‘Chav checks’, heavy make-up tutorials, and compilations of the UK’s ‘chavviest’ places are popping up, as a new generation revives the divisive trope
In early 00s Britain, reality television and comedy shows profited off a certain type of sterotype: the ‘chav’. From Catherine Tate’s waxy-haired Lauren (“Am I bovvered?”) and Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard (“Yeah but no but...”) through to series like Big Brother, The Jeremy Kyle Show, and X Factor, it was – for years – in vogue to demonise the working class.
As writer Jason Okundaye recently pointed out in an article for Tribune, the then-prime minister Tony Blair’s “regular attacks on ‘scroungers’, ‘chavs’, single mothers, asylum seekers, and hooded youths provided a sheen of respectability to TV executives who made a career out of mocking Britain’s most marginalised”.
Defined as “a young person characterised by brash and loutish behaviour, usually with connotations of a low social status”, ‘chavs’ have seemingly made their return to popular culture, this time on TikTok.
“Hey, yo,” opens one frequently used sound clip on TikTok, “chav check.” Used as a backdrop to clips of – primarily – young girls with fake eyelashes, puffa jackets, and drawn-on eyebrows, the sound is just one of many TikTok references to the British ‘chav’. Grime artist Millie B’s diss track about fellow rapper Sophie Aspin is the most popular sound, typically used to soundtrack ‘chav’ make-up tutorials. Both Millie B and Aspin were widely ridiculed after becoming British-famous for appearing in a documentary about regional grime, mostly made by white working class young people. Other videos include POV videos of ‘chavs’ in school bullying and berating other students, and compilations of the ‘chavviest’ places in the UK.
“For today’s teens, too young to have encountered the first ‘wave’ of such representations in the early/mid 2000s, this is something new and ‘humorous’,” says Majid Yar, a professor of criminology at Lancaster University, and co-author of a 2006 paper titled, The ‘chav’ phenomenon: Consumption, media, and the construction of a new underclass.
Yar believes the ‘chav’ stereotype has returned in part because of the nature of TikTok as a platform, which “lends itself to the making and sharing of such supposedly ‘humorous’ skits”, but more broadly because “this kind of mockery is never far from the surface in societies that equate class-based culture with social worth”.
For those creating ‘chav’ content, however, there seems to be a more naive motive behind the clips. “People were already turning themselves into characters on TikTok, and this was the next wave,” explains 19-year-old Rowan, who’s got over 12k followers on TikTok and has joined the make-up tutorial side of the trend. “It’s funny because it’s popular in both England where it’s a familiar scene, and in other countries where they’re shocked to know that it’s actually realistic.”
The videos on TikTok are mocking a very British phenomena, but have been picked up by creators across the world. US creators are sharing their own versions of the British ‘chav’, which see users donning heavy make-up and sportswear, ranking “TikTok chav songs” (grime tracks), and explaining what a British ‘chav’ actually is.
“For today’s teens, too young to have encountered the first ‘wave’ of such representations in the early/mid 2000s, this is something new and ‘humorous’” – Majid Yar, criminology professor
“All it needs is for one such representation to gain traction,” continues Yar, “and this then starts an imitative cascade with others joining in with the ‘fun’.”
Northampton-based Rowan has shared video of herself transforming into a ‘chav’ with the caption, “British chav starterpack”. Rowan, whose clip is soundtracked by Millie B – she says the artist is “a hit with students” – describes a ‘chav’ as “someone that hangs around parks in Canada Goose and wears way too much make-up”.
19-year-old Hollie, who lives in Newcastle and has over 71k followers, has done both a make-up tutorial – channelling her “former chav self” – and a POV video, the latter of which she says is “based on true events” and sees a ‘chav’ at school mocking a goth. “Chav videos are popular because everyone knows at least one ‘chav’, or may have gone through a ‘chav’ phase themselves, making the videos relatable,” Hollie explains. “I’m labelled as ‘alternative’ or ‘goth’, so I’ve had some funny conversations with chavs regarding my looks because they’re so different.”
According to Hollie, a ‘chav’ is “someone who dresses a certain way, usually wearing branded sportswear like Nike or adidas”. She adds: “They hang out in large groups, usually speak in a strong local accent, and use lots of slang.”
Middlesbrough-based 18-year-old Aiden also creates ‘chav’ POV videos, amassing 59k followers with his recurring character, Whitney – a blonde school girl with thick eyebrows and an adidas tracksuit. Although he says a ‘chav’ is someone “who can be quite messy” and doesn’t “take care of their appearance”, he adds that it isn’t all about looks. “The personality is what defines someone as a ‘chav’ – someone who’s rude, loud, fights all the time, and bullies people.”
Like Hollie, one of Aiden’s videos sees Whitney asking the ‘goth’ girl questions about her appearance. Aiden debuted this persona in a video titled, ‘Council estate – episode one’, which sees Whitney introduce herself and answer fake interview questions about her life. “No one has done something like that,” he tells Dazed. “When people are creating chav TikToks, they typically stick to a POV video; I wanted to create a series about council estate life but in a character form.”
Having grown up on a council estate himself, Aiden wanted to portray “real scenarios that have happened to me”, but acknowledges that these clips could be interpreted as classist. “I apologise to anyone who does feel that way,” he says. “I’m just on TikTok to make people smile. I love what I’m doing and I hope the whole of TikTok does too.”
“Chav videos are popular because everyone knows at least one ‘chav’, or may have gone through a ‘chav’ phase themselves, making the videos relatable” – Hollie, TikToker
London-based make-up artist Sabrina – who creates ‘chav’ looks to “make fun of the way some girls do their make-up, as most of these girls have the same attitude” – also says she doesn’t intend her videos to be classist. “I’d never define someone based on their social status,” she tells Dazed, “and I would never mean for my videos to promote discrimination to any social class out there. I’m a make-up lover and an aspiring make-up artist, so I always enjoy a trend that has anything to do with that.”
Rowan sees her video as part of a “harmless trend”, explaining that “although ‘chav’ can still be used as class prejudice, it’s more associated with your appearance than your social status”. Although she believes the ‘Council Housed and Violent’ definition of the word “is more of an old term for it now”, others on the platform disagree, and have made reference to the acronym in their posts. Under one video ‘revealing’ the definition – which has over 166k views – users expressed their shock in the comments.
“There’s little doubt in my mind that mockery of particular social groups – especially those who already experience marginality and a lack of opportunity – simply reinforces a culture of class-based discrimination,” says Yar. “It equates specific ways of dressing, speaking, and consuming with a lack of value to society, and replaces recognition of people’s worth with derision.”
As TikTok’s user base is primarily Gen Z – born between 1995 and 2015 – most people on the app missed out on the cultural proliferation of the ‘chav’, and the more outward class-hating and false promises of social mobility that happened during the New Labour government of the 00s. The majority making these skits would be too young to have seen or remembered Ladette to Lady, or Jade Goody on Big Brother.
This might explain why users like 17-year-old Mariam, who’s based in London and has over 370k followers on TikTok, say they “didn’t know that the word ‘chav’ was traditionally associated with someone of lower social status until now”. Mariam’s videos see her wearing a school uniform with heavy ‘chav’ make-up, typically talking to the camera as part of POV clips – in one, her and her friend spot a new girl in class, in another, they come late to class and make a scene.
“I can see why people could interpret my videos as classist, but that’s never my intention,” Mariam tells Dazed. “I just make relatable videos of the type of people we go to school with. I see a ‘chav’ as someone who is rude and loud for no reason, who doesn’t pay attention in class, used a lot of slang, (and wore the) incorrect uniform. How rich or poor they are has nothing to do with it.”
Hollie also asserts that the ‘chav’ stereotype of someone “from a working class background” and with a “lower social status” is “very outdated”, adding that “modern day ‘chavs’ can be from any social background, as being a ‘chav’ is more about the style of clothing you wear”.
As its popularity has swelled in recent years, TikTok has provided Gen Z with a platform for meaningful activism. Teens on the platform have previously confronted their racist parents over the Black Lives Matter movement, trolled Trump by ruining one of his campaign rallies, and raised awareness about urgent political issues. So, why has class-based discrimination – whether intentional or not – slipped through the net?
“I can see why people could interpret my videos as classist, but that’s never my intention. I just make relatable videos of the type of people we go to school with” – Mariam, TikToker
“The ‘why’ of it goes to the heart of class-based societies,” explains Yar. “Demonisation serves as a mechanism for keeping people ‘in their place’, for reproducing hierarchies where opportunities, recognition, and reward are monopolised by some groups at the expense of others.” Yar references an account called TheTikTokChavs, which has over 550k followers, as an example of this, explaining that the boys creating the videos “are reportedly students from a private fee-paying stage school in Epsom – the very epitome of middle class privilege”.
Yar says many deem mocking those of a lower social class acceptable because it’s “linked to the idea that class position and associated lifestyles are a matter of choice”. He continues: “Unlike race or gender, (social class is regarded as something that) can be erased by people who are ‘willing’ to change. (It’s thought that) if people are ‘vulgar’ in the way they comport themselves, it’s entirely their own doing and they can be judged accordingly.”
Journalist Owen Jones expressed a similar sentiment in his 2011 book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, in which he wrote: “The plight of some working class people is commonly portrayed as ‘lack of ambition’ on their part. It is attributed to their individual characteristics, rather than to a deeply unequal society organised in favour of the privileged.”
While some of the TikTok videos could loosely be considered an homage to the ‘chav look’, the majority are undeniably derisive of the working class – particularly young girls, who are not only facing deeper inequality than their male peers, but are scrutinised more than anyone in the way they talk, dress, and act.
It’s safe to say most TikTokers joining the ‘chav trend’ don’t intend to be discriminatory, and, in some cases, are even drawing on their own experiences to make a lighthearted, relatable video. But, as we know from the early 00s, vilification of the working class can have real-world consequences, whether it’s coming from prime time TV, or teens TikTok.