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Dissociative Gaze into the Abyss: Sunday Essay


Is the 2014 Tumblr girl revival the internet’s way of coping with the end of the world?

The dissociative pout, also called dissociative gaze, was first coined by iD Magazine in the 2022 article “The Cult of the Dissociative Pout” by Rayne Fisher-Quann, and is characterized by dead eyes and pouty lips in a ring light. This Bambi-like pose has become one of the most recognizable motifs of the lobotomy-chic aesthetic, a subset of indie sleaze internet culture, devoted to nihilism, irony, femininity and terror. . The rise of the dissociative gaze is the physical embodiment of a palpable shift away from doom scrolling and towards the grotesque satirical art of girlblogging.

The current forum for this nihilistic Tumblr-inspired content revolution is girlblogs. The concept of a girlblog is just as abstract as the lobotomy-chic aesthetic, but the simplest definition is a social media account run by a girl in her late teens or early twenties, centered on a super feminine aesthetic. This may include, but is not limited to, lobotomy-chic, indie sleaze, ballet core, coquette, clean girl, cottagecore, and fairycore aesthetics. Similar to the idea of ​​being a girlboss, women’s blogs throw the word girl in front of almost everything for the sake of being meta. For example, bloggers don’t post from their bedroom, they post from their daughter’s bedroom.

Girlblog aesthetics

In the abstract, girlblogs are characterized by the color pink, slathering Patrick Bateman, Dior lip products, dressing like Blair Waldorf, listening to unreleased Lana, falling in love with fictional characters, and girlrotting. A popular meme flooding the girlblog timeline asks the question; how are you my daughter? Not well, answers the Internet.

For the past few years, the internet has been watching the world burn. TikTok exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic and provided the collective consciousness with an endless stream of content describing every terrible thing that has ever happened. The explosion of fear-inducing content on the app has not been constructive. Some think the scroll of fate will ignite the fire of change, but I think it serves as exposure therapy and leads to conformity. There’s no better example of embracing burnout than the 2014 revival of Tumblr.

Tumblr in 2014 was a special time on the internet; stan culture flourished, the concept of online liability was created on pages like yourfaveisproblematic, and inappropriate online relationships flourished. Along with the heyday of Tumblr came the popularity of Omegle and Wattpad. These platforms were the latest in an era of unregulated Internet access for teenagers. The mental health impacts of using social media have been largely ignored. Violent images and pornography were shared like chain mail and the dark web was just a click away.

The 2014 Tumblr Girl’s Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok revival recalls the lighter aspects of old-school internet culture and adds a touch of escapism and dread. Low-res images of girls in fishnet tights, combat boots and party dresses are superimposed over note app confessions and dissociative statements. These types of images are flooding Instagram’s explore page, just like in the good old days, and getting thousands of interactions. TikTok videos of teenagers lip-syncing to The 1975 in black striped T-shirts and brimmed hats pop up on the “For You” page between iPhone war videos.

The cutting-edge aesthetic of Tumblr’s revival doesn’t exist in a vacuum; grooming and eating disorders were the dark underbelly of our current source material. Beyond that is the real socio-economic and political climate in which these memes and trends were created. Everything, especially art, is a product of culture, but the art of dissociation calls for a connection to nothing. The meta-irony of women’s blogging calls for an awareness of the problematic nature of decoupling from current events, adding to the layers of denial required for women’s blogging. In turn, the dissociative gaze is perfected. There’s nothing behind the eyes behind the screen, as expected.

The purpose of this online sphere is to be a simple escape. Informative posts and problematic tweets never reach Tumblr’s follow-up feed. Tumblr-adjacent hashtags care little for the dark truth of its origins or the current political climate. The only useful information shared on a girlblog timeline is which Dior lip shades are the pinkest and which book by Ottessa Moshfegh is the best.

Despite wanting to be lobotomized, a modern Tumblr girl isn’t dumb. She stays educated through academic reading and learning theory. She learns the inner workings of structures and policies, but does not care about disasters, as her traumatized brain cannot cope with them.

Girlblog aesthetics

I used girlblogging as a place of healing and growth. I deleted TikTok and stopped commenting on posts I disagreed with. I created a new Instagram account, blocked everyone from high school, and started girlblogging. I capture every pretty thing I see and arrange a superficial and beautiful life for myself. I am the main character in my narcissistic delusions, and when things are important enough to know, they come to me. It was a kind of social experiment to follow the sharing of information from informed people to uniformed people. I did find out though that Roe v. Wade had been canceled the day it happened, and the only difference between me and non-girlbloggers is that I didn’t have to listen to the opinion of every internet activist or news pundit; I was able to process the pain in solitude.

Make no mistake, the death of democracy and our planet is no joke to me or others in the online sphere of women’s blogging; the sphere of escape leaves room for collective grief, but not for collective panic. It’s been about eight months since I changed the way I interact with the internet and I’ve never had so much inner peace. My intrusive thoughts are more relevant and I’m sexier than ever. I called this isolated social experience my knowledge regimen.

To be a woman online is to be a product, and the modern Tumblr girl wants to sell it. Give me a lobotomy, we beg you. I don’t want to know anything, we insist. Knowledge is a curse and looking at the end of the world from all angles is the worst! The dashing corners of the internet respond with amateur poetry, self-mockery and mundane cliches. While the well-informed are concerned about the economy or whatever, the highly skilled flirtatious girl explains how Gilmore Girls has ruined Rory’s character over the past few seasons.

This ignorance is not a lack of empathy or character but rather a survival mechanism, because looking outside of yourself has become too painful. People feel powerless against their own destiny, but not against their story; existence can be beautiful and romantic when seen on an organized page. Every day a new path to oblivion is presented, and every day people go online to dive in headfirst or roll their cheeks. There’s moral superiority in fighting the good fight online and a huge amount of privilege in ignoring it, but at some point self-preservation kicks in.

Everywhere, all the time, people are hurting, but on my timeline, people are dancing on rooftops, blowing out birthday candles, eating strawberries in the park, and watching the sunset. We have all learned the terrible truth: the world is ending one way or another. As Sally Rooney said in Beautiful world, where are you, “Isn’t death just the first-person apocalypse?” Whether we die alone or together, the internet wants to look beautiful while doing so, and stress is bad for the skin.


Photos courtesy of Morgan Blair

High photo Agostine, c. 1866 – Jean-Baptiste-Camille Carot | Chester Dale collection | Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington

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