In the age of the cookie-cutter Instagram influencer, an army of Gen-Zers are exploring the alternative via rising social platform TikTok
It’s likely that, if you’ve heard of E-girls before, you know them as the wide-eyed, quirky, and beautiful gamers who earn six-figure salaries playing consoles on Twitch – or otherwise by selling their bathwater. Starting life as a misogynistic insult for women whose passion for video games was claimed to be a ploy for male attention and money, the term has evolved and grown to encompass a huge community of Gen-Zers intent on reclaiming it: embracing the aesthetic of those that came before them, injecting it with an ironic dose of humour, and taking predominantly to TikTok to spread their unique message.
Recently though, the movement’s style and influence has begun to seep out into the mainstream – even if you haven’t spent much time on TikTok, it’s likely you’ll have come across more than a few E-Girls and E-Boys while absently scrolling through Instagram’s discover page or the Twitter TL.
Mixing alternative aesthetics like thick chains, chokers, monochrome stripes, and dramatic eyeliner with softer, anime-inspired qualities like little hearts drawn on under their eyes, caked-on blush, and rainbow-coloured hair, they’re easily recognisable. In fact, E-style feels like a blast from the not-so-distant past, with style echoing that of the MySpace scene kids of the mid-00s. And, much like their MySpace counterparts, whose penchant for uber-thick side-fringes and emo music tendencies rallied against pop culture’s homogenised, Hollister-heavy aesthetics – as hammered home by the likes of The Hills and The OC – E-girls and E-boys are intent on creating their own counterculture, in part directly influenced by the rise of Instagram.
Having created a veritable benchmark for beauty like no other medium over the course of the last five years, as characterised by the Coke-bottle bodies, big lips, and impossibly bouncy hair (much of which is achieved via Photoshop as opposed to having ‘woken up like this’, contrary to what each individual might profess), E-girls counter the aesthetic by wearing infantilising clothing with darker, more alternative influences. They’re not completely removed from these cookie cutter influencers, though. They too are part of the generation that grew up watching make-up tutorials, and have seemingly been honing their craft from the moment they hit their teens – only while they’ve also been spoon-fed a homogenous idea of perfection, they instead opt to take things in their own, imperfect direction. With accounts like Celebface leading the charge when it comes to revealing the unattainable standards celebrities and influencers set, E-girls can in some ways be considered the IRL face of the rebellion.
“It’s like the antithesis of the glam Insta model,” E-girl Vynique Moon explains. Hailing from Chicago, Moon’s candy-coloured locks change as often as the faux-freckles she dots across her face each day. Having heard the term E-girl for the first time earlier this year, she admits she hasn’t fully embraced it yet. “I use it in hashtags so people could see my pictures, because a lot of the make-up I do is E-girl make-up I think.”
Moon’s hesitation isn’t unfounded. For each E-girl and E-boy making the label their own, there are others less comfortable doing so – particularly when it came to them by way of others or has been used in a derogatory way towards them. Others are less concerned. Alice, a 17-year-old singer-songwriter from London had long been inspired by these post-internet aesthetics, so taking on a new persona seemed like the next logical step. “People would (call me an E-girl) as a meme or a joke but I thought .. actually, I kinda like this title and just started calling myself one anyway,” she recalls. “There were so many cool girls who called themselves E-girls and I was really inspired by their outfits. I just thought: why not!”
“When I first heard it it was definitely in a negative light and I mainly saw it being used by men to put down women expressing themselves in this kind of way. But luckily it was reclaimed and became more or less a positive word,” echoes Eve Fraser. Hailing from Scotland, Fraser is pretty much the epitome of E-girl style: with her rainbow-hued bob and aspirational winged black eyeliner, the 18-year-old has upwards of 700,000 followers on Instagram alone, having amassed a dedicated following via her personal YouTube channel.
“People would (call me an E-girl) as a meme or a joke but I thought... actually, I kinda like this title and just started calling myself one anyway”
In one video, titled ‘How To Be An Egirl’ Fraser gently applies vivid pinks all over her face and tiny hearts in the outer corners of her eyes over 20 minutes. “Whoever hates on E-girls,” she says, staring down the camera and pausing for dramatic effect, ““You shouldn’t because… look how cute!” she says rather un-menacingly. The video ends with her insisting it’s a joke, but whether that’s just to avoid hate in the comments or not is hard to read. “I wouldn’t really say I ever labelled myself like that,” she explains. “(But) I kept getting a lot of comments telling me I was in a rather insulting way, (so) I thought I’d play into it, and now I really don’t mind being called (an E-girl).”
Eighteen-year-old Kayleigh, a Nashville-based E-girl with a yellow and peach bob, offers more insight as to her approach to style. “There’s definitely is a sense of getting away from the traditional version of a thot. It’s about showing that there’s something attractive about dressing to impress yourself instead of trying to look like what the media paints everyone’s ideal type to be. That's where the sense of an alternative attractiveness comes from.” Her distinctive look is tempered by grommet belts, chunky platform, and layered silver necklaces, and even hints to BDSM culture. “Being sexual as a girl isn’t a bad thing, but most E-girls aren’t trying to be sexualised. We’re trying to show that there isn’t just the innocent girl and the thot,” she adds.
But it’s not just young women making up the ranks: if E-girls are the new cool girls on the block, then E-boys could probably be considered the heartthrobs of 2019. As early as 2006, E-boys were defined as ‘emo boys’, with most definitions of that expressing various degrees of homophobia. At least on TikTok, a slew of Gen-Z content creators are challenging this outdated opinion by revelling in the ideas of gender fluidity and freedom when it comes to their sexual expression – a stark contrast to the OG emo kids of the early to mid-00s.
“It’s more of a statement than an aesthetic,” New Yorker Jamison, 19, explains. With over 32,000 followers on IG and 21,700 fans on TikTok, Jamison is the quintessential E-boy, with a seemingly never-ending selection of wigs and an affinity for experimenting with make-up, jewellery, and even faux fangs and masks. Speaking on the night following the 2019 Pride celebrations in Manhattan, he admits that, for him, being an E-boy is all about pushing boundaries. “It allows for more freedom of expression and the chance to experiment with traditionally feminine looks that men – especially straight men – have been taught to shy away from. The fact that it’s become a trend is a really positive thing, it promotes self-expression.”
Though not all E-boys are queer, experimenting with feminine aesthetics is at the heart of this blossoming demographic. Los-Angeles content creator Luis Abad moved out of home at 17 and has since pursued a career in social media, amassing over 35,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel and over 126,000 fans on TikTok. A quick look through the 19-year-old’s patrons and it’s clear that his style is the reason for his devout following. Admittedly, his style is in fact driven by the rebellion du jour of hip-hop, as pioneered by the likes of Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Peep. “I grew up admiring rappers, rockstars and artists with colourful hair, clothes, and painted nails,” he tells me. “I made a video called “How To Be an E-boy” as a joke but also to show how I dressed and it did really well, so people just started giving me that label.” Now, his video has over 200,000 views.
As E-boys have become increasingly popular, Abad witnessed a more fluid and accepting landscape on TikTok, while older people tend to be haters. “I actually have a friend who’s the same age as me and he’s straight but loves wearing nail polish and wearing fake freckles with make-up,” he explains. “He gets so much hate from older people because they just don’t get it. They give him a lot of shit for being too ‘feminine’.”
In fact, a quick search on YouTube brings up a huge number of videos with titles like EVERYTHING WRONG WITH EBOYS!! and The Rise Of E-Boys (Cringe) are created with the intention of picking apart this young, experimental demographic. The E-Boy Invasion by comedian Kurtis Conner has amassed over 1.6 million views, with the 25 year-old going in hard with an anti-E-boy rant. "They've got their striped shirts, their big hair, and their fucking trapezoid jaws," Conner spits, “and they must clench all their teeth together to make their jaws be all fucking pronounced.” Most commenters simply accuse Conner of being an E-boy himself. But it begs the question – why all the hate?
“It’s usually the people that are afraid to express themselves that hate us,” Gavin, an E-boy from Florida confirms. “I have for sure been made fun of by a lot of people. (They go) as far as saying things like ‘E-boys shouldn’t exist’ or ‘you should kill yourself’ but it doesn’t really bother me because I know that i am fully comfortable with myself.” Unlike other E-boys contributing to this article, Gavin’s style is demure. His Instagram feed shows a rotation of black t-shirts, Vans, and the occasional silver chain but his TikTok page, which boasts over 100,000 fans tells a completely different story of the 18-year-old. In a recent video he cheekily lists all the qualities of his ‘perfect girl’ as a deluge of commenters moon over him in the comments section. “This is literally me but I bet you won’t notice,” one user writes longingly.
“It’s usually the people that are afraid to express themselves that hate us. (They go) as far as saying things like ‘E-boys shouldn’t exist’ or ‘you should kill yourself’ but it doesn’t really bother me because I know that i am fully comfortable with myself”
E-girls and E-boys now saturate every part of TikTok, with a meme page called “E-girl Factory” becoming a hugely popular trend on the app. Its videos see users who appear to be regular teens mime being dragged into a room where they are forcibly covered in pink blush, eyeliner, and tiny hearts until they become the perfect E-girl – and, in some instances, the perfect E-boy.
Unlike the heavy-handed, hateful videos on YouTube, the E-girl Factory meme is au courant with the ironic comedy that defines TikTok. “I think the E-girl and E-boy TikTok factory meme is really funny,” Alice says. “I love watching those videos and I actually think that’s what helped people discover it as a type of fashion.”
Ultimately E-boys and E-girls are just the latest teenage trend to rise from and be driven by a new social media platform, but, against the faux perfection peddled by Instagram, there is an unbridled authenticity that makes them fascinating to those who love them – and even more so to those who hate them. “It’s about pushing the envelope,” Jamison drives home. “There’s a lot of positivity and encouragement that comes with having a different style, a different attitude, and promoting those differences. That’s why being an E-boy is cool.”