The Birth of the Girlblogger
Updated: Sep 19
The girlbloggers are not here to get you to think. But they are here to get you to understand.
There are ways to spot her before you even know who she is. She is defined by objects: a Diet Coke on the bedside table, littered with wrappers and crystals in equal measure; bunnies, fawns, soft birds; pink ballet slippers; Ottessa Moshfegh books; and an overwhelming sense of despair. She posts photos of anemic Victoria’s Secret models, broken rosaries, wet flowers, cigarettes. Lines of white text slapped over these pictures bind them together, an illuminated manuscript: I thank God for the beauty he gave me; The feminine urge to open Pinterest; I will always be the virgin-prostitute, the perverse angel, the two-faced sinister and saintly woman.
These girls — the girlbloggers — are not novel if you, like me, grew up on Tumblr. 2014 Soft Grunge got us to this point. The American Apparel kids standing against the wall got us to this point. Vogue Beauty Secrets got us to this point. When you see the girlbloggers slither into your feed, they are weaving little spells, telling us why they’re here: I am actually insane and delusional.
Not really, but they believe it — because the opposite coda has deeply infected the way women interact online. Safe spaces are antiseptic girlboss incubators (see: The Wing’s rise and fall, The Everygirl® complex, Instagram pages called “Her Incredible Mindset,” etc.). The capital G-P Girl Power cottage industry makes it gauche to be anything other than Strong. And the cool spaces that did exist, that allowed young women to fully express themselves — like Rookie Magazine, the original Twitter, and even Tumblr’s old temperature — are long, long gone. It is easy to think you’re an insane and delusional woman if nobody else is talking about it.
So what do you do? You adopt a fake online identity — dainty, girlblogger-approved usernames like cherryfawn and lolitagirl333 abound — and start your 95 Theses. They call me crazy but they can’t call me ugly. The feminine urge to not be like my mother. I’m just a girl going crazy in her bedroom. Me after brutally bodyshaming myself. Girlblogging while I sip on my girlcoffee in my girlbedroom. In more ways than one, the girlblogger is a new divarication of the turtlenecked campus poet or the long-haired Joan Baez, attempting to make a public, profound sense of her sadness. Over the past decade, as literary magazines closed and coffee shops started charging for open mic night, a social media shift was inevitable — the romantics always find a way to keep yowling.
Which begs the question: is the girlblogger primordial? The sources are clear: Sylvia Plath and her fig tree; Anaïs Nin’s brutal-beautiful letters to Henry Miller; the complicated, bittersweet poems of Rita Dove and Anne Sexton. If you want to go back even further, there are other progenitors of female pain: George Sand, Artemisia Gentlischi, Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The sad girl in her bedroom is not doing anything new by typing Why can’t I be everything I imagined? over a beautiful picture; she is begetting what so many female artists have done before her. Making art about female suffering, making sense of yourself as a young woman and as a human being, is a cosmic urge, something that demands to be marshaled. The only difference between a girlblogger and a Charlotte Perkins Gilman is that the former is doing so anonymously, publicly, and without the vestiges of an art school or literary education. That can be, in itself, a little radical.
Girlblogging is also a subliminal response to the ways we’ve squared beauty, holding onto the worst parts of third-wave feminism (like Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth) and leaving the rest to the vultures. Women, especially young women, are being told diametric maxims: Wearing makeup is an act of capitalist violence. You must wear lip gloss to reclaim your sexual identity. You are a bad feminist if you shop at Sephora. If you don’t shop at Sephora, you’re not supporting female entrepreneurs. And so on. But the key underpinning in all of this is the age-old curse: whether you’re barefaced with dirt under your fingernails or lacquered in Sherwin-Williams foundation, you must try all you can to not be accused of vanity, lest you want your entire being questioned. For women, being accused of vanity is like being accused of murder — no recourse, no return — and some women themselves mistakenly indulge in this myth. The Liz Lemons scoff at the pretty girls; the woman in the miniskirt will not get the promotion.
Girlbloggers are devoted cataloguers of beauty. They empathize with the protagonist of Moshfegh’s 2018 novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation for her beauty, intelligence, and malaise; they digitally scrapbook film stills from Black Swan and Marie Antoinette; they are practically self-taught art history majors, spreading text across Herbert James Draper and Charles François Jalabert paintings. Whether they can see the beauty in themselves is a whole other beast, one that comprises a lot of female turmoil — but they certainly can see the beauty in all other things. In a cultural environment in which beauty is a dirty word, that can also be radical.
Criticism of the girlblogger abounds: Why do these girls, both adults and teenagers, relate so much to films like Lolita and Girl, Interrupted? Shouldn’t they be embarrassed about that? Is it all ironic? Are they fetishizing mental illness? Not necessarily good questions. That is the power of self-recognition through the other: in women’s inner lives, there are things so deep-down and abstruse that they can hardly be articulated. A wink of pain; a hazy night in a church basement. To see a woman be a problem on screen, in text, in an anonymous image — smoking, sleeping ‘til noon, weeping in the corner — it is not empowering, but it is a comfort. A silent validation that your pain is not rare, that there are millions of other fig trees in the grove. That can be either a sorrow or a salve, depending on your view.
I came across a post on Pinterest, the obvious work of a girlblogger: the image of a woman’s neck, thin and bony, cast in dark shadow, an anonymous screed plastered across her chest. Men will never understand the female insanity equivalent. The self-destructive need to succeed. The borderline delusion of constantly striving for the unattainable. The deadly white swan, black swan phenomenon. These are not new ideas, but they did give me pause, because I had never seen them written so plainly and economically. Unlike their predecessors, the girlbloggers are not here to get you to think. But they are here to get you to understand. 🌀
Savannah Eden Bradley is a 22-year-old writer, fashion editor, gallerina, Gnostic scholar, reformed it girl, and future beautiful ghost from the Carolina coast. She is the Editor-in-Chief of HALOSCOPE. You can stalk her everywhere online @savbrads.