Exhibitionism

Justgirlythings

Rosemary Kirton

Response To:

Hating Habermas: On Exhibitionism, Shame & Life on the Actually Existing Internet

Justgirlythings[1] is the most pervasive off-shoot of ‘justlittlethings’, a Tumblr-based blog that appeared in late 2010 to celebrate ‘the little things in life’.[2] It exhibits twee, stock photos, overlaid with text and the watermark ‘justgirlythings’(a format commonly referred to as ‘inspirational photo quotes’). The blog is currently run by two teenage girls and is very popular on Tumblr (each post usually gets thousands of likes or ‘re-blogs’). The URL watermark ‘justgirlythings’ indicates  the provenance of the images, but also reinforces the imagery/text combos, suggesting a a ghostly afterthought or echo of the content it marks.

Justgirlythings is often parodied in communities that discuss memetic visual culture, including those on Tumblr, Reddit or Imgur.[3] One Imgur thread juxtaposes Justgirlythings posts with imagery that has historical or political context, such as an image of a soldier mourning alongside a justgirlythings quote “realising it’s time to move on”.[4] Some comments express irritation at the success of the blog, viewing it as idolatry of the trivial.

Parody provides relief and reassurance to those alarmed by Justgirlythings, temporarily undermining its apparent success. Justgirlythings celebrates the trivial stock photographs and common experiences as ‘Justgirly’. While the parodies shame the actions of Justgirlythings, they don’t necessarily promote critical engagement with this unusual form of self-expression. As a response to Terri Senft’s essay on the role of shame in the presentation of our online selves, justgirlythings’ banal combinations of positive quotes and glossy photography offer a more protected form of girly presentation, whilst also replicating many of the clichés of white, middle-class girlhood.

 

Fandom, Labour, Capital and Control in the Justgirly Empire

Justgirlythings could be described as a fandom of a show called ‘authentic cultural subjectivity’. Here the one act of worship is to emblematically align with the immaterial labour of a few specific girls, who disseminate imagery celebrating the success of their own structural oppression and cultural erasure.

 Justgirlythings is actually the work of two suburban Mid-Western white American teenage girls. Their content is informed by suggestions, but they don’t accept submissions.

This resists the model of ‘prosumption’ (an immanent cycle of production and consumption) of related content around which fandoms and online communities thrive. The disparate communities that ridicule Justgirlythings through social networks that create, share and discuss imagery behave more like a fandom than the Justgirlythings community itself.

The authors make themselves visible in many ways, including links to their own personal blogs on the main site. They offer various incentivised promotions, imploring the blogs’ nearly half million followers to follow their personal blogs or click adverts on the site, which makes them an income. Followers who respond are rewarded with social capital: their own blogs are promoted via the Justgirlythings feed to the large follower-base.

The exchange of social and economic capital orchestrated around the site suggests an implicit knowledge of e-commerce. These two girls have created an empire, from which they profit, and they enact measures to maintain that power and influence which reach beyond their immediate control.

The blog title is Justgirlythings, not Justgirlthings. Girly is not quite girl, but also so girl. Similarly, ‘just’ and ‘things’ are equally ambiguous. The newest site disclaimer confronts the contention of its name:

Disclaimer:

We realize some of the pictures we post not only are meant for girls but for guys as well. justgirlythings is just a name please don’t over exaggerate the meaning behind it.[5]

This exhausted plea differs from the previous disclaimer, which was less compliant and more inclusive.

This disclaimer conveys authorial knowledge of the contention around the name, content, wider reception of their blog and a plea not to exaggerate the yet-to-be-defined “meaning behind it”. The disclaimer generally indicates that attempts to critique or praise the site will be equally ignored.

 

The Leaky-Politic of Justgirlythings

The ambiguous identity of Justgirlythings is reminiscent of Donna Haraway’s call for strategic confusion of identity, made in her 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto”. Haraway suggested a move away from hegemonic binary genders, towards theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism, or ‘cyborgs’.[6] Certain aspects of Justgirlythings are quite assertively ‘cyborgic’. The name defies linguistic formality, championing the incidental technological compounding of its URL. When spoken aloud, ‘Justgirlythings’ is a blurt – like an involuntary confession. Confession culture is commonly summarised as narcissism or exhibitionism, something to be ashamed of.[7] However, across countless demographics, social networks facilitate confessional leaks of everyday-data: images, video and text describing minutiae of one’s day. On justgirlythings the images themselves are idealised stock images, far removed from any conception of a lived body or experience. A girl-cyborg is the figure through which a multitude of common-place sentiments are expressed as personal statements.

Writing in 2013, Jesse Darling linked aspects of Chelsea Manning’s controversial leaking of military secrets and her transgender identity: “Leaks and holes and contingencies, circadian rhythms and hormonal cycles – that shit is for chicks and pussies.”[8] The furore surrounding Justgirlythings echoes the wider hysteria over Manning’s actions and identity. The site is seen to corrupt content with infantilised feminised branding. Darling decries that Manning’s leaking of crucial data “made the US Army look like a pussy!”[9] These corruptions are seen as inseparable from the repressed identities that performed them. While Justgirlythings and Chelsea Manning sit on different spectrums of violence and severity, in both instances identity and political action are intertwined in the act of confessional leaking through cyborgic facilities.

 

Justgirlythings’ Fantasies of Submissive Self-Containment

Staying with Darling, the fate of Justgirlythings is clear: “...absolute unity of expression can only ever be a fragile state of temporary synchronicity, pretty much everything is at stake in preserving this fantasy”.[10] The unity of expression of those who repost content from the site preserves a fantasy. This fantasy has been reinvigorated lately by a successful migration to Instagram.[11] Although Justgirlythings is relatively popular and active, it would be easy to replicate if the authors decided to stop, given its simple format and lack of recognisable agency. The refusal to engage with criticism or change will likely limit its growth.[12] This raises the issue of agency within girl culture and girl markets, addressed by Catherine Driscoll: “Agency is a very problematic criterion for understanding how culture is produced for the simple reason that no one person produces culture, and yet circulating shared meanings – the definition of cultural activity – often seems to compromise a desired cultural authenticity.”[13] Justgirlythings has created its own vague cultural authenticity, following Driscoll’s formula, by successfully circulating shared meanings.

 

Some of those shared meanings reenact restrictive stereotypes on girl identities. In the ‘self image’ and ‘want’ tag on Justgirlythings, content pertaining to self-harm and eating disorders can be found among disinterested platitudes.[14] The host site, Tumblr, has taken stringent measures to get rid of blogs and imagery that explicitly promote forms of self harm.[15] Driscoll argues that “Anorexia is not defined by a goal – it is becoming (not thin but thinner)...”[16] The lone anorexic lacks agency, but when becoming thinner is networked it is a force to be eradicated. Driscoll goes on to note various theories of this “becoming thinner”, suggesting that, ultimately, “No girl becomes anorexic without reference to discourses on anorexia...”[17] Tara Storozynsky’s article “Nothing Tastes as Good as Blogging Feels” casts further light on the issue of online erasure faced by those communities living with eating disorders: “When a piece of your identity vanishes, you find another website and rebuild it. You rebuild it stronger than it ever was before.”[18] It’s hard to determine whether the imagery that pertains to pro-anorexia and thinspiration on Justgirlythings has met restrictions set by its host, Tumblr.

 

Cooltattoogirl parodies the Tumblr era of explicit pro-anorexia, with a nod to Justgirlythings.

Cooltattoogirl uses the watermarked inspirational photo quote format, displaying images of thin, predominantly white able women and text overlays containing purposeful typos (“i wanna pointy butt”, for example). The misspellings emphasise the perceived naivety of the parodied subject and the motivational phrases usually found in thinspirational photo quotes are exaggerated. Cooltattoogirl stereotypes those suffering with eating disorders for their poorly thought-out goals. The Cooltattoogirl blog has been deleted, but Tumblr users who encounter the content remain uncertain as to where it lies on a spectrum of anorexic propaganda and parody.

Whether or not these kinds of parody are successful in shattering fantasies shared by communities like Justgirlythings, such fantasies are so uncertain, they are set to shatter themselves.

 

Successful Satirisation of Justgirlythings and its own Authoritarian Exclusions

Juzt Girly thingz also utilises the inspirational photo quote format, creating juxtapositions that shatter the Justgirlythings fantasy of cultural authenticity, with quotes such as “owning panties more colourful than your personality” pasted over stock photographs.[19] This parody blog has a clear agenda asserted in their “About Us” section: “welcome to our blog which is aimed at cis-gendered, biological females who happen to be Caucasian and middle class in the developed world because we’re 999% gurrrly and this reflects all girls of every religion, sexual orientation, gendurr identity, body type, ethnicity, social status, and other anthropomorphic and gurly shiznit”.[20] The satirisation lies in the fact they address a key misdemeanour of Justgirlythings: it represents girly things as normative and white.

 

The authors of Justgirlythings reenact fantasies of their own oppression, despite their sincere effort, at one time, to fairly represent “colour, shape, size and sexuality”.[21] Marginalised identities largely exist as props within the blog’s arsenal. Within the tag “hair”.[22] girls of colour are represented sparsely, a tokenistic presence in posts about “natural hair”.

A more efficient system of feedback might encourage the authors to post a more diverse spectrum that goes beyond normative imagery of white girls. In early September 2013, Starbucks reintroduced the Pumpkin Spice Latte at its stores.[23] Justgirlythings celebrated the seasonal drink.

For Johannah King-Slutzky, “Pumpkin Spice Latte White Girl” jokes poke fun at young white middle-class female consumers, revealing the absurdity and banality of what they do with the power and privilege they possess as white girls: “...the PSL #whitegirltweet is about compliance and agency: white girls are expected to be unabrasive and docile...”[24]

 

What will become of Justgirlythings?

Justgirlythings’ submissive, exclusionary and toxic positive fantasies need to be challenged, but there is still potential in the idea of ‘justgirly’ space.  Satire like Juzt Girly Thingz and PSL White Girl hold the potential to shatter the fantasies that the Justgirlythings community has shared. The majority of the shaming that takes place through parody and juxtaposition identifies something disturbing about Justgirlythings, but ends up denigrating a girl-community. It’s not certain what the Justgirlythings authors will make of this exaggerated take on the ‘meaning behind’ their work. In consequence, a refusal to engage with their own defining ideology comes off as a kind of shame in itself. If they don’t start talking, the alternative meanings in their exhibitionism will be lost to them.

 

Footnotes

  1. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/ back
  2. According to analytics from the site KnowYourMeme, which covers emergent viral content online. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/just-little-things back
  3. http://imgur.com/gallery/145sM back
  4. http://ds.reddit.com/r/justgirlythings/ back
  5. See figure 2. Refer to  - http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/faq  back
  6. Donna Haraway, 1985, A Cyborg Manifesto,New York, Routledge, 1991, 150. back
  7. Bill Davidow, 26th March 2013, “The Internet ‘Narcissism Epidemic’”,http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/03/the-internet-narcissism-epidemic/274336/ back
  8. Jesse Darling, 23rd August 2013, “Manning The Empire”, http://dismagazine.com/blog/49976/manning-the-empire/#comments back
  9. Darling, “Manning The Empire” back
  10. Darling, “Manning The Empire” back
  11. http://instagram.com/justgirlyblog. This account began posting content March 2013 back
  12. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/faq See Fig. 2. back
  13. Catherine Driscoll, 2002, Girls: Feminine Adolescence and Cultural Theory,Columbia. 257. back
  14. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/tagged/self+image and http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/tagged/want back
  15. http://staff.tumblr.com/post/18563255291/follow-up-tumblrs-new-policy-against-pro-self-harm back
  16. Driscoll Girls: Feminine Adolescence and Cultural Theory, 250 back
  17. Driscoll Girls: Feminine Adolescence and Cultural Theory, 251. back
  18. Tara Storozynsky, October 2013,Nothing Tastes as Good as Blogging Feels”, http://theclustermag.com/2013/10/nothing-tastes-good-blogging-feels/ back
  19. http://juzt-girly-thingz.com back
  20. http://juzt-girly-thingz.com/about back
  21. See Fig. 5 for an image of a cached copy of the website, prior to its recent redesign, showing the fuller disclaimer. back
  22. See Fig. 5 for an image of a cached copy of the website, prior to its recent redesign, showing the fuller disclaimer. back
  23. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/tagged/hair back
  24. Johannah King-Slutzky, October 11, 2013, “How Did Pumpkin Become Beloved? Labor, Nostalgia, Refreshment And White Women”,http://www.theawl.com/2013/10/its-pumpkin-season-labor-nostalgia-refreshment-and-white-women back

Image references

  1. Screenshot of comments section on imgur.com: http://imgur.com/gallery/145sM back
  2. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/post/25591231114 back
  3. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/faq back
  4. An example of an incentivised promotion post, which are routinely posted from the blog feed. back
  5. An image of a cached copy of the website, prior to its recent redesign, showing the fuller disclaimer. back
  6. FA surviving post from the deactivated Cooltattogirl tumblr. back
  7. Screenshot of a Tumblr user speculating about Cooltattoogirl. back
  8. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/post/25610385837 The tokenistic inclusion of girls of colour. back
  9. http://justgirlythings.tumblr.com/post/63660032505 back
Exhibitionism

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