By Premila D’Sa
The first time someone called me a ‘baddie’ I was in a grimy nightclub in Kingston, Ont. My ultimate jam, Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On had just come on, activating an insatiable urge in me to get as low to the floor as possible.
“Ayy, she’s a baddie still,” said someone from the sweaty club crowd. I didn’t think much of it at the time, partially because I had no idea what it meant, but mostly because I was in my Missy Elliott zone.
A couple years later, I was in an Uber on my way home with my friends after a night at another generic, grimy club and I was thinking about the term.
“Yo, what’s a baddie?” I turned around to ask my friends.
No one gave me the concise Wikipedia answer I was looking for, but one of my friends pulled out his phone and opened up an Instagram page. It was called “Baddies of Ryerson Toronto.” The page has a little over 2,000 followers and the bio says that every month, they pick four so-called “baddies” to feature on their ‘gram.
I spent a solid half-hour scrolling through the countless well-posed selfies on the page. These people were good looking, well dressed and looked like they spent weekends in infinity pools hanging out with Post Malone or something. A couple minutes before, I barely remembered the term baddie, but at that moment, all I wanted was to be one.
“If you look at the pages it’s girls that I feel look kind of unique but at the same time there’s a mould to them—it has a lot to do with makeup trends, style trends, whatever’s popular at the time”
Had some sweaty stranger in Kingston not proclaimed me a baddie almost a year ago after all? That’s got to count for something.
The only other time I heard the term baddie was in reference to Baddie Winkle, the 89-year-old Insta-famous grandmother. But Winkle is her own niche brand of baddie so I couldn’t take much from her.
I decided to start my baddie renaissance by getting straight to the source—the Ryerson baddies’ page on Instagram. I found my way into the DMs and quickly shot a message.
“Hey, what’s up,” I said, casually. “So how do I become a baddie and get on this page?”
I waited for minutes, then hours, then days—nothing. If the baddies page wasn’t going to help me, I had to take a more academic approach.
In my initial google search for “what is a baddie?” not much came up besides a couple articles with tips on how to look like one. There isn’t much academic research on “baddie” culture, the thing that came closest was a concise definition from Urban Dictionary which says a baddie is “famous for being beautiful, spreading trends, having on point brows, and an unspoken confidence.”
I also found that other schools have their own baddies pages—and they’re a lot bigger than Ryerson’s. U of T Baddies has 11k followers and posts almost every day. Queen’s University’s baddies page has 27.8k followers, the page bio jokes that they’ve helped increase enrollment by “900” per cent. The pages featured mostly girls, but there were a few guys sprinkled in. The girls mostly posed to show off their curves and faces. There wasn’t much going on with the guys posing, the closest thing to a consistent trend was looking away from the camera while casually flexing every body muscle.
But the more baddie pages I browsed, the more I realized that I wasn’t exactly baddie material. So I decided to turn to some real baddies to figure out what I could do to get there.
Sarah Penman, 19, used to study fashion communications at Ryerson. She dropped out to pursue a career in social media, where she now makes the majority of her income. Her Instagram page has 48.1k followers, and almost every other post is a brand deal. Penman says she’s been featured on so many of “baddies” pages, she can’t keep track.
“There’s definitely a ‘look,’” said Penman, when I asked for tips. “I mean if you look at the pages it’s girls that I feel look kind of unique but at the same time there’s a mould to them—it has a lot to do with makeup trends, style trends, whatever’s popular at the time.”
So what is the look? How do I get it? Penman says it’s pretty simple.
“In Toronto, it’s so Fashion Nova right now—like a Fashion Nova ‘fit and the Kylie cosmetics lips gloss, the big glasses and lash extensions.”
Sabrina Noor, another “Ryerson baddie” and a language and intercultural relations student, agrees that the look has a lot to do with being a baddie. Noor suggested well-crafted long nails, tight-fitting dresses, preferably cropped and slicked back hair.
I asked Penman how she got featured on so many pages.
“They just take my photo and I find out when I get tagged,” she said. She says sometimes pages will contact her and ask permission, but most of them, including the Ryerson baddies page, usually just grab them off her profile.
“But I feel bad for the girls that aren’t used to that,” said Penman. “Because they’re really just putting them out there for any kind of comment that people want to give you.”
Molly Flemming, another Ryerson baddie also found out she was featured on the page when she was tagged. Flemming was featured twice, the second time the page asked permission.
“Two celebrity rappers started following me, which is weird but cool”
“I am not mad about the post,” said Flemming. “But it’s nice to be asked before posting my name and face on a public site.”
Penman agrees, but in her case, the surprise exposure is also a business transaction.
“For people like me that make most of their money off social media, getting me that exposure and having other people come to my page, it’ll come back as revenue eventually.”
Noor says that she takes it as a compliment, and the exposure always gives her a boost in Instagram followers.
“Two celebrity rappers started following me, which is weird but kind of cool.”
Armed with my newly found knowledge of baddie culture, I went home to begin my transformation. I found my most Fashion Nova-esque dress, did my makeup, making sure to define my brow and flick my winged liner as dramatically as I could manage. Then I grabbed my phone, clicked on the camera app and tried to pop some poses. Taking inspiration from the baddies page, I first tried a couple close ups, with a casual head tilt. Then I got a little more advanced, squatting in front of my mirror as baddie-esque as I could. I looked good, but the photos weren’t really turning out well.
Every time I took one, I couldn’t see myself being able to post it online for a plethora of Instagram strangers to see.
I called Penman for some advice.
“It’s such an attitude thing,” she said. “The look matters but it has a lot to with how you act and the demeanour that you have.”
Noor pointed out the same thing when I asked her about it.
“I’ve been told that I hold myself up high and that I always seem confident,” she said.
But I’m a pretty confident person too, borderline narcissistic, so it didn’t seem like that was my problem. It was the look. I just didn’t feel or look like myself and it was throwing me off. As cheesy as it sounds, it really did feel like I was trying to be someone else. The moment reminded me of the few articles I came across in my initial research discussing the problematic aspects of the “baddie” trend. The baddie aesthetic is Instagram-based and heavily influenced by figures like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian. Jenner’s aesthetics have hit popularity with the young instagram demographic, but people have consistently pointed out that she’s commoditized aspects of Black culture. While Black women are discouraged for natural hairstyles, Jenner received acclamation for making “boxer braids” and cornrows fashionable.
You’d have to scroll down the Ryerson baddies page for a little while before you see a Black woman. In her paper, “The “Batty” Politic: Toward an Aesthetic of the Black Female Body”, Janell Hobson, a professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University at Albany points out that the physical features popular on baddies (ie: full lips, pronounced curves, round butts) were historically seen as “grotesque” and “undesirable” on Black women. There’s an obvious racial divide with what we celebrate on some bodies and criticize on others.
“Really just dress for how you want to look. It’s such an attitude”
At the end of the day what I couldn’t really figure out was who decides these things? Is it really the nameless face behind an instagram account? Does this stuff really even matter?
Again, I went back to the baddies. Most of them said they don’t really think about it. And maybe that’s the point, the demeanour of a baddie is that you’re really just out here for yourself, and you don’t care what other people think. And sometimes people celebrate that. Baddies, at the end of the day, just seem like people who are really confident about who they are and what they look like.
Penman says I’m thinking way too much about it. The term is a trend after all, so no one knows how much longer the “baddie” is going to stay relevant.
“It’s just human nature,” said Penman. “It’ll be in and out just as quick as the next person that comes in with a new look.”
She has a point, I’m not rocking the emo bangs that seemed like life and death to me in 2008. But from my brief baddie experience, I think being a baddie is about being confident and doing things your own way, and maybe that isn’t so much of a trend, but rather a movement, a way of self-care.
“Really just dress for how you want to look. It’s such an attitude, I really like as long as you’re confident, you can rock any look whether or not its trending. And really be creative, these pages are posting everyone because they fit this mould, but do your own thing and what you feel confident in.”
So maybe that’s it. You’re a baddie when you want to be — you’re a baddie when you’re studying for a chemistry midterm, or hopping on the TTC, you’re a baddie when you’re in bed with popcorn crumbs. You’re a baddie when you’re dropping it down low to some Missy Elliot, feeling yourself, and for all the days after, even when there isn’t a sweaty stranger or Instagram page to let you know.