Woke, Hustle, Girlboss, Influencer – 2010s are Officially Out of Fashion

Have the aspirational trends of 2010s become the embarrassing, socially unacceptable trends of the 2020s? Let’s discuss them one by one – the rise and fall of the woke, hustle, girlboss and influencer cultures.


The 2010s were a wonderful time. It was the rise of the gig economy, when millennials could find their dream jobs, whether it was becoming a YouTuber or an app developer. It was the time of going over and above your duties at work, because if a youngster like Mark Zuckerberg could become a billionaire, so could you. We’ll worry about burnout later – first, let’s make a startup or travel the world!

The popularity of social media brought the world on the same platform to share their experiences. Everyone found a place to belong. It gave power to the marginalized communities, everyone had a voice, and people were vocal.

But it turns out, being too vocal isn’t great after all. Cue in 2020s, and everyone’s offended. Social media, which started as the platform to share knowledge and learn from each other, turned everyone against each other. Either that, or we’re all lonely, dissatisfied, anxious or depressed.

It seems that every year, there are new terms that are politically incorrect, and you can’t say anything anymore without offending at least one person. Or getting cancelled.

So how did we get here? In fact, some of the most popular terms from the 2010s were woke, influencer, girlboss and hustle – things one aspired to be or do. But not anymore. These have become so socially unacceptable, that things you were proud to be just a few years ago have become embarrassing now. The culture has shifted towards quiet-quitting, decline of the girlboss and calling out woke toxicity.

Well, before this article gets me cancelled, let me explain everything!

Wokes: The Awakening

The term “woke” isn’t actually from the 2010s, but it’s been around for decades, and was originally used as slang in African American communities. However, as many content creators across social media began calling out social injustice, it became more mainstream in the ‘10s.

By the mid 2010’s, it had become a buzzword in pop culture and media, being used to describe those who are more aware of and speak up against social issues like racism, sexism, and discrimination. It kind of became a thing you wanted to be. Or you were proud to be.

However, as the “woke” people became more and more vocal (read angrier), others began criticizing the term. Initially, the only complaint was that simply being “woke” wasn’t enough and that it’s important to take concrete actions to bring about real change.

woke-culture voice politics movement

To Woke or Not to Woke

As the woke people’s criticism had the power to get people fired, businesses shut down or even get shows cancelled, the divide between the wokes and those getting cancelled by the wokes grew. Netflix even released a memo in May 2022, which said, “[…] You may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.” This is essentially telling its ‘woke’ workers to quit if they are offended.

Elon Musk has probably been the loudest hero of the anti-woke movement, especially since acquiring Twitter. He calls it the “woke mind virus”. Also, in November 2022, he mocked the woke culture at pre-Elon’s Twitter when he found ‘#StayWoke’ tshirts at Twitter office. Then he had them changed to “#[email protected]”.

anti woke movement elon musk stay @work

Thanks to events like this, in 2023, we’re seeing a rise of many social media posts and YouTube videos about the “problems with woke culture”. Personally, I’ve seen a few of these from both millennials and Gen-Z social media users.

One of the top problems cited is the fact that “woke” people react too strongly against a social injustice, focusing more on labelling the wrong-doer than starting a conversation about knowledge-sharing or improvement. They often call someone a racist or sexist based on a single action, even if it was in the past, or if it was as a result of a bias.

Another issue people are talking about is that the woke minds try to change the status quo based on a single experience, with the reasoning to make something “inclusive”, regardless of it being harmful. For example, some people of the LGBTQ community want to cancel the usage of the term “mom and dad” in schools, and use “parents” instead. Even the black and African-American community has spoken against the wokes being too woke!

There can be many debates around these topics. Depending on where you belong on the “woke spectrum” or how your experiences have shaped you, you may have different viewpoints about this.


The Rising Influence of the Influencers

The earliest influencers became popular in the mid to late 2000s, when YouTubers like Ryan Higa and fashion bloggers like Chiara Ferragni gained millions of followers on their social media channels. Many rose to popularity just by posting blog posts or videos about their daily lives, funny moments, fashion or even pets.

Soon enough, being an influencer became more than just a hobby, as brands started paying them to advertise products on their channels to their loyal and ever-growing following. It became more and more common for young millennials to start a YouTube channel or run an Instagram account as a side-job in addition to their main jobs.

The media attention gave rise to different types, such as fashion influencers, travel influencers, momfluencers, and so on. When people realized that many influencers did it as a full-time job, it became one of the coolest career choices. The intrigue of earning thousands or even millions without having any “real skill, traditionally speaking, just by “doing nothing” made influencers a subject of many headlines marked both by awe and jealousy.


By the late 2010s, many mainstream A-list celebrities like Will Smith also grew popular social media channels, in their efforts to stay relevant to young viewers. On the other hand, social media influencers like Kylie Jenner became more popular than A-list celebrities (and earning a lot more).

The I-Word

With their content reaching millions of followers, influencers even have the power to make real change. However, since many of these followers are young minds, the change needs to be positive, putting a lot of responsibility on influencers. For example, thanks to beauty influencers, the age at which young girls start wearing makeup has gone down from about 14 to 11, according to a survey.

Influencers became relatable, the celebrities you could connect with on a personal, deeper level, or at least have the illusion of that. People tend to trust the word of an individual they “get to know” rather than that of a corporate. This is the power of the influencers, and also their trouble.

Influencing became a business, but with one caveat – brands wanted their ads to look like the influencers’ regular content. In other words, no disclaimer for ads. And so started the downfall of the influencers. The content that was previously authentic and relatable, became fake, which was created just to get more clicks, dive sales for their sponsors and the audience didn’t know what to trust anymore.

Also read: Fashion Influencers: Fashion’s New Voice or Just Product Catalogs?

Another reason for influencers’ loss of trust with their followers was that to fast-track their way to find sponsors, many new influencers got paid followers and engagement, including fake comments, fake publicity stories and even fake sponsored content.

influencer culture microcelebs fake social media

Lastly, some of the influencers also try to create the personal brand of a “guru” or an expert, creating informative or educational content often in a field they’re not fully qualified. In some cases, influencers also encourage their followers to use products that they may not have used themselves. One of the top examples is Kylie Jenner who promotes weight-loss tea Fit Tea, while many surgeons have speculated she likely got fat transfer surgery done.

In short, it seems now that every influencer is trying to sell something to you, and when the authenticity is lost, that content looks more boring than advertisements. Because of the decline in the reputation of this profession as a whole, many people have started calling themselves “content creators” shying away from being called influencers, or as some say, “the I-word”.

The Girlboss Era

The term “girlboss” was first coined by Sophia Amoruso, founder of American fashion retailer Nasty Gal, when she published a book by the same name in 2014. In the bestseller, she talks about her own experience building a fashion empire from the ground up, and how she did it all on her own terms.

So girlboss became a popular term to describe a woman who is unapologetically herself, takes charge to fulfil her ambitions, both in career and in personal life. The term soon evolved to gain a broader meaning, describing any woman who is ambitious, assertive, and successful in whatever she’s doing.

Netflix launched a series Girlboss showcasing Sophia’s success story. And after that, Girlboss-ism became a whole movement of sorts, with events, podcasts, and a blog-cum-shop dedicated to supporting and inspiring women to be their own girlbosses. And of course, lots of merchandise. Mugs, notebooks – young women everywhere wanted to call themselves girlbosses.

girlboss women ambition nastygal jobs empowerment

Why were so many women buying into this movement? Well, the ideology that was sold through the girlboss culture was that up until now, women had to be more like men, more apologetic for being themselves to succeed in the workplace, to be able to stand next to men. But now, it was time to take what was rightfully yours on “your own terms.”

Girlboss and Capitalism: Death of the Girlboss

As the popularity of the term “girlboss” grew, soon came the naysayers, as they often do on the internet. We have reached a point where girlboss has become a polarizing term. Many young women still want to associate themselves with the term. Search “girlboss quotes” and you’ll find a slew of websites offering empowering quotes in the results. ‘#girlboss’ has been used 26 million times on Instagram.

However, now many voices in the media are criticizing the term. They are pointing out how instead of uplifting young women, the girlboss movement has profited off of them.

It could have started with the branded merch. You see, when you commoditize a whole ideology, then it’s a business, not a revolution. People began to realize that the girlboss culture was selling them something through the empowerment façade.

But no, it started with the lawsuit against Nasty Gal for firing four pregnant women. As more and more women disclosed that the company was a “toxic” workplace, it finally filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

Another common critique is in using the word “girl”, the term stems from internalized sexism. Personally, this is one reason why I would never want to call myself a girlboss. A CEO is a CEO, not a boy or a girl. If a young man becomes successful, calling him a ‘boyboss’ would sound condescending. It would be absurd and insulting. So why the need to put gender into a position of leadership, especially one that infantilizes women?

leader-not-girlboss female workplace emmpowerment

Yet another criticism is that the girlboss culture promotes white female privilege. And this is another reason why I dislike the term myself, and couldn’t watch the Netflix series beyond the first episode.

The girlboss culture focuses too much on individual success and personal ambition on a woman’s “own terms”. Whereas leadership is all about uplifting others and thinking about the whole team. Being a successful entrepreneur is a humbling experience, there’s no place for your bossiness there. You have to motivate employees, empathize with your customers and patiently find investors.

The Hustle Culture

While we’re at the topic of entrepreneurship, we have to, of course, mention the biggest career trend of the 2010s that is completely controversial in the 2020s. With the rise of the young billionaires, especially in the Silicon Valley, becoming an under-30 founder of a unicorns became the new ambition.

Moreover, the media touted millennials to be the “lazy generation”, so they wanted to prove themselves by going over and above their duties at work. The middle class millennials began equating success with earning more than their salary. Thus, the culture of having side jobs began, and 2010s became the decade of hustle and gigs.

hustle culture work career sde gigs gen z

Many YouTubers and motivational gurus became promoters of the hustle culture, which became a movement in itself. People loved calling themselves hustlers, and the decade saw the growth of companies that enabled hustling and side-gigging. Uber, for example, although started before 2010, enables independent drivers to earn.

Here in India, Urban Company gives service professionals like plumbers and beauticians the chance to earn, and delivery apps like Swiggy employ tens of thousands of delivery people. Similarly, Fiverr connects creative and other freelancers with clients. I’ve personally talked to many of these independent workers and freelancers, and a lot of them say they work in these services as their second job.

Stop the Grind

All of this sounds nice – so what could possibly herald the decline the hustle culture?

Well, quiet quitting, that’s what. A term popularized in 2022 on Tik-Tok, quiet quitting is the phenomenon when a worker just fulfils their given responsibilities at a job, instead of going above and beyond what’s expected. It seems suddenly that everyone wants to do this instead of hustling now.

What hustle culture promised was financial stability, but what it bequeathed us instead was burnout. Burnout, which, by the way, got listed by WHO in its International Classification of Diseases in 2019. Even worse, “passion fatigue” is what happens when you get burnout specifically by working at a job you really love, where work is not “supposed to feel like work”.

According to an article published in Harvard Business Review, when you’re passionate about something, your work tends to become all-consuming, and you lose work-life balance, leading to a faster burnout.

burnout culture at work overworked tired physical stress

As the decade has shifted, so has the youngest generation at the workplace – from millennials to Gen Z. According to a study by Gallop, “Sixty-eight percent of Gen Z and younger millennials report feeling stress a lot of the time.” A 2022 survey in the U.S. revealed that 82% of Gen Z employees find it important to have mental health days; and that burnout would cause Gen Z-ers to quit.

As Gen Z-ers observed millennials getting burnout by working harder at their jobs, they came to expect more from workplaces such as flexible timings and more time off. On top of that, the Covid pandemic made employees everywhere demand a hybrid working model.

The shift has been as quiet as the term itself, as more and more employers, myself included, have come to expect different things from our employees. Going beyond the regular duties is now extraordinary, not a basic expectation. And that’s good.

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