I Tried Making Sense of Guinea Pig Journalism & You Won't Believe What Happened

By Olivia Mastrosimone
Photography by Calem Robertson
odeled by Anna Rychlik, Bridget McDonald, and Alaina Robie

This article has been adapted for the web from our Unity/Uniformity Issue.

“I Dressed Like Meghan Markle For 5 Days & Honestly I’m Still Exhausted.”

“I Dressed Like Every Kardashian Jenner for the Week.”

“I’m 23 and Dressed as Royal Baby Prince George for a Week.”

The list goes on—literally. There are pages of this stuff. We’re talking more than 18 Google Os worth of people trying to look like other people and writing about it. It’s confusing, it’s entertaining and it’s absolutely taking over the internet.

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The idea of “guinea pig journalism,” as coined by Amelia Diamond of Man Repeller, is one unique to 2010s fashion and digital media. It all follows the same basic concept: someone decides, for no real reason, to dress like a public figure, character or decade for a week, chronicles their journey with photos or videos and then writes about how it fundamentally changed them as a person or something. You have your classic, “I Dressed Like Kim Kardashian for a Week” articles on just about every lifestyle publication on the internet, but it goes much deeper. What about the trend where YouTube personalities make videos about dressing like other YouTube personalities? Or the more abstract articles, like Refinery29’s “I Dressed Like a Divorcée In A Rom-Com For A Week?” There’s even a Vice article about dressing like Keanu Reeves that somehow manages to make a compelling statement about value and self-expression. Oh, the nuance!

We could categorize guinea pig journalism as a harmless fluff fad, and just brush it off our content-logged shoulders. Cosmopolitan probably won’t be winning a Pulitzer Prize for “I Dressed like North West for a Week and This is What Happened,” but let’s think for a moment about the purpose these articles serve – outside of being guilty pleasure material.

If you can get on board with the dramatics, there is a dark side to all of this content. The more articles of this type you read, the stronger tendency there is to develop a destructive “if that celebrity can do it, why can’t I?” mentality. Pop culture views an extreme divide between celebrity culture and real people, and focusing on the details of how a celebrity dresses and lives their life for an article exemplifies this unattainable reality. In short, reading an article about a normal woman who fails miserably at trying to look like celebrities who have a fullon “glam squad” at their disposal is probably not the best for our psyches. It’s not that they’re shooting too high, just at the wrong target.

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No matter how high you think your horse is, you can admit that these articles – if anything – are fun. They’re downsized reality TV without the champagne-throwing antics. They’re the articles you read while waiting for a train or spiraling down a content binge at 3 a.m. Besides being entertaining, they have the ability to make us feel good about ourselves, considering the most common thread is that dressing like any celebrity is excruciating. You’ll think to yourself, “being Kim K seems pretty terrible, I mean, I can be seen in public in my pajamas and no one will care! I’m so lucky I don’t have to always look presentable!” and go about the rest of your day with a newfound sense of pride in your day-to-day appearance. If these articles teach us anything, it’s that flawlessness is a farce, and being real is easiest.

The next time you come across one of these pieces, which shouldn’t be too long from now, think about how it’s affecting you. Treat it as entertainment, not a suggestion. You don’t have to stop reading about women being Kim K’s guinea pig. Keep watching that video about dressing like a Real Housewife of New York. Enjoy content responsibly, and be happy knowing you can leave the house in whatever state of pajama-wearing you like. Focus on yourself and don’t strive for unrealistic ideals, unless those ideals are Keanu Reeves barefoot wearing a red trucker hat.