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Could this year be Melbourne’s hot girl summer?

IMAGE AND WORDS BY ANNA RICHARDS

How a year spent under the gloom of COVID-19 might turn into a hot girl summer.

Sometime last summer, 14 friends stood on an Airbnb balcony that pushed towards the ocean and canopied above a coastal town two hours drive from Melbourne.

Between orange-tinged drinks, someone too cross-eyed being put to bed midway through dinner, and sentimental conversations during the early hours, the importance of time spent with the people you love shone clear.

Afterwards, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead, we agreed to make that trip a yearly thing. Since March, those friends have been in the same space as each other only once – during those few weeks in June when Melbourne seemed to be fixed (which now seems like a fever dream).

Plenty of new phrases and terms have been created to describe what we’ve experienced this year. ‘New normal’, ‘self-isolate’, ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘social distancing’ are a big part of our vernacular, all voiced in the hopes of ‘flattening the curve’.

‘Social recession’, the most extreme addition of the new terms for isolation added to the Oxford English Dictionary, describes “a period of widespread deterioration in quality of life among members of a community, especially due to reduced interactions and weakened social bonds.”

It’s worth thinking about a time when ‘WFH’ was a novelty, to focus on returning there. Looking back, the phrases of last year describe a different kind of world – one heaped with fun potential. One majorly-used phrase, more focused on feeling than definition, came to prominence in June last year, only to be threatened with irrelevancy by the events of 2020.

‘Hot girl summer’, the celebratory, flirty and uplifting phrase that became the anthem to (a mostly American) summer 2019, was coined by Megan Thee Stallion, the 25-year-old US rapper (who would later go on to co-coin another, more controversial term with Cardi B).

The specific meaning of hot girl summer is hard to pin down, because the millennial lexicon is so full of insinuation. When phrases are abbreviated from the start for easier typing, the hidden words that make them up can take on new meanings.

‘Laugh out loud’, does not, of course, mean to laugh openly now, but is used to self-deprecate or downplay our own experiences, as a private understanding between two people, or even to blithely show how unfunny a joke is.

In the vernacular of younger online communities, the more formal words that make up terms like ‘smh’ (shaking my head) have faded, leaving room for open interpretation. ‘Hot girl summer’ arrived with Megan’s album Fever and was eagerly adopted by a generation that likes to caption their social media posts with heavy subtext.

The hashtag #hotgirlsummer has been posted on Instagram 1.4 million times since. As with anything public and creative, it ended as a branding tool – Maybelline, Duolingo, Forever 21 and other companies did their part in taking away the fun of the phrase.

After it’s conception, common Google searches about the term (“What are the rules of having a hot girl summer?” and “How to get ready for hot girl summer?”) showed that people hoped to take part in the growing movement but were unsure on the details.

Megan Thee Stallion offered a definition through her Twitter page: “Being a Hot Girl is about being unapologetically YOU, having fun, being confident, living YOUR truth, being the life of the party etc”.

What’s not to celebrate in those traits? Megan’s definition is the sum total of how we hope we could be. But owning your truth and being confident in a permanent sense is a daunting task – allocating a particular time of year to be that empowered seems more plausible.

The pairing of those three words is so positive that the phrase doubles as an affirmation. While feminine, it’s not constricted to gender. ‘Girl’ in this usage means the way that someone might confidently think of themselves.

‘Hot’ and ‘girl’ placed next to each other can only mean one thing: you’re attractive. Whether that attractiveness should come from self-love or from an external source is up to you. Finally, ‘summer’ neatly ties it all together with seductive imagery of long, easy-going days and warm, social nights.

It’s smart and it’s poetic. That it’s the product of a lyricist makes sense. Megan Thee Stallion tapped into a gap in the market for captionable phrases that let the user celebrate themselves with positive affirmation rather than explicit ego.

I didn’t co-opt it last year, but the attractiveness of the phrase in light of a Melbourne winter spent under a tight lockdown is undeniable. As the city approaches the same new-normal that our neighbouring states are currently enjoying, is it possible that a hot girl summer could replace social distancing?

My sense (pending rolling-day-average outcomes) is yes. After all, we’re a social city that thrives on dashing from work to find familiar faces, and we eat, drink and uses public spaces in a sincere and celebratory way. Plus, many of us are unemployed and freed up, which in our previous hustle-culture was probably not hot, but is now at least normalised past the point of taboo.

The tenets of hot girl summer are worthy causes. If case numbers keep falling, then a return to bars and restaurants will be ‘unapologetically us’. Community-orientated and locally organised events are how we ‘have fun’, and leaning into the people who make us laugh is how we can ‘live our truth’.

I’m into it. The way to show our strength and resilience after the events of this year would surely be to spend the entirety of this summer as hot girls.

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