Okay, so you’ve downloaded TikTok, you’re enjoying the content the algorithm is putting down for you, and you’re considering making your own, but one question lingers in the back of your mind. What exactly is an… E-girl? And an E-boy? Different species with similar naming conventions or two sides of the same micro-subculture coin?
In our series on micro-trends (that definitely sometimes become macro-trends) we break down some of the popular and ever-evolving aesthetics turned up in the endless washing-machine churn that is the internet.
What is an E-Girl? What is an E-Boy?
So, a short history lesson. While the modern incarnation of E-Girls as we know them (we’re going to leave boys alone for the moment) have definitely been popularised, canonised even, by TikTok, the actual term pre-dates the highly addictive and often inexplicable app.
According to Buzzfeed News, the term dates back as early as 2013, and as unfortunately the case with many of these terms was initially about degraded or dismissing women. It was a misogynistic term used to describe gamers (or women in online communities generally—the E stands for electronic after all) who happened to be attractive girls, who therefore must be alternatively not real gamers and clamouring for attention. Big yikes.
The term E-Boy is also slung around, but the aesthetic is a bit less defined as are the parameters of what makes someone one. The defining features of an E-Boy seem to be some level of conventional attractiveness, a somewhat flirtatious self-presentation and engaging with the dance-memes of the day, like below.
So basically, the term E-girl and E-boy is generally used in the description of young people who ascribe to a particular aesthetic and type of TikTok content, but as Vox reports, it rarely actually leaves the bedrooms of where the young auteurs are filming content.
What is the E-Girl and E-Boy aesthetic?
Get your makeup brushes and tongues out, you’ve got a lot of blush to put on. These are some of the key hallmarks of the E-Girl trend we’re seeing:
- Artificially coloured hair: pastels, multicolour, brights—business is booming for Manic Panic.
- Winger or heavy liner, more is more.
- Lottsa blush, sometimes with freckles or extra illustrations that are drawn on, you’ll see flowers, hearts, stars and so on. Filters are also often used to this effect.
- Alt-y, Depop-y, thrifted clothing—think along the lines of the Dolls Kill aesthetic, which is actually a popular shop amongst the community.
- Maximalist accessories: hair clips, chokers, chains—we can only imagine what airport security would be like, but again, it doesn’t seem like this style is being worn out that much.
For E-Boys, think general ‘90s cute boy, likes of James Franco in Freaks and Geeks, or Jared Leto in My So-Called Life, but… if he did extremely meme-able dances instead of leaning on things with his eyes closed. According to Vox, the look “often involves decorative chains and Chandler Bing polos underneath a mop of middle-parted hair dyed shades of purple or green.”
There’s a lot to be unpacked in here. As with anything on the internet, a lot of these markers are derivative, drawing from gaming, anime, scene and skate aesthetics.
Why are some people so pressed about E-Girls?
At the end of the day, people will always find a reason to be mad things anything online. As well as the hyper-accessorising, there’s also whispers of BDSM and Lolita stuff going on in the E-Girl and E-Boy aesthetic which is its own difficult beast to navigate. Are E-Girls and E-Boys able to reclaim a kind of coy, tongue-in-cheek sexuality or does it open them up to the same kind of hypersexualisation and misogyny that O.G. gamer girls faced (and still face)?
The so-called “dangers” of being an E-Girl were thrust into the spotlight last year when Bianca Devins, a 17-year old from New York, was killed by a man who she had known through Discord, a chat platform for gamers. The moment crystallised a lot of the obsessive and negative attention that is levelled at women online, as well as the gross sense of entitlement and violence that can happen when this bleeds into real life.
Ashley Eldrige, going by ash.jpg, is one teen who is keenly aware of this self-reflexive irony and self-awareness seems to characterise the style. In one video, she asks the pertinent q: “OK, riddle me this, why is it that men get so mad over girls being E-Girls,” before continuing, “Listen, Jonathan, you’re going to sexualise me anyway, so why can’t I do it for a quick buck on the internet?”
She makes a good point. TikTok by its very nature is a broadcasting app, and the content, unlike platforms like Tumblr or Instagram which is often fandom or interest-based or about things you’re doing/eating/seeing, is literally yourself. The point is to get attention.
On the one hand, there’s a tonne of complex stuff going on with self-presentation and subcultures here, and on the other… it’s not that deep. Whether you want to experiment with a new makeup style because of E-Girls and E-Boys, make your own E-Girl factory meme while sipping on your E-Girl juice, or simply sit back and enjoy the content machine, you do you.
The algorithm is already working on the next thing anyway.