Pretty ugly little liars.
"Their search for authenticity was indistinguishable from a dog hunt for deceit."
In the early 2010s, groups of young women downloaded the Living Dolls’ photos to inspect for inconsistencies. They pointed to minuscule Photoshop errors and anatomical impossibilities with cursor-drawn arrows in MS Paint, then uploaded their findings to forums like Pretty Ugly Little Liar. Their search for authenticity was indistinguishable from a dog hunt for deceit.
In the early 2010s, I discovered “Living Dolls.” The easiest way to describe these women to the uninitiated was not that they were dolls per se, but rather that they were Western women trying to look like Japanese women who were trying to look like Western women. Weird feedback loop, I know.
Living Dolls taught me that other girls could imperceptibly (to me) edit their selfies and even manipulate their videos frame-by-frame, though their work was likely shoddy to the semi-trained eye.
On Tumblr and Youtube, the kawaii Living Dolls transformed into otherworldly cute digital commodities, trialing thousands of micro-customizations in Photoshop, devoted to their search for a face and body with the prettiest ratios.
Living Dolls made this risky bargain for the adoration of some but suffered as she became the public property of all other teenage girls, including and maybe especially those who held the simultaneous desire to have what she did and the resentful wish that the Living Doll not have it at all.
For the Living Doll, in her alienation from her body, the mirror was sinister as it prescribed only one reflection.
External criticism only accelerated her dissociation:
The Living Doll would begin to see her face as a fragmented cluster of flaws, and the images she produced would grow stranger and stranger. For the young woman watching and bathing in the sick joy of forum gossip, her human status would be slowly revoked with her entry into the uncanny. It would invite a complete failure of empathetic recognition. She would become a lolcow.
The forum users would project their inner process of perfectionism onto the Living Doll’s few unedited photos. Their minds, too, were rotted by the flaws in themselves they couldn’t unsee and hyperawareness of millimeter discrepancies from their ideal. They, in their sickness, were the keepers of this forbidden knowledge: that highly specific features are inevitable, biological, immutable signifiers of lovability.
They were image-obsessed but covertly; perhaps some wished they could get away with cosmetic enhancements and false representation but found more emotional safety in their moral objection.
To protect herself from this righteous onslaught, the Living Doll would become skilled in denial.
No - *pokes eyeball* I am not wearing circle lenses.
No - it’s just puberty…the lighting…the angle…
The Living Dolls were the weeaboo elite.
Several moved from their scene phase directly into escapist cyber-orientalism. Cuteness was their currency. Enlarge the eyes, shrink the nose and jawline, reshape the doll-like glossy lips and tiny limbs, speak in high-pitched broken Japanese…
If blackpilled men have looksmaxxing, the Living Doll had neotenymaxxing, and she appeared to grow younger and more alien with each passing year.
Once she entered her 20s, the Living Doll discovered the ‘freedom’ to pay a surgeon to cut and fill and cut, but there is no Ctrl+Z, and you cannot so easily build an Eastern European child model atop the kawaii anime girl-now-woman.
She would get the sinking feeling that she would one day fade out of public consciousness— trapped in last season’s face.
With the rise of Facetune and filters, the Living Doll’s dishonesty was streamlined and democratized for the average user. Videos raising public awareness of “Instagram vs. Reality” and plastic surgery speculation are now for the psychologically healthy, not just for the conspiratorial NEET put to shame by others’ beauty.
It is now a profoundly common state to digitally advertise and consume oneself.
The infinite loop of watcher being watched pre-dates the Internet, but this narcissistic wounding process has been built into the software itself.
A girl online will be annihilated by her own ruthless self-consciousness if she fails, in the last moment, to save herself with grandiosity.
Great guest post!
Ooooof. That's brutal. And brilliant. A fine piece of writing.