The coquette: defining the line between embodying and infantilizing girlhood

The sheer aesthetic of the coquette persona has been the anthem of young girls across years of media influence and social norms; what has come of it, and what does it entail by today’s standards?

Flowers in our hand. Tutus and short smiles. What comes of a coquette girl?

: Rodarte Spring/Summer 2019 in New York

Flowers in our hand. Tutus and short smiles. What comes of a coquette girl?

Jasmin Parrado, Staff Writer

Coquette. The flirt. By some variations, the flirtatious woman.

But today it’s associated with the idea of a flirty girl. A girl with an unspeakable allure; cherry-scented lip gloss, sheered in excess over soft lips so that they appear like porcelain, reflecting the onward-looking faces of awe and admiration. Hair, slightly frizzled beneath, but nevertheless neatly decorated in pink carnations and pearl crowns. White lace. Pink eyeshadow. Soft words. Soft voice. Careful presentation.

I’ve seen girls come and go, girls that especially embrace this culmination of standards and social behavior; they dress in soft pastels and speak like there is more to be said. It’s a tempting brand among many others, encouraging the outward expression of some divine feminine in the simplistic realm of calm neutral tones and organization. I myself have followed the mindset and style countless times; the appreciation of femininity and its many pretty, pretty things is something that I have always loved. But over time, as more and more girls took in the spirit of the coquette style, I came to realize that a rather inherent and alarming truth underlies it—that being, of course, that such a style has been heavily manipulated over time to require the immaturity of oneself to an end.

The culture has shifted the implication of women’s fashion and style in coquette-hood to associate it with a childlike and innocent demeanor; the floaty phrases and stubborn indecisions litter the coquette mind, and I end up sitting in this question of how far society has taken it, because the behaviors and profiles I see liken to that of a child.

Oftentimes we ask ourselves how certain things came to be normalized—glamorized, even, in the scope of media. Let us look at the one major keystone break in film and literature that controversially yet inevitably warped the image of girlhood for decades to come: Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov.

Upon analyzing the character of Dolores Haze (I’ve chosen not to call her by the name that our certainly twisted narrator coins her most often with), I recognize at least one origin point in media culture from which the emphasis on girlish immaturity is tied to, because it is certainly obvious how much Nabokov makes this very emphasis. Dolores is the definition of youth in this story; her clothes are bright and short, her demeanor is impulsive and stubborn, and she is still void of matured or developed self-awareness for certain aspects of her coming of age. She is a girl in girlhood, yes. The average adolescent who enjoys her usual activities as a teen, longs for amusement and adventure, and has yet to learn the ways of the world around her.

Unfortunately, that means that, for Humbert, she is the perfect “nymphet.” The perfect prospective victim of grooming and sexual abuse.

The craze and awe over the risky themes in Nabokov’s novel spurred much divide in criticism and praise, but as with a lot of American art and media, the pure hysteria of the divide incurred an underlying obsession with the essence of the novel anyway. This meant that the subjects of youth and girlhood were amplified through the media lens; the focus was set on how chaotic a story could become with the idea of pursuing someone who was quite too young; quite still too flecked with scattered deficits in maturity, whether it would be by physical appearance or manner of being.

Lolita happened to be a gateway for the coquette aesthetic to become more popular and appreciated through time, mainly because of the obsession with girlhood that American culture has seemed to enjoy; but such an obsession also came to be a gateway for romanticizing relationships between minors and older men. It seems that over time, our culture and media has correlated unideal behaviors with female adolescence, wrapping such behaviors up in a tight bow and defending the glorifying of grooming and child-like behavior in women by saying that young girls are never perfect—that they lack maturity, and that such imperfections in the decisions they make or the relationships they partake in are just other pretty aspects of girlhood because of the immaturity those decisions and relationships imply.

Coquette-hood still comprises white lace and soft pink, and it still appreciates the beauty of femininity; but America has allowed for it to also entail complete baby-doll innocence and falling in love with older men who manipulate and abuse for self-satisfaction. Nowadays, I see many girls in the aesthetic deliberately acting childish or completely innocent to self-detrimental behaviors.

It doesn’t go to say that coquette fashion is forever tainted by the implications of vulnerability for all to come; but it’s to point out how interestingly enough, we’ve linked femininity and youth together in this array of tension and immaturity. Do I appreciate what has come of the situation with Lolita in relation to the aesthetic? No; but it has allowed me to evaluate that somewhere along the lines, some deeper corruption of a tangent thought always fruitfully makes its way into the mix, now not only as a defining and relevant trait, but also as the most popular and central to the force. With coquette-hood, it seems the very same thing has taken place.