Dissociative Gaze Into The Abyss: A Sunday Essay

by | Nov 6, 2022 | ART, DESIGN, EDITORIAL

Is the revival of the 2014 Tumblr girl how the internet copes with the end of the world? 

The dissociative pout, also referred to as the dissociative gaze, was first coined by i-D Magazine in the 2022 article “The cult of the dissociative pout” by Rayne Fisher-Quann, and is characterized by staring dead-eyed and pouty lipped into 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 dread. The rise of the dissociative gaze is the physical embodiment of a palpable shift away from doom scrolling and towards the satirically grotesque art of girlblogging. 

The current forum for this nihilistic revolution of Tumblr inspired content is girlblogs. The concept of a girlblog is similarly abstract to lobotomy-chic aesthetics, but the simplest definition is a social media account ran by a girl in her late teens or early twenties, centered around hyper feminine aesthetics. This can 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, girlblogs throw the word girl in front of almost anything for the sake of being meta. For example, girlbloggers don’t post from their rooms, they post from their girlrooms. 

The Girlblog Aesthetic

In abstract terms, girlblogs are characterized by the color pink, stanning 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 poses the question; how are you coping daughter? Not well, the internet responds. 

For the last few years, the internet has watched the world burn. TikTok has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic and has provided the collective consciousness with an endless stream of content depicting every terrible thing that has ever happened. The explosion of fear inducing content on the app has not been constructive. Some believe doom scrolling will light the fire of change, but I believe it serves as exposure therapy and leads to compliance. There is no better example of burnout acceptance than the 2014 Tumblr revival. 

Tumblr in 2014 was a distinctive era on the internet; stan culture flourished, the concept of online accountability was created on pages like yourfaveisproblematic, and inappropriate online relationships blossomed. Tumblr’s peak was accompanied by the popularity of Omegle and Wattpad. These platforms were the last of an era of teenage unregulated internet access. The mental health impacts of social media use were largely unconsidered. Violent images and pornography were shared like chainmail and the dark web was just a click away. 

Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok’s revival of the 2014 Tumblr girl reminisces on the more lighthearted aspects of old school internet culture and adds a twist of escapism and dread. Low resolution images of girls in fishnet tights, combat boots and party dresses are overlapped with notes app confessions and dissociative declarations. These kinds of images flood the Instagram explore page, just like the good old days, and have thousands of interactions. TikTok videos of teens lip-syncing to The 1975 in black striped T-shirts and wide brimmed hats pop up on the “For You” page between iPhone videos of war. 

The aesthetics at the forefront of the Tumblr revival don’t exist in a vacuum; grooming and eating disorders were the dark underbelly of our current source material. Beyond this is the true socioeconomic and political climate these memes and trends were created in. Everything, especially art, is a product of the culture, but the art of dissociation calls for connection to nothing. The meta-irony of girlblogs calls for self-awareness regarding the problematic nature of dissociation from current events, adding to the layers of denial required for girlblogging. In turn, the dissociative gaze is perfected. There is nothing behind the eyes behind the screen, as was intended. 

The point of this online sphere is to be an uncomplicated escape. Informative articles and problematic tweets never reach the Tumblr revival feed. The Tumblr adjacent hashtags care little for the dark truth of its origins or of the current political climate. The only useful information shared on a girlblog timeline is which Dior lip shades are the pinkest and which Ottessa Moshfegh book is best. 

Despite the desire to be lobotomized, a modern Tumblr girl is no fool. She stays educated through academic reading and learning theory. She learns the inner workings of structures and policy, but pays no mind to catastrophes, because her traumatized brain can’t handle it. 

The Girlblog Aesthetic

I’ve used girlblogging as a place for 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 curate a shallow and beautiful life for myself. I am the main character in my narcissistic delusions, and when things are important enough to know, they reach me. It’s been a social experiment of sorts to track the sharing of information from the informed to the uniformed. I still found out that Roe v. Wade was overturned 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 expert; I was able to process the pain in solitude. 

Don’t be misled, the death of democracy and our planet is no joke to me or others on the online sphere of girlblogging; the escapist sphere leaves space for collective grief, just not collective panic. It’s been about eight months since I changed the way I engage with the internet and I have never had more inner peace. My intrusive thoughts are more relatable and I’m hotter than ever. I’ve called this isolated social experiment my knowledge diet. 

To be a woman online is to be a product, and the modern Tumblr girl wants to sell it back. Give me a lobotomy, we beg. I don’t want to know anything, we insist. Knowledge is a curse and watching the world end from every perspective is the worst! The frilliest corners of the internet respond with amateur poetry, self-deprecation, and socialite mugshots. While the well-informed concern themselves with the economy or whatever, the highly skilled coquette girl discusses how Gilmore Girls ruined Rory’s character in the later seasons. 

This ignorance is not a lack of empathy or character but rather a survival mechanism, because looking outside oneself has become too painful. People feel powerless over their own fate, but not their narrative; existence can be beautiful and romantic when viewed on a curated page. Every day a new path to oblivion is presented, and every day people log onto the internet to dive in headfirst or turn their cheek. There is a moral superiority to fighting the good fight online and a massive amount of privilege to ignore it, but at a certain point self-preservation kicks in. 

Everywhere all the time people are suffering, but on my timeline, people are dancing on rooftops, blowing out birthday candles, feeding each other strawberries in the park and watching the sunset. We have all learned the terrible truth: the world is ending in one way or another. As Sally Rooney said in Beautiful World, Where Are You, “isn’t death just the apocalypse in the first person?” Whether we die alone or together, the internet wants to look pretty while doing it, and stress is bad for your skin. 


Photos provided by Morgan Blair

Top photo Agostina, c. 1866 – Jean-Baptiste-Camille Carot | Chester Dale Collection | Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Morgan Blair

Morgan Blair

Morgan was born and raised in Northern Virginia and moved to Richmond shortly after graduating high school. She grew up fascinated with narrative music and began writing poetry and songs. She is currently a university student and is working on her manuscript. When she's not in school or stuck behind a laptop, she's an amateur ballerina, roller-skater and cat mom.

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