You can find her shopping for seasonal décor at Home Goods. Or perhaps at home, reading a book by the fireplace in her Ugg boots. Or maybe on Instagram, posing with a Chanel bag on her arm and a Starbucks holiday drink in hand. Such are the simple pleasures of Christian girl autumn. And for influencers like Caitlin Covington, it’s more than a season—it’s a state of mind.
Covington accidentally became the face of Christian girl autumn in August 2019, when trans creator Isabella Markel turned an image of Covington and fellow blogger Emily Gemma into a viral meme.
“I was just looking at clothes, women’s outfits, the Christian girl aesthetic or whatever—the skinny jean and the big bag,” Markel tells Glamour. “I just thought it was so funny and I just kept on using these pictures. And I was like, ‘They’re actually kind of bad bitches if you think about it.’ It’s camp. It’s high-level camp.”
The meme racked up thousands of likes and replies in a matter of days. “This picture thinks Africa is a country and is going on a mission trip there in 2020,” one commenter joked. “This picture asked me not to kiss another man in public and if I could please leave the restaurant,” another added. Then, in a plot twist no one saw coming, Covington embraced the meme and set the record straight: She isn’t a Republican. In her house, “love is love” and Black Lives Matter.
“We were all making jokes,” Markel says. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, my God, she loves Trump.’ But then she tweeted and was like, ‘I love trans.’”
And so, in the strange way things always seem to happen on the internet, Covington became an unlikely LGBTQ+ icon. A year later, when the meme reappeared in September, Covington doubled down and donated $500 to a GoFundMe to help Markel cover the cost of transitioning.
“She was so sweet about it,” Markel says. “I wasn’t expecting her to be that sweet about it. I was expecting, ‘Come on, guys, maybe don’t clown me like that.’ Instead she was like, ‘Finally, people are seeing my fall photos.’”
Covington has been traveling to New England to take her annual fall photos since 2014. Months of research and thousands of dollars went into the production of this year’s weeklong shoot in Vermont. Typically, Covington tells Glamour, the planning begins with a thorough analysis of when and where the fall foliage is expected to peak. Then she moves on to carefully selecting outfits and scenic locations in which to showcase them. Covington told The New York Times that brands—which appear to have been Saks and Nordstrom—sponsored two of her posts during this year’s trip to the tune of $10,000 to $15,000 each. And in the weeks leading up to the trip, Covington debuted a fall capsule collection in collaboration with Liverpool Los Angeles. This houndstooth “coatigan,” Covington noted, was her favorite (and best-selling) piece from the collection.
“I am your basic fall girl,” Covington says. “I love Uggs. I wear them all morning. I love Starbucks pumpkin spice lattés, cardigans, cozy fires—you name a fall activity, I probably love it. And it’s really cool that now I’m known for that because it’s really, truly who I am. If that’s basic, that’s okay. I’m okay with that.”
$139.00, Liverpool Los Angeles
$26.5.00, Bath & Body Works
$250.00, CAMILLA SERETTI
The Christian Girl Autumn Starter Pack
At times Covington has felt hemmed in by people’s perceptions of her. “I would love to do something different with my hair, maybe go blonde or cut it short,” she says. “I do feel like I can’t do that because people would be upset. People have literally told me, ‘If you cut your hair, I will unfollow you.’”
But in recent years Covington has used her platform to speak plainly about her mental health and fertility journeys. To some extent, Covington sees her love of fall as a reflection of her anxiety. “It’s just about finding comfort and safety in a really small moment,” Covington says. “And I think that’s really soothing to someone with anxiety.”
Great memes, like great pop songs, have an ability to linger. Earlier this month, Amy Schumer starred in a send-up of Christian girl autumn on Saturday Night Live. “Hey, girlie, are you like us?” Schumer asks rhetorically in the sketch. “A well-off woman with perfect makeup and long straight hair?”
But often the creator(s) responsible for coining and catalyzing the viral trend are erased from its legacy. The internet tends to remember the meme but not the person who made it. Christian girl autumn helped Markel gain lots of followers, but the clout has yet to turn into capital for her the way it has for Covington.
“Every fall—honestly, at the end of every summer—I start to see it resurface,” says Markel. “I see TikToks and tweets all the time, things going viral. When Pop Crave tweeted about Caitlin, that got hundreds of thousands of likes. People were commenting, ‘Oh, my gosh, she donated to the trans creator, she’s such a queen.’ But then it’s like, I am the trans creator. I have a name.”
This question of ownership and attribution continues to be controversial on social media. When the Renegade dance swept TikTok (and the nation) in 2020, Jalaiah Harmon—the Atlanta teenager who choreographed it—had to personally campaign for the credit she deserved. She got it eventually. But by then it was too late for Harmon to cash in on the fame and opportunities her dance had afforded to TikTok stars like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae Easterling.
“At this point in my life right now, I have so much fucking anxiety,” says Markel. “I’m unemployed and broke. I just want to be able to leave the house and not worry. I definitely want to monetize my platform, but it’s a lot harder for a queer trans person.”
Even so, Markel has—in the last year alone—managed to walk New York Fashion Week, collaborate on their first club banger, and channel their inimitable sense of humor into rising TikTok stardom. Followed by magazine editors, not to mention the likes of Charli XCX and Bella Hadid, Markel’s account is one to watch (for hours, in my case). And recently Markel and Covington reconnected in a heartwarming Twitter exchange after two years of quietly losing touch.
“The platform is giving,” Markel said. “It’s doing its thing. I feel like it’s what Julia Fox said, when she was like, ‘I didn’t want to be famous. I just knew.’”
Originally Appeared on Glamour