the high heavens to appeal to you.

Blueberry milk nails seem to lift the veil on the longstanding marketing mechanism of rebranding an existing product with a name that speaks more neatly to a current cultural mood. Whoever coined light blue nails “blueberry milk” was probably just taking cues from the wider trend of associating beauty looks with food items, from glazed donut nails to latte makeup. But it’s likely this move that made blueberry milk nails feel obviously manufactured — by now, we’ve had a few years to reflect on the rise of catchy-but-kinda-capitalist names. Plus, it probably doesn’t help that blueberry milk isn’t exactly a common food, so it feels like someone used glazed donut nails as a template and played “sweet treat” ad libs until they reached a combination of edible items that could adequately describe light blue.

Perhaps intention is where the point of distinction lies for all that redundantly renamed.

Frustration with the unnecessary naming of this summer’s trends can be found elsewhere, too — in spring, moodboards offering inspiration for “tomato girl summer” began to appear on TikTok. Tomato girl summer describes a look supposedly endemic to southern Europe where tomato-based dishes are common — think white linen dresses paired with a flushed, sun-toasted complexion. Just last year, this look was categorised as “Eurosummer”. Like blueberry milk nails, tomato girl summer was immediately a point of contention on the app — with commenters pointing out the sheer silliness of the name and parodying it with moodboards named for other kitchen basics and menu items. See: “hard boiled egg girl”, “pickled onion girl”, “baked beans girl”, and “crab rangoon girl”. The obviously ironic origin of these aesthetics would seem to be a barrier to being taken seriously as trends, but style magazines have reported on them already — offering tips, through affiliate shopping links, on how to get the look, whether you’d like to be tomato girl, or if you’re feeling more like a hard boiled egg girl (skincare enthusiast and pastel lover) or baked beans girl (loves traveling and oat milk iced chai latte).

Perhaps intention is where the point of distinction lies for all that redundantly renamed. Blueberry milk nails seem to have been named in nothing but seriousness. And while the creator of tomato girl summer may have been earnest in intention, the name quickly became fodder for a series of aesthetics so unserious that you can’t help but see it as a parody of the trend cycle itself, and the powers that be behind it. Blueberry milk nails are a symptom of a broken trend cycle — baked beans girl knows she can’t fix it, but she can make fun of it.