Feature photo courtesy of vagazine.com
The era of temple-tapping teens
Once upon a time, I was a mall goth.
To help you better illustrate what this meant, it meant that I dressed horribly. From yes-I-actually-listen-to-this-band band-tees to my oversized-and-distressed-to-seem-vintage-but-in-reality-I-bought-this-at-Espirit military-jacket, topped off with hair fried to achieve the perfect side-swept bangs. Not to mention my eyes perpetually watering from the smothering, sticky coats of drugstore mascara.
It was this whole thing. Let me explain.
Granted, this look did not happen overnight. Unfortunately, it happened gradually - a long, drawn-out process with multiple opportunities to repent and yet no one told me just how ridiculous I looked. It all started when I dyed a pink streak in my hair to look like Avril Lavigne. My friends and I all dressed like this, since we were not brave nor confident enough to pull off a complete scene or goth look; or, as Urban Dictionary would say, we were “pathetic excuse(s) for real gothics.”
But honestly, I was dressing up as a cooler version of myself that I wished I could’ve been (even if it appears I was trying to become an Avril Lavigne look-alike). I felt safe underneath all of my eye makeup, and truth be told, I found comfort in not being seen for who I actually was.
My it’s-not-a-phase-mom phase was pivotal in shaping my teenage identity. It gave me the confidence to decide what kind of make-up and outfits I wanted to wear. I drew fashion inspirations from Tumblr and Instagram and was heavily influenced by punk, goth, scene subcultures. Their movement had a life of its own long before us, and their influence will no doubt outlive us. The mall goth style reappropriated many of their style elements and incorporated them into more casual everyday wear. From plaid mini skirt and flannels, and elaborate monochrome ensembles, to colorfully dyed and carefully curated hairstyles, these have stood the testament of time for alternative subcultures. I loved all of it. It was cool, it was different and it was something I haven’t seen in a Forever 21 storefront. There were no fussy rules dictating its form; for once, I was part of something that allowed me to be anything and anybody I wanted.
Even now, e-girls and e-boys have reappropriated the appropriated and cultivated their own distinctive style.
Who are e-girls and e-boys? I like to define them as ‘emo but in cursive,’ as they’re a stylized version of the mall goths and emo kids of the ’90s and ’00s. Even if you don’t explicitly know who they are, you’ve surely seen them on social media before. E-girls sport pigtails, with hearts and freckles dotted across their face. They have a knack for oversized t-shirts paired with mini skirts and move fluently in TikTok dances; e-boys, on the other hand, ar emasters in eye-rolling and temple-tapping and wearing an excessive amount of chains across their neck and waist. They ended their sentences with ‘uwu,’ and call themselves ‘baby.’ Despite amassing incredible heights in popularity, they are often treated as the butt of the joke in popular culture.
E-girls and e-boys are so fixated with their online presence, they become exaggerated caricatures of themselves; but because of the interpersonal nature of social media, it is hard to draw the line between fabrication and reality. What makes e-girls and e-boys so approachable is their relatability and attainability. They don’t belong to the same classification as highly saturated Instagram influencers or carefully curated YouTube personalities. They’re taking photos and videos in their childhood bedroom on their iPhone 6; you can see empty plastic water bottles and dirty laundry scattered in the background. Who would’ve thought, e-girls and e-boys are people, just like us! The TikTok algorithm gives anyone a fair shot of making it big; in a weirdly democratic, liberating way, they didn’t need to be born with anything special to work towards fame and fortune.
Being an e-girl and e-boy comes with its risks. Many present themselves in a hypersexualized manner, though many are open about their sexuality and declare their sexual independence. Because of that, and the fact that people on the internet can be trash, they’ve also become internet targets for slut-shaming. They exist primarily on TikTok. While TikTok is a platform primarily designed for kids and teenagers, it has also attracted older people who prey on this vulnerable demographic. It does not help that the majority of e-girls and e-boys are in fact, literal girls and boys.
This isn’t news. When I look back to mall goths of my era, there were always instances of band members in their late 20s, messaging girls who had barely set foot in high school. They took advantage of people who did not know better and built them up on pedestals just to bring them down when they didn’t meet their demands. The same could be said for how the internet is reacting to e-girls and e-boys; news flash - just because they’re exploring their own sexuality, does not make it an open-invite to prey on them.
While I believe participating in subcultures give us a chance to express ourselves in ways we may normally not be able to, it is important to note that protecting ourselves is just as important as expressing ourselves. Like the age-old saying, “what we post on the internet is forever,” even though I may have deleted all the posts of my horrendous mall goth hairstyles online, who am I to be sure that photos like that do not exist in the depths of my friends’ camera rolls.
The eloquence of e-girls and e-boys comes from being attainable and approachable, but we should be drawing a clearer line between the caricature and the person behind it.