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Why are we all in ‘goblin mode’ and what does it even mean?

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

“It’s liberating to just give in, watch the Domino’s boxes stack up, and embrace the greasy little gremlin that resides inside each of us.”

I’m convinced that deep down, everyone thinks they’re one of the grossest people to exist. The things we do in private – wearing yesterday’s crusty makeup out to brunch, spilling something on our duvet and only half-heartedly cleaning it up, or sneakily smearing our grease-covered fingers down the side of the couch – are hardly unique. What unites them is the feelings of shame they illicit.

Of course, when you’re a hungover mess with a bird’s nest for hair, vaping in bed while wearing a stained, ripped T-shirt, you don’t exactly feel your best. But there’s also something freeing about ignoring the all-pervasive shame and leaning into that chaos and mess. Like everything these days, the internet has found a particularly catchy, memorable term to describe this mode of existing: ‘goblin mode’.


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Goblin mode is about being messy, probably unshowered, and embracing the part of you that feels lazy and unmotivated. It’s about acting feral and slovenly and resisting (or ignoring) the pressure we all feel to be productive and presentable.

Existing in a society that prioritises and rewards those who adhere to certain aesthetic ideals – think thinness, clear, luminous skin, shiny hair, a well put together outfit and a sleek, spotless home – can be exhausting. It’s liberating to just give in, watch the Domino’s boxes stack up, and embrace the greasy little gremlin that resides inside each of us. But what rock did goblin mode crawl out from under, and why are we all so taken with it?

Goblin who?

Like many online trends, goblin mode has existed in pockets of the internet for some time. In an article for NBC on the trend, writer Kalhan Rosenblatt notes that the term has been used on sites like Urban Dictionary and Tumblr for several years, but its recent spike in popularity is due to, of all things, a fake viral headline. The headline in question was about actress Julia Fox and her ex Ye, formerly known as Kanye West. ‘Julia Fox opened up about her “difficult” relationship with Kanye West: “He didn’t like when I went goblin mode”’ it read.

Despite it being entirely fictional (Julia herself responded, confirming she has never used the term goblin mode), it spread like wildfire and began featuring in a flurry of TikToks, Tweets and memes. TikTok users, in particular, were drawn to goblin mode, viewing it as a rejection of the viral ‘that girl’ wellness trend that’s permeated the app for the last year or so.

‘That girl’ is about relentless self-optimisation. It peddles a brand of clean living – complete with artfully arranged, vegetable-laden dinners, green smoothies and rigorous exercise routines – that’s unattainable to many people and, moreover, feels devoid of genuine joy and pleasure.

Goblin mode, on the other hand, grants us the space to give in to what we view as our ‘worst’ impulses. As one TikTok user put it, goblin mode is “4am Reddit holes, Diet Coke first thing in the morning, [and] fistfuls of raw pasta as a snack”. We’re all tired and perpetually burnt out (thanks, capitalism), so is it really the end of the world if eating something greasy or sugary in your crumb-laden, unmade bed makes you feel better, even if only temporarily?

@horrible.glitter #feralgirlsummer #thatgirl #aloyoga ♬ Manifest – Meditationclass(remind daily)

To get a broader sense of how others perceive goblin mode, I asked my workmates when they felt they were their most goblin-esque. Izzy Wight, Fashion Journal’s Editorial Assistant, recalled a time when she “wore my disposable contacts overnight so often I got a corneal ulcer and had to wear an eye patch for two weeks” and described waking up and “hitting the vape with your eyes still closed and not a drop of water in your system” as a classic goblin mode activity.

Fashion Journal’s Account Manager, Ella Taverner, had a more controversial, but no less goblin-esque, admission, sharing that she would “floss my teeth with my hair when I was anxious” and “sleep in a cocoon of dirty clothes and empty drink bottles”.

@ending_the_silence Spring resolution #funny #mentalhealth #mentalillness #edrecocery #livelovelaugh ♬ Love You So – The King Khan & BBQ Show

And while the term has faced criticism – some feel that those who have disabilities or live with mental illness are constantly living in ‘goblin mode’ without having a choice in the matter – I would argue that, as flawed as it may be, goblin mode provides many of us with a much-needed reprieve. After two hellish years of trying to keep everything together (and keep up appearances) a break from self-optimisation and bettering ourselves is just what we need.

And, as Izzy so eloquently put it, “I gave up on being ‘that girl’ in my early twenties, when I realised I was disgusting. Not in a bad way, just a healthy amount of goblin. And you know what, I’m choosing to own it simply because men get away with gross behaviour constantly. When you really think about it, being feral is a feminist statement.” So if you’re looking for a sign, consider this it – forget about poreless perfection (it’s unattainable anyway) and embrace the greasy, crumb-covered, but devilishly fun, goblin within.

For more on goblin mode, try this.

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