“Christian girl autumn” was about mocking white women. Then they stole the joke.

By Alex Abad-Santos

Though climate change may eventually change the world as we know it, for now, summer must end. As it does every year, the humidity eventually relents. The temperature begins to drop. That perpetual coat of sweat over our bodies evaporates. Leaves change color, and everything becomes pumpkin-flavored.

With this change, we say goodbye to what was “hot girl summer” — three months of living without permission, thanks to a perfect phrase from a Houston-born, up-and-coming rapper — and welcome the newest, least expected seasonal meme. Perhaps sensing our need for an inspiring autumnal lifestyle, the internet gods have blessed us with “Christian girl autumn.”

Christian girl autumn stems from a simple tweet consisting of those three words captioning a photo of two brunettes with identical hair, makeup, and big scarves. Its message for the season is not that of self-love, no matter your color or size. Unlike hot girl summer’s insistence on every person’s hotness, Christian girl autumn stands for much of what pop culture resents.

This fall’s iconic “girl” is one of conservative conformity.

Yet this meme represents much more than the homogeneity suggested by the women’s matching looks. Twitter has also made the image a symbol of political myopia, the social hypocrisy of a certain group of Christians, and the country’s push-pull around race and sexuality. For anyone looking to project their frustrations with these concepts onto something, Christian girl autumn came just in time.

These themes are beginning to change, however, as one of the women pictured is taking back control of her narrative. And in doing so, Christian girl autumn has incited a deeper reflection on image culture at large, and why we react to certain people in the way we do.

Christian girl autumn exists only because of hot girl summer

To fully comprehend the eruption of Christian girl autumn is to understand how the past few months became known as hot girl summer.

The term was popularized by Megan Thee Stallion, a rapper who released her first full-length album, Fever, in May. Megan refers to herself as “H-town hottie” or “Hot Girl Meg” online, and her fans are called “hotties.” It was actually one of her fans who coined the term “hot girl summer” on Twitter in mid-May, and, bolstered by the opening to Megan’s song “Cash Shit” (“Real hot girl shit,” it goes), “hot girl summer” soon became a revolution.

The idea is simple: Live the best version of your life, with the intent of enjoying it without any reservations.

“It’s just basically about women — and men — just being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time, hyping up your friends, doing you, not giving a damn about what nobody got to say about it. You definitely have to be a person that can be the life of the party, and, y’know, just a bad bitch,” Megan explained in an interview with the Root in late June.

Selfies on Twitter and Instagram followed suit in the months that followed, as people celebrated themselves for who they are in posts steeped in positivity. And on August 9, Hot Girl Summer finally received its theme song, just in time for the season’s dog days. Megan Thee Stallion released an eponymous tune featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign called “Hot Girl Summer.” (“Got a whole lot of options ‘cause you know a bitch poppin’,” Megan raps. “I’m a hot girl, so you know ain’t shit stoppin’.”)

But just as the summertime anthem dropped, a Twitter user named Giovanni (whose handle is lasagnabby) subverted its inspiration for the looming cooler weather.

On the same day as the “Hot Girl Summer” anthem was released, Giovanni tweeted out a three-year-old picture of influencer Caitlin Covington and her friend Emma Gemma sporting very similar fall-appropriate outfits, accessories, and hair. He dubbed the photo “Christian Girl Autumn” — and it quickly came to embody the antithesis of hot girl summer in more ways than seasonally:

“Why not pretend to be a white Christian girl and mess with that?” Giovanni told BuzzFeed. “I tweeted it on August 9, and the next day I woke up to my phone blowing up.”

The original Christian girl autumn tweet was retweeted more than 12,000 times, thanks to how easy users found it to mock. It even drew the pleasure of well-known figures, like author Roxane Gay.

While many jokes riffed on the unoriginality of how these girls looked nearly identical in the picture, some of the more popular tweets affixed a personality type to them: Republican, anti-gay, casually racist, blatantly racist, and hypocritical Christian among them.

The gist: These women, despite their manicured appearances, were capable of extreme ugliness.

If hot girl summer is meant as affirmation of our intrinsic beauty and worth, then the core idea of of Christian girl autumn is that it isn’t something to be held up — that we’re all too smart, too cool, too cultured, too empathetic, too tasteful to live in a Christian girl autumn-influenced way. But the diversion from superficial mockery into broad assumptions about these white women’s political views soon met its match. And that was the Christian girl autumn girl herself.

Christian girl autumn went from a joke to an inspiration, in the spirit of hot girl summer

Just days after the initial joke, Caitlin Covington, the influencer whose picture Giovanni took and memed, tweeted a defiant comeback. She leaned into her autumnal yearnings and “uninspired” look, and ironically posted four other pictures for Twitter to make fun of — ones that looked “good,” she said:

Covington’s response was well received, winning over people who were originally keen on making fun of her. She followed it up with tweets stating how she wasn’t a Republican and that she was an ally of the LGBTQ community, refuting social media’s perception that she must be a conservative, based on her style and beliefs.

The meme “doesn’t bother me,” she told BuzzFeed. “It’s funny. It’s the world we live in now!”

Covington’s response — to lean into the joke and laugh at herself — coupled with how her actual politics and beliefs were more similar to those of the people who memed her, won over the internet. Suddenly, it was okay for Covington to be an aspirational figure, a hot girl summer starter for a different set. They memes flipped the other way, anointing Covington a queen, legend, and goddess — each tweet trying to outdo the ones before it, as is social media’s wont:

Though the outpouring of goodwill toward Covington is a reminder of how the internet can be a great place for supporting each other, the questions still remain: Would people still be mocking her had she not reminded them that she’s actually a real person with thoughts and real feelings? And would the situation have played out differently if Covington wasn’t as graceful about the jokes, or was a Republican or homophobic?

Christian girl autumn is really about how we dislike a specific kind of white woman

The original take on Christian girl autumn feels like a different, sharper permutation of the “basic bitch” trope, an increasingly common designation for women considered to be mainstream trend followers, to the point of mockery. While pop culture also commonly makes fun of cargo shorts-wearing men for being unstylish, there’s something more insidious in how women who subscribe to things deemed unserious and generic are considered to be trifling members of society.

“The basic bitch — as she’s sometimes called because it’s funnier when things alliterate, and because you’re considered a poor sport if you don’t find it funny — is almost always a she,” Noreen Malone explained for the Cut in 2014. “The word basic has become an increasingly expansive stand-in for ‘woman who fails to surprise us.’”

Railing against basic bitches (or anyone who matches the Christian girl autumn aesthetic), as Malone points out, isn’t so much about pointing out the evil of capitalism, conformity, or religion, but rather that these women have subscribed to the wrong versions of each one of these categories. A more “interesting” culture has determined that these women have chosen the wrong things to conform (in this case the Céline Luggage bag), practice the wrong religion (hypocritical Christianity), and been inspired by the wrong people (Christian girl autumn-styled influencers).

The takedown of Christian girl autumn reflects a certain set of frustrations many people have about white female privilege and a way of life that many don’t approve of. Covington surprised her critics by revealing that she, perhaps, isn’t so different from them. Like the girls of summer, she loves herself. She loves others. And she wants to share that love.

Covington’s Christian girl autumn ethos most closely reflects that of, well, the hot girl summer creator herself.

“I like to make everybody feel included. I want them to know, like, ‘Hey, girl, we could coexist. I’m not a bitch. Let’s hang out,” Megan Thee Stallion told Variety this month, after the release of her song. “Let’s do some cool shit. Let’s have fun.”

Hot girl summer was emphatically about not putting people down or pitting girls (any boys) against each other — not even Christian girl autumn. And the new meme seems to be following suit, despite its beginnings as a target for many to dump their frustrations with white, heteronormative, conservative culture at large. But it seems the best way to spend the upcoming season may be by embracing the Christian girl autumn philosophy after all.