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The Dark Side Of Coquette

CW: Mentions eating disorders and pedophilia.

Lately, we have seen a return to hyper-feminine fashion which encourages all things “girly” and beautiful. Inspired by Paris, ballerinas, and it girls such as Blair Waldorf of Lily-Rose Depp, one of the most famous trends is known online as coquette.

A quick search on Pinterest will open up a world of images associated with femininity: lacy dresses, bows, Mary Jane shoes, flower prints and hearts. From an outlook, this trend may seem harmless and beautiful. Many women* admit that they had an aversion to being “girly” as children, and forms of internalised misogyny continue to affect us. Being able to express ourselves and embrace traditional beauty, simplicity and elegance is empowering for many, by subverting gender roles and using them to one’s own advantage. In fact, the word ‘coquette’ is used to refer to flirtatious women* who flatter and manipulate men to get what they want. In a way, it could be said that hyper-feminine fashion manipulates the male gaze and patriarchy into working for their own benefit.

Conversely, some believe that hyper-feminine fashion caters too much to the male gaze, and that women* cannot be themselves by trying too hard to appear beautiful and appealing to men, especially since being a ‘coquette girl’ is not just about appearance, but also personality and interests. For example, activities such as reading, baking, and listening to Lana Del Rey are strongly encouraged. Moreover, simple and subtle make-up is preferred, and we all know how men love to insist that natural or no make-up is the ideal. In such ways, hyper-feminine fashion is perfect for attracting men, leading to criticisms that it is not actually empowering as much as it panders to the male gaze.

Even more dangerously, the ‘coquette’ community continues to come under fire for encouraging seriously negative topics—whether it be overt or subtle. When searching online, the trends in the physical characteristics of people who embody and embrace hyper-feminine fashion are glaringly obvious: thin and light-skinned. Hyper-feminine fashion has been called out on social media extensively for failing to include people of colour and a range of body types—to the point where some believe they encourage disordered eating and unrealistic standards. The aforementioned role models of hyper-feminine fashion are, indeed, skinny white women. 

Moreover, some argue that certain subcultures of hyper-feminine fashion slyly encourage characteristics which can be seen as infantilising and pandering to pedophiles: innocence, petiteness, and looking as childlike as possible are valued traits. Although a niche community which claims no such associations, one known as ‘nymphette’ is not far from pedophilia through buying into and sometimes sexualising childish fashion trends, and romanticising related topics such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Then, given such avid criticism, why is hyper-feminine fashion only getting more popular? One reason is because it is not the only trend to face such remarks. Y2K fashion, which has seen a huge resurgence in the last couple of years, faces the same issues. While that is not an excuse, body standards and gender roles have always existed, and one fashion trend is unlikely to make much difference. Rather than blaming those who embrace this trend, perhaps it is more useful to look to those in the fashion industries who propagate and dictate women’s bodies. There may be no solution and as long as we give problematic communities attention, they will continue to thrive. Even the cottagecore aesthetic was criticised for a lack of diversity  when it first rose to popularity, and came to be claimed by people of various backgrounds, body shapes, and gender expressions. It appears that the coquette aesthetic is on the same path, as many people are embracing and adapting it, making hyper-feminine fashion more inclusive.

In fact, the sad reality is that elements such as the male gaze and beauty standards are already deeply embedded in society, and practically inescapable—no matter which aesthetics we buy into, problems will always exist. Whatever their reasons for liking and choosing a certain style, policing how women* choose to express themselves and what makes them feel good is even less empowering.

Image credits: Jaguar MENA// Flickr

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