Yanking The Ribbons From My Hair


When you search the word “coquette” on Pinterest, you’ll be bombarded by a million different images. Women in hairbows; lacy dresses; skinned kneecaps; submachine guns laid on pale pillowcases. It’s a visual language that is vaguely French and Lolita-esque, an indescribable dream that simultaneously celebrates girlhood and twists it into something acrid. It rose out of the ashes of the early 2010s, combined with a potent mix of pastel photography and vaguely pedophilic music. Now, coquettes live among cottagecore fairies, mob wives and clean girls, all easily packaged aesthetics that float amongst each other as fantasy-women.

As a citizen of cyberspace and Certified Teenage Girl, I (and assumably many others) have an automatic meta-knowledge of all these internet phenomena, absorbed through smartphone osmosis to form a vocabulary of satire and micro-niche memes that would be incomprehensible to the average Facebook user. Every student on a college campus has seen the memes of chicken nuggets wrapped in bows, so I won’t bore you with the origin story of the modern coquette. If you’re still confused, you can just google Lana del Rey lyrics. 

But I’m not here to argue about the morality of daddy kinks or the genesis of internet trends; I am not a sociologist. I am just a girl! I am only here to give a word of warning. 

The meaning of words is created by negation. When looking at a dog, you understand that it is not a cat. When looking at a bed, you understand that it is not a chair. When looking at a coquette, you understand she is not a woman. She is a girl. Not even that, she is the idea of a girl, one hyper-specific type of girl that’s pretty and untarnished. She sucks lollipops with her lips puckered. She is taught things by older men; sexual things. She bleeds often, but artfully. She is lace and never leather. She is delicate. 

Maybe this is why so many people are attracted to the image of the coquette. Her existence is unsullied by the ugliness of modern womanhood. She still has the innocence of youth, the endless possibilities of childhood, the knowledge that she is loved. It is a safety many have ripped away too soon. In its own twisted, gauzy way the fantasy of the lolita-nymphet-coquette-whatever-you-call-it gives us back a version of our own short juvenescence, entwined with the smell of sex and cigarettes. 

I am here to warn against these dreams. I am the destroyer of fantasies! We must accept that coquettes are not real. The women in the photographs on Pinterest are beautiful. The clothing is princess-like. The song lyrics are haunting. But that’s all they are. Photographs. Clothing. Words. Carefully crafted and posed for artfulness. To try and build your whole world around them is an existence consumed by wanting, never achieving. Enjoy all the loveliness, but guard your heart against the need for thin limbs. I was too young to ever stand a chance. 

I was handed a tablet when I was 8. My parents were well-meaning but ultimately clueless, unable to guard me against my own curiosity and the internet’s sharp claws. I bypassed all parental controls by age 9. By the sixth grade, my indoctrination into The Cult of Online Girlhood was well underway. I watched girls on Tumblr stack coins into the hollows of their collarbones and listen to music about love that killed. The idea of anyone loving me was novel, so I listened too. 

I was always told I was mature for my age. A smart girl. A responsible girl. I thought I was old enough to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It was the hubris of youth. I scrolled through pictures of other girls’ thighs, but only measured mine in the dark of my mother’s bedroom. I counted the number of carrots I ate, but binged on donuts and rice at family gatherings. I earned A’s in middle school English and told no one of how much I dreamed of loving men older, older, older than me. No matter how rational I was and how intelligent I knew myself to be, sheer exposure had already turned me into a creature dissatisfied with her strong mind and thick bones.

I grew breasts too soon and lived a life that, by the council of the coquettes, was already tainted. Through the modern ideal of the Lolita, I could at least comfort myself with the fantasy that I was wanted by someone’s father. I could be innocent and free from the heaviness of the outside world. I could tell the man in my mind: Teach me, touch me, love me. Pull up my knee socks; yank the ribbons from my head. Make me forget how ugly I feel when I remember that there is hair between my legs. 

Maybe this speaks to a broader need in all of us, these young, young girls, to feel desired. Taken care of. Doted on by someone who knows us and will want us without preamble. To feel small and lovely, because we are tired of being left to flounder alone. To believe there’s a world out there filled not with income taxes and dating apps, but teddy bears and flower bedspreads. 

I cannot fault anyone for wanting to dress in ruffles to post pretty pictures of themselves online. What I am scared of is how men will treat those that are still blooming. I am scared of my 12-year-old sister wearing a pink skirt and being taken as bait. I am scared for my younger self, discovering for the first time the depths of her own desire, and stunting my own heart into something sick. Something wounded. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be free from the idea of the coquette. Her beauty is too alluring, the pastels of her life too inviting. When I sleep, I dream of men wearing black boots. I hallucinate pink silk stockings and rough hands on virginal flesh. It’s a dainty corruption, a nagging cornerstone of my mind, a rough voice that will never, ever leave because I spent such a long time feeding it. It devoured me as I starved myself. 

God, how sick is this? I want to be loved as a woman. I want to cry like a little girl. I want to wear bows in my hair. I want someone to brush my teeth. But I am an adult now. I must do these things for myself. There is no one else here to take care of me. I will not be young forever, and I was never as thin as I once wished to be. I am sick of being tired. I am done being hungry. It’s time for me to move on.

Trying to guard against more girls joining the ranks of the waifish seems fruitless. I see TikToks of middle schoolers measuring their waists in bathroom mirrors and want to cry. Does the world not hurt us enough without our own self-bruising? Can we not live without wanting to be dead? 


 Young, young girls. 

I am just a girl, floating in the world unmoored.

 It’s easy to search for anchors in the wrong things. Distracted by pretty clothes, women who will never look like you and men who will never want you. If such fantasies control you, your brain will rot like a flower in sand. You cannot make yourself smaller forever. No one can love a corpse, even if she wears barrettes and has a ray of light inside her thighs. Being lovely and useless is not a life. It is a dream, easily broken. The coquette does not exist. She never will.

Photography by Lydia Behler