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Intimacy and the Machine: Slouching Towards Girlblogging

Column
Angel Numbers
Beauty Secrets
Brandy Melville
Lana del Rey
Natalie Portman
subliminals
Teengirl Pseudoscience
UGG
waifbambi

Subliminal messages that help you develop those ultimate doe eyes and other pseudoscientific secrets to perfect beauty. A fascination with recent and, at the same time, passé cultural micro-epochs of the Victoria’s Secret shows of the 2010s – and the UGG boots from 2013/2014. Floral bedsheets, Home-workout videos, pink yoga pants and palm kisses: welcome to the universe of girlblogging. For her third contribution to V/A, Biz Sherbert delves into the low-calorie cosmos of dreamgirls and secretangels, a world where nostalgia only reaches back as far as early iterations of social media platforms and their aesthetics, where body positivity has come and already gone, where the once maligned basic bitch has been revived as a cultural icon – a world that still (or again) revolves around the quest to be the best; the most beautiful, the most perfect.

Text Biz Sherbert
Illustration Friederike Hantel
Illustration for Intimacy and the Machine by Friederike Hantel

A girlblogger is a girl who blogs about being a girl, a girl’s girl, a girly girl who looks like she dances ballet, weighs little, wears lip products from Dior, and is tightly wound but loosely tied together with silk ribbon. A girlblogger runs a page under a name like waifbambi or diormarmont — always a coupling of delicate, feminine-sounding words that could be skimmed from Lana Del Rey lyrics. The name foreshadows her content — she posts photos of anemic dreamgirls and golden age Victoria’s Secret Angels blowing perpetual palm kisses alongside Chanel ballet flats, cigarettes, cocaine cut into heart shapes, and cupcake-scented candles. Her posts are often tagged with words like waif, heroin chic, girl interrupted, my year of rest and relaxation, and sometimes lolita or nymphet. 

A girlblogger’s frequent lines of text rub together into an inner monologue that looms over all her posts, even the most silent and glassy-eyed (like a stuffed white rabbit)

Amidst this drift of models with huge eyes and Miu Miu shoe boxes are generous scraps of text that reveal the girlblogger’s interior world, usually typed across pictures of young women with luminous, drowsy faces: the feminine urge to be perfect and always in control, printed neatly across a grainy photo of Natalie Portman dressed as a doomed-by-obsession ballerina in the movie Black Swan. Written over a pair of long, thin white legs laid straight on a floral bedsheet: I’m unstable in a black swan, the virgin suicides, nepotism baby, cool girl monologue, sylvia plath, Britney Murphy, Fatal Attraction, kinda way. A girlblogger’s frequent lines of text rub together into an inner monologue that looms over all her posts, even the most silent and glassy-eyed (like a stuffed white rabbit). This diary voice, psychologically charged and often bitchy like the writing on a bathroom stall, is what separates the girlblogger from an impersonal moodboarder with a similar taste for girly things.

The girlblogger is obsessed with beauty and how she can have more of it for herself because she knows being beautiful is the easiest way, and maybe the best way, to be better than other people. That’s why she spends so much time blogging about it. The girlblogging community runs on exchanges of advice on how to look better and get more for it by sharing detailed food diaries, favorite places to shop and ways to style, and links to trusted at-home workout videos (usually performed by models famous for their bodies). Likewise, the girlblogger loves Vogue’s “Beauty Secrets,” a popular video series in which female celebrities do their skincare and makeup routines in front of a camera, usually in bright, shiny hotel bathrooms. The appeal of these videos is getting to know what products a professionally beautiful woman (says she) uses and how she uses them. It’s also fun to find out what she looks like before makeup, maybe even right out of the shower with wet hair, and what her “at-home-alone” personality is like. 

“…another day of pretending i’m filming a vogue beauty secrets video as i do my skincare and makeup.”

For the girlblogger, there’s sweetened appeal in how “Beauty Secrets” captures the quiet gloat of being surveilled, watched and admired, while doing something pretty ordinary, like getting ready for the day, but also luxurious and feminine, like spraying yourself with an expensive hydrating mist in front of an exclusive bathtub. As art critic John Berger said, women are always watching themselves being watched, and in the case of “Beauty Secrets,” you’re watching yourself being watched by Vogue and millions of people probably poorer and uglier than you, a captive audience who actually want to hear you explain your favorite shade of lipstain and how exactly you feel when you put it on. This is a perfect, inner-child-pleasing interaction for a generation of girls who grew up on rambling, “um”-punctuated beauty tutorials and reviews on YouTube. The girlblogger describes her Twitter as a vanilla scented angel’s diary and tweets things like, another day of pretending i’m filming a vogue beauty secrets video as i do my skincare and makeup.

When she’s not playing “Beauty Secrets,” the girlblogger is willing to follow a strict diet of Splenda-sweetened grapefruits, almond milk oatmeal, and low calorie Starbucks, while using her someone else’s credit card to order sugar-scented perfumes and stretchy ballet pink yoga pants from Los Angeles Apparel. This is just what young women who are aesthetically-inclined – and most young women are – do and have always done, especially when their parents have some money. But the girlblogger’s relentless quest for more beauty isn’t just a matter of shopping and getting skinnier, it’s also spiritual. The girlblogger is big on the law of attraction — the idea that you can manifest what you want through mental and metaphysical willpower, a practice a contributor to a related wiki page calls “teen girl pseudoscience.”

Girlblogging is as much of an invocation as it is a forceful slouching towards a shopping addiction, being sample-sized, and marrying rich.

Without looking very closely at all, you’ll notice girlbloggers’ profiles are often marked with numbers repeated in threes  — usernames like chanelmilk444 and sullenfawn333, 222 added to the end of a bio, auspicious screenshots of 11:11 on an iPhone screen. These are called angel numbers, and in numerology they’re thought to be signs that the universe is on your side, that literal angels are looking out for you, guiding you to the things you want and protecting you from negative forces (like meddling haters and becoming too fat for Brandy Melville’s one-size-fits-all clothing). Girlblogging is as much of an invocation as it is a forceful slouching towards a shopping addiction, being sample-sized, and marrying rich. Alongside recommendations for tinted lip balm and bulleted birthday wishlists, you’ll find instructive guides on how to meditate, visualize, and manifest your desired reality — in the case of the girlblogger, how to think yourself into being adored and paid for. 

The most girbloggerish way to manifest such desires is through subliminals, the name for a type of video designed as a sort of automated hack for achieving your goals. On the surface, subliminals appear to be innocuous videos of calm audio set to pleasing imagery, kind of like fan-made music videos. However, buried underneath what you can hear are recordings of inaudible affirmations, which are said to reprogram your subconscious and fix what’s wrong with you, faster than you ever could on your own. Girlblogger-preferred subliminals are composed of washed out Pinterest photos and aesthetic clips, sepia-ish Lily-Rose Depp and woozy thigh gaps fading in and out to the sound of songs like “Alison” by Slowdive, or a pitched-down version of anything by Lana Del Rey.

“i finally look exactly like i ever wanted.”

One subliminal video created by bambi 222 ୨୧, a channel beloved amongst girlbloggers, beckons body-conscious viewers in with the title ⋆ ˚。⋆ weigh exactly 90lbs ୨୧ exaggerated weight loss ୨୧ *:˚。⋆, while another promises to turn you into a bambi doll otherworldly angel ୨୧•゚。. To really understand what’s going on here, you need to scroll down to the video’s description, which contains a long list of the benefits the subliminal promises to give you. In the case of the girlblogger-preferred subliminal, that means things like: ୨୧ the holy trinity of beauty; big, enlarged doe eyes, wide plump keyhole shaped lips, + a slim and defined face; have an incredibly mysterious, esoteric, alluring and almost sad appearance;୨୧ angel bod; tiny petite frame, hourglass shape, perfect perky breasts + booty, tiny waist n a perfect thigh gap, short height, smell like vanilla 24/7, and much, much more. A bit further down, the comment section is always full of girls sharing their results and testimonials. i finally look exactly like i ever wanted. this made me shorter and i lost so much weight. my hair is silk blonde. im pale and everyone says my skin is so fucking soft and i smell so good all the time. my face got slimmer, my eyes wider, my nose and lips are all ive ever wanted. my aura is so alluring. I liked watching them actually did wake up looking prettier, says Sophia, whose avatar is a photo of Alana Champion, a model with a writing credit on Lana Del Rey’s latest album who looks like a cross between a really cute emoji and a true ‘90s waif. Other girls reply to Sophia’s testimonial with congratulations, asking how many times a day she listened and how long her results took to show.

Girlblogger subliminals, and really any girlblogger-endorsed enterprise, are preoccupied with a brand of femininity associated with the early 2010s, when the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was still on air, Instagram was new, and the mall and all its girlish delights wasn’t yet decimated by online fast fashion and Amazon. The girlblogger’s favorite year is 2013 or 2014 — she remembers it as a time of supermodels doing duck face, dainty floral bedspreads and twinkling fairy lights, UGG boots perched on white fur rugs, flash photos of striped pink shopping bags, and a heyday of sweet and shimmery beauty products marketed to girls in the first half of their teens. This expanse of obvious, middle-American femininity has been the territory of the maligned “basic bitch” for most of the last decade, but the girlblogger begs to be basic and for her beauty to allow her to do so – because beauty allows exceptions. 

[…] there’s a longing for the perceived naivete of early social media — no one really knew how to use it, so we all kind of used it the same way.

Most nostalgic girlblogger material is scavenged from old social media posts and is distinguishable from contemporary posting through conspicuous Instagram filters, widely considered unfashionable since the mid 2010s, and appearances from slightly outdated consumer technology, like wired headphones and cherished photos of girls with messy buns crouched over chunky aluminum MacBook Pros (paleolithic cave paintings of girlblogging). Within this, there’s a longing for the perceived naivete of early social media — no one really knew how to use it, so we all kind of used it the same way. High school Bella Hadid made silly, pre-plastic-surgery faces and posed with a jumble of miniature pints of Häagen-Dazs ice cream; Ariana Grande posted Photo Booth photos of her thigh gap on Tumblr; and Victoria’s Secret models layered filters with names like Valencia and Inkwell onto glamorous backstage photos — the same ones you could edit your own Instagram posts with. We were a society entranced and equalized by filters, innocent in our crude stylization and sincere posts of frothy mugs of hot chocolate, haphazardly composed selfies, and gently glowing Yankee candles. But even though the girlblogger is attracted to what she sees as a simpler form of social media, her dreams are still limited to a world where social media already exists — she came up in a time when the value of a woman’s beauty is measured by its impact online, and that can’t be fully replaced by old school attention, like long glances and being asked out a lot.

I came across an episodic Twitter thread offering advice on how to embody your inner 2000s – early 2010s victoria secret angel. In the section that addresses diet, the advice-giving girlblogger asks through the screen, want to be the prettiest ? eat only the prettiest meals. overeating is not cute, don’t do it. That’s funny, but the girlblogging obsession with frail beauty inevitably gets dark, and its universe overlaps with online eating disorder communities. BMIs in the low teens and ultimate goal weights under 100 pounds are listed next to angel numbers, and recipes for 0 calorie vanilla ice cream and calendars to help keep track of food restriction are retweeted and saved. I suspect this has something to do with the body positivity movement — when everyone is told they’re beautiful just the way God made them, no one gets to be the prettiest or the best, no one gets to be God’s favorite. There’s this tension between wanting to live so you can be the most perfect girl on earth, and wanting to disappear or self-destruct because being alive is hard, gross, neither heaven nor hell, it’ll never be 2014 again, and you can’t be reborn as a small-framed nepotism baby which means you’ll never be the most perfect girl on earth.

“Am I here to be the sweetest most cunty angelic girl in town or am I here to know what God knows?”

A girlblogger by the name of chateaumarmontxx posted this on Instagram the other day: How much of femininity is performative and how much of it is the real me? Is there a real me? Am I real? Am I pretending to be the doe-eyed angel girl or is she pretending to be me? Is my quest for beauty, aesthetics, uniqueness, femininity, individuality, etc, a pointless and exhausting distraction? Am I the prettiest girl in the lecture hall or are we all just one consciousness experiencing itself and witnessing the experience of self in “others”? Am I here to be the sweetest most cunty angelic girl in town or am I here to know what God knows? These aren’t new questions, but they stopped me in my tracks, because they’re the questions I’m trying to answer right now. But the deeper I get, the closer I get to figuring girlblogging out, the more I kind of want to just close my eyes and think about getting prettier instead.

Text Biz Sherbert
Illustration Friederike Hantel
Column
Angel Numbers
Beauty Secrets
Brandy Melville
Lana del Rey
Natalie Portman
subliminals
Teengirl Pseudoscience
UGG
waifbambi
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