**Content warning: Mentions of sexual harassment and pedophilia. Slightly NSFW photos used for reference.
“E-girl/boy”– or “electronic girl/boy”– is the term coining the popular subculture largely credited to originating on 2019-2020 Tiktok. This modern-day subculture typically blends early scene and “emo” trends with those from skate culture, anime, cosplay, BDSM, and hip-hop. Many self-proclaimed “e-girls/boys” have colorfully-dyed hair, chunky winged eyeliner, and anime-inspired makeup. It is an internet persona more than anything, typically existing in the privacy of one’s own bedroom and then shared online.
The concept of an “e-girl” can be attributed to pretty much anybody with an internet presence, though it’s currently mostly used in reference to the before-mentioned subculture. It originated as a term directed at female gamers as a way to harass and belittle them for “infiltrating” a typically male-dominated space.
The Infamous Belle Delphine
Maybe you’ve heard of the “Gamer Girl Bathwater” scandal. Belle Delphine’s 2019 “disgusting” stunt launched her platform to a new height. Some people enjoyed the controversy simply for the meme. Others actually dropped $43 on a small container of water she supposedly bathed in. Nonetheless, she got noticed by big platforms like PewDiePie‘s, and her product completely sold out.
She had a major Instagram platform, from 850,000 followers in November 2018 to 4.2 million in July 2019– which Instagram has now taken down due to the nature of her content. She created an incredibly dedicated and protective fanbase by marketing herself as an “empty-headed gamer girl ditz.” She is well-known for being a consistent internet troll, marketing off of lonely boys on the internet. Honestly, it’s kind of impressive how she became a sexual commodity.
Belle’s “brand” consists almost entirely of pervy photos of her child-like body dressed in nerd culture staples. Oftentimes, her posts would consist of lewd cosplays of popular female characters, such as Princess Zelda or characters from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Other times she would just dress as an elf or a kitten and pose seductively in a pink lace-front wig.
Belle Delphine came before the time of the E-girl. Her aesthetic falls more into the category of gamer girl or cosplayer. However, her internet presence popularized a lot of elements in the TikTok subculture, which is why I think it’s incredibly relevant to draw ties to Belle in this article.
Just to be clear, I have zero issues with the fact Belle found a way to monetize her sexuality. The way she used the hyper-sexualization of female gamers to her advantage and capitalized off of desperate gamer boys is incredibly admirable. However, I do have issues with the way she advertises herself.
Though she is 21 in 2020, Belle Delphine’s image centers around the aesthetic of a child. She works hard to frame herself as “pedo-bait,” or underaged-but-still-sexy. Belle often includes children’s toys or stuffed animals as props in the background of photos of her performing highly-sexualized acts.
She is seemingly aware a large part of her audience consists of creepy and most likely older men. Belle even jokes about the fact that her content could cause her audience to be charged as pedophiles. One of Belle’s biggest controversies pre-bathwater was when she got braces, despite having no visible issues with her teeth. Many believed it was just a way to push her “kiddie” aesthetic even further.
The issue is so much bigger than just Miss Delphine, unfortunately.
Belle heavy references the Japanese manga concept of “Lolicon” in her fashion. This entire genre is defined by its focus on underaged and almost always sexualized “lolis” (the girls) and “shotas” (the boys). Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is where the term comes from. However, instead of exploring themes of abuse and rape like in the book, “Lolicon” paints these severe age-gap relationships as a tale of forbidden desire. The characters in these mangas usually are having sexual affairs with older men, like their teachers, or with each other– all for the reader’s pleasure. Short schoolgirl uniforms, round unassuming eyes, and pouty mouths are key pieces of the aesthetic.
Japan is the child pornography capitol of the world, and only banned the distribution of child porn in 2014. Lolicon is legal in both Japan and the USA, though not in the UK where Delphine resides. Don’t see this as me blaming Japan for having sexualized child entertainment. These specific genres relevant just happen to originate in Japan. There are countless worldwide examples, such as child beauty pageants and Britney Spears’ career being based on a schoolgirl persona.
The Ahegao Face
The idea of ahegao is that it captures a moment of sexual arousal so powerful that all usual faculties, like manners or attention to aesthetics, descend into visual chaos. And it’s certainly not your typical orgasm face: ahegao faces look absurd, featuring rolled-back eyes, flushed cheeks, and a tongue sticking out. There’s also lots of body fluid, with tears, drool, and snot forming a thick slime over the female’s face. Sexy!Everything You Need To Know About Ahegao, The Hentai Trend Popularized By Belle Delphine
You’ve probably seen the ahegao face at least once in your lifetime, whether it be in porn or on a cosplayer. E-girls have adopted the face as a selfie go-to as well. Maybe you’ve even seen somebody wearing the classic ahegao hoodie or, better yet, the entire hoodie-and-pants set.
The male gaze is clearly the desired audience. Still, I don’t have a problem with the concept of the ahegao face. Some women enjoy snapping ahegao pictures as a way to normalize female pleasure, which I think is super neat! As long as underaged cosplayers aren’t objectifying themselves using it, it’s okay to me.
The Normalization of Child Eroticism in Media
…the images of girls in PCP (pseudo-child pornography) do not exist within a social vacuum, but rather are produced and consumed within a society where the dominant pop culture images are of “childified” women and hyper-sexualized, youthful female bodies…on a cultural level, when we sexualize the female child, we chip away at the norms that define children as off-limits to male sexual use.”Gail Dines, Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Wheelock College Boston
Instagram is a site where you only have to be 13 years old to make an account. This makes Delphine’s kind of content freely available to impressionable children. Her explicit Instagram platform was protected under USA’s “free speech” laws for four years before deletion.
A recent controversy involves the Netflix film Cuties. This movie attempted to “explain the ills of premature sexualization of young girls.” The movie included inappropriate close-ups of the girl’s bodies as they twerked for the camera, and thus exploited the underaged cast. Quite ironic.
Many of the same issues of the sort extend to television shows geared towards young teenagers, like Riverdale. I have never sat down and watched a Riverdale episode start to finish, however stories have made it to my ears. Usually it revolves around particular scenes that exploit its teenage characters. This includes a scene where the character Betty, who is a high school sophomore in the show, pole-dances at a seedy bar. Additionally, there was a shower sex scene that appeared voyeuristic in nature. Don’t get me started on the romantic/sexual relationship between Archie and his teacher. Obviously, the cast is all in their mid-twenties but what kind of message does this send to a younger audience?
Currently, TikTok is probably the easiest social app for grooming. An estimated third of all users on TikTok are 14 or younger. The app makes it easy to contact individuals and save their videos. Several big Tiktok names have groomed minors. Examples include Tony Lopez (20)–who was asking girls five years younger than him for nudes/sex– and Zoe LaVerne (19), who is under fire for her inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old.
The Tiktok algorithm has made it incredibly obvious that the path to clout is to sexualize your body. BostWiki observed the content of a few underaged creators in an interesting YouTube commentary. He compared the creator’s original content to that of their more recent. The first few videos of each creator were fairly normal and appropriate. Later, the guys lost their shirts, and the females left behind “normal clothing” for bathing suits or low-cropped shirts. BostWiki concludes that Tiktok’s algorithm itself rewards this kind of content by putting it on the “For You” page for more to watch it. This makes children feel like they must sexualize themselves in order to get views. When he spoke to the creators on their content transition, they affirmed his suspicions.
Another TikTok phenomenon is “TikTok dances.” In these, the line between sexual positivity and sexualization can become incredibly blurred. Many of the dance routines include twerking or sexualized aspects. Others, like the WAP dance, include moves that are straight-up inappropriate for children to be dancing to and posting.
Another concerning TikTok trend is the viral lip-sync audios that are pitched to sound like little girls. These are highly popular for females, in particular, to mouth along to.
A girl named Bella Poarch created the most liked TikTok video ever. She went viral for mouthing along to a popular song. She has also been critiqued for intentionally acting like a child, though she isn’t on the level of Belle Delphine. Seeing her videos, I would have to say rightfully so. Many people, including me, thought she was 14 or 15. She is 23.
I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as “E-girl trend good” or “E-girl trend bad.” I think the popularization of this subculture is incredibly interesting, actually. It’s like if early Tumblr, the attendees of AnimeNYC, and the audience of a Black Veil Brides concert were all combined. I follow a lot of self-proclaimed “e-girls” or those who fall in the category who are inspiring and fun to interact with.
I think that this trend is a great way for people to try new looks that are creative and cute. The fun part about the E-girl trend is it’s something pretty much anybody can hop on if they’d like. It also rejects gender norms, with cross-dressing being a popular style for the men. A popular trend currently is that of the maid dress, uniforms worn in Japanese maid cafés, and anime. Whether for clickbait or genuine enjoyment, the normalization of men feeling themselves in skirts and dresses is welcome.
I fully support women creating OnlyFans accounts so that they can monetize their content as long as it doesn’t objectify others. The harm of Belle Delphine is found when she cosplays as a minor and then presents herself as a blank canvas for men’s fantasies. I think the key to turning the more problematic sexual overtones surrounding the female internet presence on its head is awareness and intentions.
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