A compendium of things that are cheugy and uncheugy. Of things that are uncheugy but should be.
Words by Raquel Fernández Sobrín
There are words that get in your way. “Cheugy” is getting in my way like pregnant women after a positive test result, cat pictures on Instagram or like someone else’s cigarette smoke when trying to quit. I first came across “cheugy” in the New York Times in April. Just a few days later, that chewable word was repeated to me over and over again all over TikTok. Yes, it should have been the other way around. Yes, as a citizen of the world, I am comforted by the idea of having learned of the existence of “cheugy” in a newspaper first rather than on the social network of the little bit of this, little bit of that.
Since life put this one easy to me, I’ll make it easy for you too: “Cheugy” is old-fashioned. Skinny jeans, anything in a Starbucks cup, motivational phrases as long as those motivational phrases don’t border on the idea of affirmation, because manifesting (today) is the opposite of “cheugy”. In short: “cheugy” is everything that used to belong to teenagers and twenty-something millennials back in the day and is now used by centennials of the same age to make jokes about them. The funny thing is that the little word was coined by a teenager, Gaby Rasson, in 2013, when everything that is now “cheugy” was not. It spread locally at the time and resurfaced on TikTok in late March to land in the “For you” pages of who knows how many people of its 689 million users worldwide.
Some of the young women who have used the term on said social network (it will reach Instagram sooner or later, with every TikTok trend it’s only a matter of time) are guilty of cheugynism. You only have to look at this summer’s trends to realize they are as cheugy as the very idea of “trend”: in 2021, ten years later, hibiscus prints, terry cloth, and jaw clips are back. Generation Z is consuming these trends through low-cost giants – call them Shein, AliExpress or Amazon – and I can’t think of anything more cheugy than considering that a 5-euro dress comes with no consequences. Actually, yes, there is something more cheugy.
Like everything that happens on the Internet, “cheugy” has its good side and its bad side. It’s good when it’s used to make fun of oneself, bad when it’s used to humiliate others. Judging people by what they eat, wear or like to see written on their breakfast mug is pretty cheugy. At this point, when we have assumed that we are free to do whatever we want – as long as what we want doesn’t make others less free – that nothing defines us and that we will go back to wearing low-rise trousers, it is surprising that the generation that carried these ideas is the same one that points its elders for their aesthetic philias. Rejection of what came before is the most obvious way of evolution but sometimes it just feels we are moving backwards.
Maybe bad habits don’t entirely go out of fashion. Perhaps they are doomed to repeat themselves, such as biased reporting every time there is an escalation of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the leaders of easy jokes or the politics of extremes. Because that is sticking to us as chewing gum on the sole of a shoe. So cheugy.