Users are editing their faces to appear younger
Does the Internet have an unhealthy obsession with young girls? There are easily hundreds of digitally grown aesthetic movements, subcultures, fashion styles, micro-celebrities, and archetypes that hinge on the deification of neotenous features. To name a few: e-girls, Instagram face, Cracky-chan, Valerie Lukyanova, Venus Angelic, Belle Delphine, Bella Poarch, Neekolul, j-fashion, k-fashion, living dolls, anime waifus, Zoomer ethnic ambiguity, coquettes, nymphettes.
What do any of these words and phrases mean? Who are these people? About the only thing that ties them all together is their youthful appearance: big eyes, small noses, and tiny lips on women and girls, both real and imagined.
The obvious explanation is that these people, groups, and trends are different expressions of the same thing: our long-standing obsession with female youth, now accelerated by the attention economy. The financial reward here is clear: Diana Deets/Coconut Kitty and Maria Tretjakova/Olivia Casta are just two examples of women using filters to give themselves more neotenous features and making thousands of dollars from OnlyFans.
As OKCupid founder Christian Rudder once famously said, “From the time you’re twenty-two, you’ll be less hot than a twenty-year old, based on [OKCupid’s] data. So that’s just a thing.” It was a shocking assertion — that there could be such a big gap in attractiveness between the ages of 22 and 20 — but the data backs his claim. Older faces are consistently rated as less attractive than younger faces. Women with baby-like features (that is, large, widely spaced eyes, and small noses and chins) are judged to be the most attractive in cross-cultural studies. And a quick look at PornHub data from the past five years reveals that the most popular porn actresses, in both the amateur and professional categories, tend to be those with neotenous features, too. The same is true of OnlyFans too.
But something else might be at play too. Take the porn star Belle Delphine, who’s regularly accused of making herself look younger. Yet the strange thing is, it’s not that she’s necessarily making herself look more child-like — pubescent, or even prepubescent girls don’t even look like her — but more cartoonish, like an anime character.
On the face of it, this may seem odd, but looking at the PornHub data again, surveys reveal a desire for something less-than-human; hentai was, for example, the number one porn category for 2021. So perhaps the end goal isn’t so much approximating youth but rather trying to give the impression of something not fully human that happens to share some qualities of youth.
That’s what comes to mind when I think of girls like Venus Angelic, Beckii Cruel, and Bebe, of the mother/daughter duo, “BebopandBebe,” all famous for sporting this anime-inspired, neotenous look on social media. The former two, who were 13 and 16 at the heights of their fame, respectively. Bebe might be as young as 7 and is certainly under 10. All three of these girls go to great pains to achieve the anime-esque, neotenous look through make-up, lighting, angles, and filters. They didn’t and don’t naturally look like that — not even Bebe, who’s a child.
This is unquestionably a disturbing trend, and one that has been turbocharged by social media. Juvenilising adults is yet another peculiar symptom of our hypermodern age and the scary part is, we don’t even know how much further down this rabbit hole we’ll go.