This is going to be a somewhat multi-topic post, Snarklings; well, not multi-topic, but two facets of one larger topic.
Part the First: Over on the Gothic Charm School Tumblr (yes, the Lady of the Manners is still on Tumblr, she’s curated her feed into a reliable stream of eye candy, but thank goodness for the blacklist function), someone asked a fantastic question about the goth scene. The Lady of the Manners did answer it in a Tumblr post, but decided to Hold Forth and Deliver Her Opinions in an expanded form.
“Auntie Jilli, I wanted to know if I could get some eldergoth insight here. I’ve been noticing that lately it seems like a lot of the well know goth internet folks have a very similar aesthetic. I don’t really get many opportunities to be in the physical goth scene and I’m still relatively new to the scene as an active participant so I was wondering if to you (or anyone else) if it seems like goth has gotten a little homogeneous lately or if it’s always been this way and I just didn’t see it.
The short (ish) answer is YES. In the Lady of the Manners’ opinion, the rise of cameras in everyone’s phones and the ease of putting those photos on social media has strengthened the idea that there is a very specific “goth look” that has to be embraced to be part of the subculture. And to be completely honest, the Lady of the Manners had kinda hoped that easy photos + social media would have the opposite effect: an explosion of different goth styles and looks. But alas, it doesn’t seem that happened.
The basics of the goth look Back In The Day (the 80s and 90s, and hell, even the early 00s) were pretty simple: black eyeliner and black clothes. Big hair was common, as were tangles of jewelry and layers of torn black tights and fishnets if you were really fancy or going out, but not everyone wanted to or was able to indulge in those things. There was also very little in the way of mass-produced goth clothing and accessories. If you were really lucky, you lived someplace that had a shop that stocked things from Bogey’s or Lip Service, and even then, you still hoped something passable might turn up at a mall store, you scavenged the thrift stores for vintage pieces, or you risked getting grounded for permanently staining the washing machine or bath tub with your black RIT dye experiments.
This question prompted the Lady of the Manners to dig out a bunch of her “goth history” books – Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace by Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje, everything by the illustrious Mick Mercer (the book on The Batcave is especially great), and her stacks of vintage goth and alternative magazines – Ghastly, Bats and Red Velvet, Permission, Carpe Noctem, and Propaganda – and her vague hunch was confirmed. While the photos were predominantly of pale thin people (bah!), not everyone looked the same. You could immediately identify the people in the photos as goths, but they didn’t look like they came from the same mold from a spooky doll factory.
Candid photos ”” true candid photos ”” don’t seem as prevalent as they once were. Yes, cameras in every phone make it easier to capture a moment (and the Lady of the Manners is very VERY much in favor of that), but the flip side is that not only are people aware of what the flattering angles are for when there’s a camera aimed at them, but the ability to retake and retake photos until the “best one” starts becoming the norm. (The Lady of the Manners admits she’s fallen prey to this mindset, and has had to give herself a “three photos and no more” rule for taking selfies, else her own body image demons will drag themselves out of the murk of her brain.)
The Lady of the Manners acknowledges that she sounds very much like an old person railing at technology, and that’s not her intent. But she also feels that the charm of not knowing how a photo will turn out until you get the film developed has been set aside. Because people need to be documented in all their fragile and fallible states, not just in a perfect, FaceTuned presentation.
Which leads to Part the Second of this topic: the Lady of the Manners receives a lot of mail and messages from people who want to know if they can call themselves goth if they’re not “pretty enough”. That most of the goths they see online are thin and conventionally pretty, and the concerned person feels that they themselves are not.
The Lady of the Manners’ heart breaks every time she reads one of these; she also becomes very very angry. Goth isn’t about “pretty”. Goth is about finding beauty in darker ideas and themes – the music, the literature, the art, the fascinating things that can come from the passage of time and strongly-felt emotions. Goth is NOT about putting a layer of dramatic makeup, black lipstick, and perfect pointy nails on top of conventional and mainstream beauty standards.
This insidious notion of “you must be this attractive to be a goth” isn’t new. Back In The Day there were mean bats in the scene who would cattily tell people that they weren’t pretty enough, thin enough, their makeup or clothes were wrong, etc. to be a glorious creature of darkness. But the Lady of the Manners really does feel that this idea has become a poisonous, strangling vine around goth and again, it’s partially the fault of photo-based social media. Getting “likes” and complimentary comments on a photo of yourself makes your brain give you a jolt of dopamine, and you feel happy. And if you aren’t getting that dopamine rush while seeing someone else is? It doesn’t matter how aware you are of the biochemical mechanisms, it still hurts and grinds away at your self worth.
While the Lady of the Manners would like to comfort and assure each and every one of you that you ARE pretty, handsome, beautiful, and that true beauty is who you are, not how you look, she also knows that:
- Not all of you will believe her.
- “Pretty privilege” is a real thing. Society treats conventionally attractive people better than others. It’s unfair, but it exists. (If you’re interested in further reading about the concept, take a look at this article by Janet Mock.)
- A lot of the media around the goth subculture is still focused on the idea of Caucasian beauty, and that you must be oh-so-pale and light-skinned to be adored by other goths. Which isn’t true; there’s a vast world of BIPOC goths, but social media algorithms mean they’re not as likely to pop up in your feed.
Which comes right back to the Lady of the Manners being heartbroken and infuriated that people who would feel at home in our shadowy subculture think they won’t be accepted in it because of their looks.
So to hell with all that. Let’s bring back the “creature” in Creature of Darkness. Fuck flattering. Let’s all swamp our respective social media accounts with true photos of the goth subculture: we aren’t all thin, young, pretty (which mainstream culture genders as feminine presenting), white. We don’t all have perfect makeup, perfectly styled hair or wigs, and immaculate clothes from goth brands. We don’t have to be hot, we don’t have to be conventionally attractive. We have to be ourselves. Because being true to ourselves is an act of rebellion.
Talk to each other and the Lady of the Manners, Snarklings. Should we start a hashtag over on Twitter and IG for this? Because the Lady of the Manners promises to start posting more photos where she tries to avoid the trap of “is this flattering?” if the rest of you do, too. Let’s figure out a tag, promote the hell out of it, and support people who join in. The Lady of the Manners’ friend Rhias suggested the hashtag #thisisgoth (which the Lady of the Manners thinks is great), but brainstorming more ideas is GOOD.
The Lady of the Manners would REALLY like to see photos of goths who don’t fit the stereotypical gloom cookie mold: BIPOC, plus-size, older folks, trans*, non-binary, everyone. Let’s show the diversity in the subculture. That way the next time someone says they’re not pretty enough to join us in the gloom, we can point them to a tag and say “here we are, and you are welcome to lurk with us”.
Let’s have that conversation. Leave comments, drag other goths you know over here and have them comment. Please.