Edwyna Estime wore a heavy, shapeless graduation gown. It was the color of charcoal and it reached down to the ankles. And yet, she had never felt so warm.
As she walked across the stage to accept her degree, she heard cheers from friends and family. She was a law school graduate – and that, to her, was extremely hot.
“It was a three-year process,” said Ms. Estime, 26, who graduated this spring from Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida. “Three years of awakening and not I feel hot to get to this day where I’m like, ‘Wow, this is hot.’”
“That’s what’s hot for me right now,” she added.
Ms. Estime is one of many people to expand the definition of warmth, taking it beyond its former association with old notions of attractiveness. These days, being warm is no longer just about how you look, but includes how you move around in the world and how you see yourself.
Many who push for a broader understanding of the term also push back against the idea that you have to wait for confirmation from someone else before you feel justified in calling yourself hot. For them, the heat is a self-declaration, and that’s it. Heat is no longer just in the eye of the beholder. It’s a mood. It’s an atmosphere.
Emily Sundberg, a 28-year-old editor and filmmaker from Brooklyn, was eating spaghetti when she realized she was hot.
There was nothing glamorous about it. It was just a solo weeknight dinner at the kitchen counter, and Ms. Sundberg was wearing sports clothes and glasses. But she felt emotional making a video of herself as she tossed the strands of pasta on a fork and managed to fit most of it into her mouth. As she chewed, with Kanye West’s “Jail” playing in the background, she stared into the lens with a blank expression.
Ms Sundberg then posted the seven-second video to Instagram Stories. Within moments, comments started pouring in to his DMs. Her selfie video had “activated a certain lust in my ‘responses guys,’” she said, using the term for people who provide unsolicited comments on social media posts. “You cracked up,” one wrote. “Marry me,” said another.
“You don’t have to ask permission to be hot online,” Ms Sundberg said. “You can take up space, play and create your own power dynamic between you and your audience. I think being hot online is kind of pure and, arguably, what social media was originally for.
Since May, women have been commemorating their graduation by filling their social media calendars with photos of themselves wearing caps and gowns, along with captions alluding to their own warmth. “Real hot girls majoring in STEM”, read the mortar from a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Ariana Nathani, 25 years old podcaster and event planner, noticed the new use of “hot”.
“There’s no one thing that defines what’s hot,” she said. “It’s confidence. It’s the way you dress, the way you present yourself to others. It doesn’t mean you have to be the most symmetrically and physically perfect human being. I feel like it’s not even that desirable anymore. Our definition of attraction and attractiveness has expanded so much.
David Ko, an interior designer in Los Angeles, has a growing list of pretty mundane freaks he defines as hot. They include tan lines, vacations, sugar-free candy, iced coffee, texting back, and trucker hats.
“There is a country side to it,” said Mr. Ko, 30.
This ironic tone comes out loud and clear on social networks. Since 2020, TikTok users have been posting videos of themselves doing activities they think are hot to a snippet of Megan Thee’s Stallion feminist anthem “Girls in the Hood”. The videos begin with an audio clip taken from a Business trainer in which Megan Thee Stallion explains that she can’t talk right now, because she’s busy being sexy. Activities shown in the videos include typing on a laptop, doing homework on Saturday nights and cleaning crevices in student accommodation with sponges and brushes.
nylon reported canned fish as a “hot girl food”, and Vice noted the rise of the so-called “hot girl walk,» a phenomenon initiated by the TikTok influencer Mia Lind which encourages young women to take four-mile walks while remaining focused on self-affirming thoughts in three areas: what they are grateful for; their goals in life and how they plan to achieve them; and how hot they are. “You may not be thinking about any boy or any boy drama,” Ms Lind said in the video which set out the ground rules.
In an interview, she said she wanted to “un-keep” the feeling of being hot with her hot girl walk, keeping it away from male referees who treat everyday life as a kind of beauty contest.
“Being warm is really accessible, more accessible than previously thought,” said Ms Lind, who credited Megan Thee Stallion as an inspiration for the walk. “I think there is a very big recovery of the hot term.”
The hot girl walk has maintained its popularity since Ms Lind posted her explainer video, which has racked up nearly three million views since more than a year ago; the #hotgirlwalk hashtag has racked up over 280 million views.
“The hot girl walk is a state of mind,” said Ms Lind, 23. “One of the main pillars of the hot girl walk is trying to build confidence. It’s an exercise in confronting that negative self-talk and feeling a sense of warmth.
Ashlee Bennetpsychotherapist in Melbourne, Australia, and author of “The Art of Body Acceptance”, also sees the new use of the word as a move towards empowerment.
“It’s a form of rebellion and a way to reclaim the narrative, especially from the damage done by 90s and 2000s fashion magazines,” Ms Bennett said in an email. “I think social media, while it may have its downsides, has actually helped us expand the concept of ‘what’s hot’.”
The word moved away from simply indicating physical temperature around 1200 AD, according to Kelly E. Wright, sociolinguist and doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. “Over time, the ways of being hot included passion, fury, frenzy, lust or a deep interest in something,” Ms Wright wrote in an email.
The word became synonymous with “popular” or “in demand” around 1909, she added, noting that Paris Hilton found that meaning with her early 2000s catchphrase, “It’s hot.” In the 1920s, the meaning of the word was extended to include sexual desirability.
Rachel Elisabeth Weisslerresearcher at the University of Oregon who specializes in linguistics and black studies, said many words and phrases that are becoming common in online speech, including “hot”, “on fleek” and “kiki”, are rooted in BIPOC and queer communities. Over time, they become co-opted and come to be seen as part of the “talking TikTok,” she said, a phenomenon she called “semantic bleaching.”
She credited Megan Thee Stallion as a source of the memes promoting assertive messages for young women and girls, citing her 2020 song “Body.”
“We saw Meg hanging out with ‘Body’ during quarantine,” Dr. Weissler said, “and she said, ‘It’s going to be a hot summer for the girls. We will be happy. We are going to be confident women. A lot of our language shift is coming from women – it’s coming from black people and also from people of color.
For Ms. Estime, the recent law school graduate, the next burning opportunity will come when she passes the bar exam.
“When I get those results in September,” she said, “that will be the hottest time for me.”