Messthetics is about harnessing the power of the ugly aesthetic. It’s a rebellion against the order of everyday life that revels in the physicality and soul of human nature.

The visual cues of Messthetics are all physical, the messy, grimy, sweaty and visceral. They’re born out of our desire to break away from the sanitation and predictability of everyday life and be more human. With the velocity of visual consumption ever increasing, we are engulfed by sameness, with very little content standing out or breaking the rules. Consumers feel increasingly disillusioned by advertising, a space where beauty and perfection rule.

This trend has a spirit of unpredictability and wonder, which can enable brands to create powerful campaigns and experiences. Messthetics is a counterintuitive approach with huge potential to stand out in a busy marketplace. In its purest form, Messthetics is about impact rather than imperfection. It’s deliberate smearing, rebellion and play. This trend has grounding in current social and cultural issues that give it a sense of action, power and defiance. The trend drivers include new shifts in visual aesthetics, feminism and digital efficiency.

Credit: Blake Little, Contour by Getty Images

Traditionally, we have always been a society intolerant of mess and ugliness, constantly cleaning up and striving for perfection. Mud, mold and mess were the epitome of ugliness and all that is evil, associated with witchcraft, the devil and death. Our visual literacy is constantly shifting and we are developing a broader and more sophisticated sliding scale of aesthetics. We want to be surprised, shocked, jolted out of the everyday, seeking out extremes to make us feel more alive. The impact of mess and ugliness does just that.

One of fashion’s rebels, Miuccia Prada, is fascinated with ugliness, claiming that ugly is more human: Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting, maybe because it is newer.”

This is beyond the appreciation of flaws; this is a deliberate exploration of awkwardness and vulgarity.

The conversation about modern femininity is no longer something that happens on the periphery. Gender equality is becoming an increasing focus in mainstream culture, with modern icons such as Lena Dunham, Sheryl Sandberg and Caitlin Moran leading the conversation. The expression of femininity now comes in many guises, pushing the boundaries and creating striking and unconventional icons, bringing the inherent power in championing the unconventional. Dirt and mess suggest agency, activity and autonomy.

Emerging photographic talent Maisie Cousins focuses her work on redefining femininity, celebrating the elements of the female form that most other photographers airbrush away. The performative element of her work (she often photographs herself) brings a sense of power and rebellion to it, which is bold and refreshing. Each image is a visceral trip where the images equally seduce and repulse, in all the right ways.

“We have somehow forgotten we are animals. We are meant to climb, crawl, sweat and breathe heavy. That’s what we were designed to do, and we don’t do it anymore,” says Reebok’s Joe De Sena. This sentiment is resonating globally. We’re tired of the predetermined order of our busy lives, weighed down by routines, to-do lists, roles and responsibilities. Our digital lives also tend to rule out serendipity in our day to day. Everything is automated, predictive, scheduled and personalized, making it harder than ever to stumble into the unknown. We crave disorder, rebellion and randomness, and the revelation and wonder they bring. We desire to be more human.

This aesthetic is about reveling in an extreme, intense, comfort-free, primeval state of being. We are seeing brands from a wide range of sectors embrace this visual manifesto, connecting and inspiring their audience, and providing a doorway to discovery.

See which keywords have risen in Getty Images search data that have helped define the Messthetics trend:


Explore more messy, visceral images inspired by the Messthetics visual trend at Getty Images