Celebrity face mash-ups aside, these spaces have given voice to people who are oftentimes marginalised in the popular media, like LGBT communities, or those with mental health issues, for whom the human connections to be found through blogs and tumblrs can constitute a lifeline.
So, what are we to think when these supposed channels for counter-culture end up conforming almost completely to the paradigms presented to us by the mass media: does it lend those paradigms validation, or just indicate a kind of auto-repression?
This is what occurred to me when I stumbled upon the immensely popular Just Girly Things, which consists basically of pretty photos and an overlaid caption in white. Often parodied, things which are apparently girly range from the predictable -
to the utterly random -
Some posts express sweetly old-fashioned and original ambitions -
And indeed, there is room too for members of the aforementioned oft-marginalised communities -
But I guess what I found most surprising, perhaps naively, was how much the preoccupations of the blog, followed and reblogged by thousands of young girls, mirrored so closely those of mass media. Weddings and wedding gowns, being skinny, being tan, being like other girls, buying shoes, and being generally unabashedly materialistic -
Celebrities are still regarded and held up aspirationally, but so are the girls out there doing the exact same thing as you.
Sometimes, the ideas portrayed about what it is to be 'girly' and by extension, a young woman, are downright worrying.
Everything Cosmo ever told us was important seems to have been noted down, digested and spat out in a new, grass-roots, hipster-style form. Can we talk of certain stereotypes as being repressive if they are not only absorbed but regurgitated by young girls?
If even in the most permissive and open-ended creative digital spaces, young girls are fashioning codes or standards for themselves like Just Girly Things - in which ‘Just wanting a boy to hold you’ translates as ‘What you should want is a boy to hold you’ – what does that say about the way traditional female ideas are perpetuated?
Now, I appreciate that teenagers are always going to feel the pressure to conform and to express that in their creative output, whatever that may be. And both the nature of tumblr as a medium, the nature of the average adolescent, and the varied expectations of girls mean that contradictory messages are somewhat inevitable…
Yet these digital spaces prompt us to remember, when discussing the portrayal of women in the media, that we should look also to their own representations in order to understand its effects. This approach discourages viewing ‘the media’ as a conspiracy rather than an umbrella for actors with countless motivations and influences. And it highlights the biases and presumptions that underlay our own representations and constructions of female identity.
Then again, there's no accounting for why these are apparently girly things -
Okay, I may have made that one up.
All images sourced from Just Girly Things. Except the last one.