Welcome to ‘Healing Girl Summer’

Although the summer opened with promises, or threats — depending on your perspective — of a “hot girl summer” and a “hot vax summer,” the surge of the highly contagious Delta variant may have, at least for now, dashed hopes of a hedonistic few months. But there’s another group whose plans weren’t so contingent on the virus disappearing: those who have embarked on a “healing girl summer.”

Helena Honey Selassie, a content creator based in Los Angeles, was an early adopter of the phrase on TikTok. Over the last year and a half, Ms. Selassie had recovered from a binge eating disorder “and became an overall healthier version of myself.” When she posted a video of herself jogging, “someone commented ‘OK hot girl summer’ and it didn’t really resonate with me,” she said. “I felt like my summer needed self-care, learning to love myself and unlearning behaviors that were causing me stress and anxiety. I said ‘no, it’s a healing girl summer’ and it kind of stuck.”

Ms. Selassie, 30, went on to create a healing girl summer series, where she shares the negative thoughts, which she says are the result of a former relationship that was physically and verbally abusive, that come up in her new relationship. She says the series has resonated with so many people that she went from 50,000 to 240,000 followers on TikTok from that content alone.

“‘Hot girl summer’ is about feeling confident in who you are and looking good while doing it. ‘Healing girl summer’ is all about learning to love yourself and eventually love someone else even after you’ve been hurt,” she said. “I’m dedicating the entire summer to healing myself.”

Younger generations were already experiencing a shift away from hooking up in what has been called America’s “sex recession.” A study released earlier this year found that people between the ages of 18 and 23 had significantly less casual sex, or sex without a long-term partner, than the young adults who came up 10 years before them.

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While there are a number of socio-economic reasons at play (including financial uncertainty and an increasing percentage of youth now residing with their parents), for Juliet Wolf, a 21-year-old photographer in Los Angeles, being celibate during the pandemic was a way to reclaim power instead of finding external validation through dating.

“After my abusive relationship, I had a lot of PTSD around men and people in general. I also felt very weak from my chronic health issues,” she said, which is “why I decided to just be alone.”

Ms. Wolf was celibate for almost a year and is now open to dating someone, if they meet a list of specific qualities she’s now looking for in a partner. (The criteria include being passionate about what they do in life and showing an understanding of her chronic illness.)

Lexx Brown-James, a sex therapist based in Pennsylvania, says people may be opting out of casual sex or dating entirely because of a shift in perspectives around safety during the pandemic.

“My clients are asking themselves ‘How do I hook up with this person safely?’ or ‘Is it true that this person is vaccinated and not lying about it?’” Dr. Brown-James said. “Then we take the political climate and socio-racial climate into the picture too and people are asking themselves, ‘Do I really want to be with this person?’ Most often the answer is no.” She said many of her clients in heteronormative relationships, especially women of color, have been increasingly frustrated by the amount of emotional labor required of them during this time.

Arissa Hill, a 42-year-old television personality and culinary artist based in Los Angeles, ended a long-term relationship in early 2020, and decided to take a break from dating to process it. “I have a certain kind of tunnel vision of how I want things to look,” Ms. Hill said, “and if things aren’t looking like how I envision, I’m now not even going to engage with it.”

For Angel Dy, a content creator who’s working on a “changing my life forever” series on TikTok that includes “healthy girl summer” tips, breaking the constant cycle of relationships has been game changing.

“For me, the focus for this summer is getting in touch with myself and healing old dating patterns,” said Ms. Dy, who is based in Los Angeles. “Prepandemic, I was constantly in relationships back to back to back. I was scared to be alone and couldn’t handle my own insecurities. I used relationships to bandage the wound instead of healing it.”

Ms. Dy, 27, is hopeful that she can both continue to share her healing journey and date with a newfound sense of purpose. After coming out as bisexual during the pandemic, she is easing back into dating with a list of 11 reminders (“no person can bring you happiness” and “give attention to your inner child so you don’t lose yourself in a relationship” are among them).

This ability to date while working on your inner growth is something Rachel Wright, a psychotherapist based in New York, wants to emphasize in the “hot girl summer” versus “healing girl summer” dialogue. She views the sex-positive messaging of “hot girl summer” as good, as long as those engaging also have a strong sense of self.

“I think that so often we create an ‘either-or' situation without realizing it can be an ‘and’ situation,” said Ms. Wright. “Our brains are separating self-care with dating when the wonderful narrative would be both. It’s healing and hot girl summer which is taking care of yourself, which also means sexually through solo sex practice or somebody else.”

Mikaela Berry, a 25-year-old restorative justice coordinator based in Brooklyn, has been working to find this balance while casually dating for the first time. After coming out of a two-year relationship recently where they “rushed into things.”

“Before, I was seeking long-term commitment and partnership, so I forced it with people who weren’t the best fit,” Mx. Berry said. “Through dating casually, I’ve discovered in the pandemic that I like being in charge of my own time and schedule and don’t necessarily need someone to interrupt that.”

This also rings true for 41-year-old Shari Siadat, the founder of plant-based glitter company Tood Beauty, who has used the time during the pandemic to cleanse herself “energetically.” For Ms. Siadat, who is based in upstate New York, this involves unlearning previous arbitrary expectations. “I’ve changed as a person, so the energy I want to be around has changed, too, and it’s not based on my prepandemic checklist,” she said.

Ms. Siadat doesn’t feel any pressure to have a “hot girl summer” or engage in casual dating. Instead, she came into this summer feeling proud of the work she did investing in herself. “I’ve never spent so much time rebuilding and rewiring some of the narratives that didn’t serve me,” she said.

Ms. Siadat is, however, open to whatever the world brings to her as we gradually re-enter our communities. “I’m most excited to not be tied to an outcome and see what comes to me.”

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