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research-article2016
VCJ0010.1177/1470357216643909Visual CommunicationVaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black

visual communication
A rtic l e

Pretty in pink vs pretty in black:


blogs as gendered avatars

C ar m e l L V ai s m a n
Tel Aviv University, Israel

A b s tract
Blogs are usually treated as texts, despite the expressive potential of their
visual elements through which ideology is often not expressed straightfor-
wardly, but encoded in the imagery. This study offers an analysis of blog
design themes and blog sidebar badges produced by Jewish-Israeli girls
aged 11 to 16 on Israblog, Israels largest blogging community. By looking at
the blog as a digital body or an avatar of the blogger, the author examines
design elements as resources of identity performance and contextualizes
the findings within the fields of girl studies and feminist theory. She argues
that under the surface of the distinctive subcultural styles often presented
as adversarial lies the same hegemonic Western girlhood model; however,
global girlhood models may be interpreted as subversive in the Israeli cul-
tural context.

K e y w ord s
blog design gender performance girls Israel subcultures

I n troductio n
Most scholarly work on girls is based on interviews with girls or analysis of
girls discourse, a tradition that has been extended to online girl-research as
well. Few works have dealt with visual aspects of girls identity performance
online, such as playing with dress-up dolls or designing game avatars (Davies,
2004; Mascheroni, 2012; Willett, 2008). Websites and blogs are usually treated
as texts, despite the expressive potential of their visual elements through which
ideology is often not expressed straightforwardly, but encoded in the imagery
(Van Leeuwen, 2004).
The very first scholarly work on the visual aspects of blogs suggested
that blogs are not only written texts but are also something to look at, and

Visual Communication 2016


Vol. 15(3) 293315
The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI 10.1177/1470357216643909
if thought of as being homepages that we wear then it is the visual ele-
ments that tailor the garment to fit the individual (Badger, 2004). However,
the growing body of research on blogs and webpages has relied on textual
methods and marginalized the role of their visual aspects.
Scheidt and Wrights (2004) early work on blog-design features remains
an exception; however, it only accounted for design features and did not offer
semiotic or other interpretation of the designs. In Boyds (2008) ethnography
of youth on Myspace, she briefly accounts for the profile-page design practices
of teens, equating them with their offline fashion choices and moods as part of
the construction of a digital body to network with.
This article offers an analysis of blog design themes and blog sidebar
badges produced by Jewish-Israeli girls aged 11 to 16 on Israblog, Israels larg-
est blogging community. According to Israblogs annually published statistics,
the percentage of female bloggers has consistently risen, and by August 2011
had reached 80 percent with 83 percent of the bloggers under the age of 21.
Israblogs software offers a high degree of freedom for visual customization
that requires little or no HTML knowledge; thus, graphic design practices have
become an important mode of expression and a prevalent blogging practice.
By focusing on meanings that girls communicate through graphic
design and design choices, I am also answering Kearneys (2011) call to fill
the research gap concerning girls online media production. These designs are
produced, reproduced, and circulated among girl bloggers who use blogs not
only as texts but also as avatars, performing gender identities through blog
iconography and signaling group identity and subcultural affiliations through
engagement with specific blog design styles.
By looking at the blog as a digital body (Boyd, 2008) or an avatar of the
blogger, I examine design elements as resources of identity performance and
contextualize the findings within the fields of girl studies and feminist theory.
I argue that under the surface of the distinctive subcultural styles often pre-
sented as adversarial lies the same hegemonic Western girlhood model; how-
ever, global girlhood models may be interpreted as subversive in the Israeli
cultural context.

G ir l s O n l i n e
Feminists are often at odds with contemporary performances of girlhood:
some argue that girls take for granted the freedoms achieved by feminist
movements and are divorced from feminist ideology (McRobbie, 2000),
often adopting pre-feminist notions and stereotypes without reflection (i.e.
Rapping, 2000). Others argue that girls are performing their own brand of
feminism through their appropriation of public (predominantly male) spaces
that is radically different from the collective social action and explicit politi-
cal agenda of second-wave feminism (Pomerantz etal., 200: 554).
Girls identity performances and discourses have been traditionally
studied through ethnographies of the spaces they inhabit, which painted a

294 Visual Communication 15(3)


complex picture of femininity interpretations that were full of contradictions
(i.e. Brown, 2003; Coates, 1999; Griffiths, 1995). The performance of specific
gender identities was studied through speech styles, media consumption,
and fashion choices such as social queens vs tough cookies (Finders, 1996),
New Wave girls (Blackman, 1998), Punk girls (Leblanc, 1999), or nerd girls
(Bucholtz, 1999).
Marion Leonards (1998) pioneering research on Riot Grrrl demonstrated
spatial consecutiveness between offline music scenes and online zines created by
girls, suggesting that subcultures and communities can thrive in online spaces.
The internet is a safe haven for girls to experiment with identities and at the
same time is a mass medium that reproduces and enforces hegemonic gender
roles and discourses; thus, girls articulate traditional and progressive feminine
identities simultaneously in online spaces (Thiel-Stern, 2007).
While girls receive a lot of attention as consumers, they still receive
little as creators of media and culture (Kearney, 2006). McRobbie and Garber
(1993[1976]) were the first to point out that cultural production is expected
to occur in public spaces, but since girls are under tight social control and
have limited access to means of production and creation, their participation
in culture usually involves practices of consumption and fandom from the
safety of their bedrooms. To date, cultural studies still focus mainly on youth
occupying public spaces, while private spaces such as household bedrooms are
under-researched (Lincoln, 2012), although teenagers often engage with new
media from within their bedrooms (Jones, 2011).
Blogs have been considered a virtual metaphor for bedrooms
(Hodkinson and Lincoln, 2008; Reid-Walsh and Mitchell, 2004). The oppor-
tunity to create a blog affords girls a chance to gain visibility in the public
domain without leaving their bedrooms, and allows them access to means of
production and participation in the circulation of texts and images in the pub-
lic symbolic sphere. The creative culture of girls accounted for online mainly
includes practices of consumption and reception, while there is little research
related to online media production (Kearney, 2011).

I s ra e l i G ir l h ood
The feminist idea has not struck proper roots in Israeli society or among
Israeli women (Shadmi, 2007) and the feminist movement in Israel has always
been seen as out of place, irrelevant, esoteric, and foreign (Safran, 2006).
Zionist ideology viewed diasporic Jewish men as weak and feminine, aiming
to restore their manhood by making them Israelis (Kamir, 2011). The found-
ing pioneers of the Israeli state were gender blind, inspired by ideologies of
communist uniformity, thus Zionism had no notion of a woman apart from a
mother to the new Zionist man (Kamir, 2011). Youth were viewed through the
same gender blindness as Zionisms forerunners, embodying the new and able
Israeli Jew, socialized and mobilized through youth movements in both Israel
and the diaspora (Rapoport and Lomsky-Feder, 1994).

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 295


Accordingly, research on Israeli girls that appeared first in the 1970s
tended to be gender blind and pathological, often stressing ethnic background
as a possible cause for deviance (Berkovich-Romano etal., 2013). In the 1980s,
the discourse evolved from girls deviance to their vulnerability; however, only
in the 21st century did feminist perspectives and discourses of girls agency
and empowerment start appearing, mainly in womens dissertations, while
gender blind narratives are still present (Berkovich-Romano etal., 2013).
This history of gender blindness and the late blooming of the feminist
perspective in Israel situate this study in a unique position to bring forth the
visual aspect of girls agency and their take on girlhood exercised through
media production.

M e t h odo l og y
This study emerges from an ethnographical project carried out over three-
and-a-half years in the largest Israeli blogging community, Israblog. This arti-
cle is specifically based on a collection of images from 140 girls blogs between
the ages of 11 and 16. Four visual design themes that relate to identity per-
formance and subcultural practices were identified, of which two were the
most dominant and clearly related to interpretations of girlhood and feminin-
ity. In order to avoid conclusions based on unique or anecdotal images, 226
images that were found in circulation on more than one blog (sometimes with
slightly altered variations) were considered as representative of their respec-
tive themes and analyzed thematically for this article.
Israblog supports the combining of graphic images to describe links or
list headlines on the blog sidebar. Bloggers make use of this option to decorate
the sidebars of their blogs with assorted images they refer to as buttons. These
buttons are probably named thus because of their original function, repre-
senting links to be clicked on. However, should we adopt the perspective of
a blog as a homepage we wear (Badger, 2004), buttons could be understood
as badges, brooches, and other accessories that are fashion symbols subject to
semiotic interpretation.
McDonald (2007) stressed the growing importance of images on blogs
and websites and identified six visual conversation styles employed by users:
position play, image quote, text-in-picture, animation, collaborative story,
and theme. Buttons are designed according to the style McDonald identi-
fied as text-in-picture, in which the text is specifically used to bridge the
visual contribution, and their prevalent use is as a personal trademark of the
blogger. The image is frequently accompanied by a text that begins with the
Hebrew phrase I also or I XXXX too a declaration of identity and at the
same time an affiliation with an imagined community of practice followed
by a relevant practice or taste display articulated both visually and textually
(for example, I also like to sleep, I hate math too).
The texts serve as either anchorage, focusing the viewer on a possible
interpretation of the image, or relay, adding meaning so that both text and

296 Visual Communication 15(3)


image work together to convey the intended meaning in a similar way to a
comic strip (Barthes, 1977). When a linguistic message is absent, the image
becomes part of a theme. The side bar presents images in sequences that
invite the viewers to find relationships, fill in the gaps and make the connec-
tions between images (Badger, 2004). Girls who identify with the same social
groups and subcultures tend to decorate their blogs with identical buttons,
whether they are copied from other blogs or designed/reproduced according
to similar design styles.
Interpreting such images requires an approach that applies both to
visual and linguistic communication. Social semiotics is based on the assump-
tion that each phenomenon used as an ideological signifier becomes mate-
rially more adaptable through sound, mass, color, movement, body, etc.
Consequently, verbal discourse is only one system of ideological signs that
exists within a complex interaction with other visual and material systems;
and it is therefore possible to identify ideologies through physical signs such
as writing systems, typography, and color choice (Scollon and Scollon, 2003).
Like linguistic structures, visual structures point to particular interpre-
tations of experience and forms of social interaction. Signs are never arbitrary,
sign-makers use the forms they consider apt for the expression of their mean-
ing, in any medium in which they can make signs (Kress and Van Leeuwen,
2006: 8). In the case of blog buttons, the visual is no longer a mere illustration
but a medium for comment or labeling, as the central and sometimes the only
source of information.
Visual communication is always coded, yet it seems transparent
because we know the code already, at least implicitly (p. 32). This study breaks
down these codes and interprets them within the context of gender identi-
ties. Early on, children learn the visual grammar of producing complex and
dissimilar images, finding likeness in them (or imposing likeness on them)
through an intermediary task of abstraction and generalization (p. 37). This
likeness expressed through blog iconography is then used to decode the signs
that compete over the definition of the category of girlhood.
To the best of my knowledge, Dobson (2012) is the only scholar thus
far to analyze buttons as discourse; but even she, in her analysis of Myspace,
focuses on their textual declarations, although she does note their overtly fem-
inine iconography. Blog buttons are occasionally used as a gesture of respect,
for gift exchange (Pearson, 2007), or to express a protest or a rant; however,
when used in these ways they are found mainly within blog posts and not on
the fixed sidebar that serves as a decorative frame for the blog.
Nonetheless, one protest button found in my corpus explicitly suggests
that blog graphic-design styles and choices are interpreted and judged as a
form of embodiment. The button, featuring text on a pink background, reads
You dont judge people by the color of their skin, so dont judge them by the
color of their blog. [Signed:] Bloggers for a pink future on Israblog. Color is
not just affect but also a mode in its own right (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 2006).

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 297


Colors are not signs but signifiers that carry a set of affordances from which
sign-makers and interpreters select according to their communicative needs
and interests in a given context (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 2001).
This button was designed and distributed by girls who were ridiculed
and stereotyped by other bloggers because of their use of light pink in their
blog design at a time when the color was associated with a specific group of
bloggers called Fakatsa, to which I turn next. The following analysis will dem-
onstrate the meanings that became associated with such choices on girls blogs.

F r e ak V s F akat s a : G ir l s F ig h ti n g A S e m iotic
G u e ri l l a
One of the key discourses Israblog bloggers engaged in, starting in 2004, was
the dissension between two subcultures or styles displayed and discussed
both offline and online: Freak vs Fakatsa. Freak was once used to describe
people with strange abnormalities featured in carnival sideshows. The term
was later expanded to describe otherness and anyone who deviated from cul-
tural norms. With the growing popularity of punk counterculture during the
1970s came the revival of Gothic iconography in popular culture, and Freak
became a general term denoting stylistic otherness and cultural marginality
ascribed to adolescents who adopted punk and Gothic stylistic elements and
were deliberately anti-fashion (Holland, 2004).
The feminine Freak identity is characterized by external appearance
based on the color black, with punk-like effects or a Gothic look (severely
styled straight dark hair, the face pale with off-white makeup, and eyes
heavily made up in black), and is widely perceived as a temporary stylis-
tic phase of adolescence that is an alternative to the conventional gender
norms to which girls are expected to conform by the end of adolescence
(Holland, 2004).
Girls drawn to the punk subculture were not always interested in punk
as a style, but rather in the opportunity to experience an alternative to the gen-
der norms expected of them (Leblanc, 1999). The Freak subculture is present
in a variety of neo-punk and Gothic sub-genres that are an inseparable part
of the cultural landscape of American teen films. However, how and to what
extent this global trend has penetrated Israeli adolescent subculture has never
been documented, though Freak has been mentioned as an ethnic stereotype
of the Ashkenazi (Israeli Caucasian of European-Jewish descent) girl and pre-
sented as the antithesis of the Sephardi (Israeli of North African or Middle
Eastern Jewish descent) girl labeled Frecha originally a Moroccan name that
became a derogatory description taking on the meaning of a bimbo or tart
(Naaman, 2006).
The word Fakatsa is in fact a Hebrew acronym of a little loud tart
(Frecha), coined by male bloggers, thus including the older Frecha stereotype
and applying it to younger girls, as well as shifting the focus from loud sexual-
ity and dress to blogging practices perceived as loud, such as colorful blogs

298 Visual Communication 15(3)


covered with blinking/glittering buttons and animations and written in an
original playful typography I have analyzed elsewhere (Vaisman, 2011). While
Freak girls proudly identify as Freak or Goth, some who are labeled Fakatsa
reject the derogatory term while others adopt it and perform it as a style of
girlhood. Both subcultural identities and affiliations are performed through
graphic design mash-ups of popular culture symbols decorating their blogs,
thus producing distinct blog genres.
One means to perform an identity is by exclusion of other identities.
Four blog buttons found in the corpus were in fact protest or hate buttons, as
bloggers referred to them, designed and circulated by Fakatsa and Freak girls
fighting a semiotic guerilla war (Hebdige, 1979) against one another. Three of
the buttons were designed by Freaks and only one by Fakatsas. This difference
stems from the power relations between the groups on Israblog: while Fakatsa
is a group of girls, Freak girls are part of a mixed group that is more prevalent
on Israblog and often has the support of male bloggers in their flame attacks
on Fakatsas. A semiotic analysis of these buttons accounts for the stereotypes
associated with each group.
The first button designed by Freak girls is in fact an image of a classic
Barbie doll inside the kitchen of a dolls house, wearing a pink ballgown and
holding a pink duster, the text on the picture reading, I would also sentence a
Fakatsa to death if I found one. The second button features an animated illus-
tration of a blonde girl with pigtails and a facial expression that could be inter-
preted as either childish and innocent or one of stupid wonder. Only half of
her body appears, drawn in unrealistic proportions with a very narrow waist
and large breasts, wearing a white bra whose strap is casually falling off her
shoulder. In the background of the picture the words like duh and eewww
appear repeatedly; the text reads, I also hate Fakatsas.
These buttons are caricatures that represent the stereotypical percep-
tion of a Fakatsa in the eyes of Freaks as a girly-girl both promiscuous and
infantile with a limited vocabulary that hints at the Californian speech style
(Siegel, 2002) in Hollywood movies. The buttons invoke feminine stereotypes
like the Barbie girl and the Dumb Blonde, juxtaposing them with traditional
gender roles. The images are open to multiple interpretations but the texts
anchor the meaning of contempt, doing the hate work de facto. The image
on the third hate button (that also reads I also hate Fakatsas) sheds addi-
tional light on the relationship between these groups of girls: it is a black and
white image captured from a video clip of a rock band called Evanescence,
which is part of the musical repertoire preferred by Freaks. Appearing in the
foreground is the bands soloist, with whom Freaks identify, with hood-cov-
ered dark hair and eyes gazing down in sadness. Behind her are stereotypical
images of two jolly blonde women, representing the gender image common
in the media that is denounced by both the soloist and Freak girls. Freak girls
acknowledge that Fakatsa girls perform their gender identities as closely as
possible to the hegemonic image of girls in the media, while Freaks ostensibly

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 299


present an alternative to it, or possibly are unable to live up to its standards, as
the soloists sad gaze may imply.
In comparison, in the hate button designed by Fakatsa girls that
reads Freaks, so gross! the Freak caricature does not look like a woman
at all. Her body and thong are masculine, while a garter and a tiny flat bra
on her hairy chest are the only hints of femininity. Her clothing is slovenly,
torn, made of black leather, chains and pointy collar, her hair is unkempt
and poorly groomed. Furthermore, the image may not even be entirely
human: her ears are those of an animal or a fantasy character and her eyes
and mouth express satanic fury, indicating her inner rage and frustration
and marking her as an other. Fakatsa girls argue through this button that
there is only one way to be a woman their way and the alternative is in
fact masculine or even inhuman. Through this image, Fakatsas suggest that
Freaks may not have what it takes to be a woman. In this case, it is the image
that does most of the hate work.
Before we delve into the iconography of each style, it is worth men-
tioning the other two styles found in the corpus that were created against this
backdrop, carefully avoiding the flame war and crafting neutral gender per-
formances: anime girls and what bloggers referred to as normal girls. The two
main iconographic strategies for a girl to stay out of the gendered semiotic
guerilla war on Israblog and avoid being stereotyped along its dichotomy is to
choose images of nature and color schemes related to local youth movements
(shades of blue and green) and be labeled a normal girl by other bloggers, or
root for Japanese Shojo and Yaoi manga- and anime-inspired design styles,
that blur gender differences (Welker, 2006). These girls often circulate textual
declarations identical to those of Fakatsa and Freaks, but replace the gendered
colors and images with manga or other gender-neutral iconography.
I turn next to a thematic analysis of blog design themes and buttons
from both Freak and Fakatsa blogs, through which these specific gender iden-
tities are performed.

F akat s a P e rfor m a n c e
The color pink dominates Fakatsa blog designs and can be perceived as analo-
gous to the girls love of pink clothing and consumer goods, as well as their
childish and carefree worldviews. The predominant characteristic common to
most Fakatsa blogs is the intensive use of shades of pink, from light to fuchsia,
usually as blog backgrounds. Pink is a conscious choice, since the girls design
large numbers of buttons with text-in-picture references to values and percep-
tions associated with the color pink, such as pink is not only a color; its a way
of life, I also live in a pink world, and pink runs in my veins.
Pink represents a system of values replete with contradictions and
paradoxes, explained by sensitivity to shades of the color: generally, pink is
a marker of femininity, love, and romance. Its lighter shades mark feminine

300 Visual Communication 15(3)


attributes such as tenderness and gentleness, as well as infantilism, happiness,
and pre-adolescent naivet. Its brighter shades mark feigned and flamboyant
femininity, artificiality and insincerity, inanity and sexuality (Koller, 2008).
Pink is common in much of the media and in consumer goods; meant to
appeal to women and girls, it is usually combined with round and soft shapes.
From infancy, it is association with the feminine: girls are dressed in pink and
boys in blue. The color is structured as being appropriate for girls and helps
them build their gender identity during the troubling period of adolescence. It
continues to follow them in teen and womens magazines and in ads that focus
on women as objects of desire (Koller, 2008).
During the feminist era, when women threw out pink together with
patriarchal gender stereotypes, the color ironically became a marker for homo-
sexuality, based on being associated with femininity. Nonetheless, during fem-
inisms contemporary third wave, many independent women are returning to
pink to mark their femininity from a position of equality and independence.
These women create new meanings for the color as security, fun, liberated sex-
uality, and feminine independence, or as Cosmopolitan defined the new pink
feminine identity, the fun and fearless woman (Koller, 2008). Pink is, there-
fore, a semiotic resource that draws from complex discourse fields and mental
models of femininity in order to both reproduce and define gender ideology.
Through their textual statements, girls infer awareness of the ideo-
logical significance of the color. It also raises the question of what they think
a pink life involves, and how they interpret the elements of the feminine
image a pink life offers them. The graphic images that carry these texts offer
additional information on that: while two of the images are iconic, featuring
shades of pink and pink clothing/hair/eyes, the third is a snapshot of actor
Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde (2001). The
movie is about a stereotypical fashionable and fun Californian girly-girl who is
dumped by her boyfriend in favor of Harvard Law School and a more serious
girl. Woods consequently applies to the same school in order to win him back.
Elle Woods ends up doing much better in law school than her ex-boyfriend,
using her fashion and sorority social skills, offering her own interpretation
of being smart and an alternative, feminine, route to success. This movie is
one of the leading examples of performance of post-feminist or third-wave
feminism identity (Dole, 2008), reframing pink in the context of girl power.
Through invoking Elle Woods image and a think pink rhetoric, Fakatsa girls
are reframing traditional feminine stereotypes as contemporary social capital
and a form of power, while asking not to be judged by their appearance just
because they invest in it.
The Fakatsa is usually represented by an iconic image or by female
celebrity role models, such as Paris Hilton, Reese Witherspoon, Alicia
Silverstone, and Jennifer Lopez, as well as young look-alike Israeli models.
There are also a variety of conflicting signals emanating from iconic images
used by Fakatsas: little girls, Barbie and Bratz dolls, Disney princesses, and

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 301


Figure 1. A collage of Fakatsa blog buttons demonstrating its age diversity and multi-
ethnicity.
Source: Israblog.co.il

brides that are openly sexual, such as Jessica Rabbit. All of them, despite their
diversity, serve as iconic labels of the Fakatsa, illustrating its multi-cultureness
and multi-ethnicity.
One of the most interesting buttons found on a number of blogs came
into being as a result of a Test Yourself quiz. If the result of the quiz is that
the girl is indeed a Fakatsa, she receives the button to attest to the fact and to
display on her blogs sidebar. The girl who designed the test and the button was
not satisfied with representing the Fakatsa as a classic Barbie doll, but added
the dark-skinned Barbie version as well. By making this choice, the girl clearly
declares that the Fakatsa image does not differentiate between ethnic identi-
ties. As long as a girl meets gender expectations and is defined as feminine,
beautiful, fashionable, and happy she is a Fakatsa. The differences in skin
shades representing a range of ethnic identities tolerated by this image can be
seen in many buttons in the corpus, as demonstrated in the buttons collage in
Figure 1. The buttons read (from left to right): I watch my figure too, I love
make up too, Im also a freak of pink, Im also a fakatsa.
On the local Israeli level, the ethnic (North African-Jewish) image of
the sexy Frecha is now packaged together with the (Caucasian-Jewish) image
of the wealthy and spoiled North Tel-Aviv girl that resonates the Californian
girl stereotype, as well as the infantile virginal Ashkenazi (East European)
good girl from a good home that were once diametrically opposite to the
Frecha image (Almog, 2004). Today, they are all feminine women who chase
fashion trends; consequently, they are all labeled Fakatsa and any past dispari-
ties between them are irrelevant. Fakatsa seems to be an umbrella term cover-
ing a variety of local and global feminine and fashionable stereotypes that are
now joined under this new term.
In research carried out on Spice Girls fans, Lemish (1998) noted
that each member of the group displays a different feminine archetype and
their fans accept all of them as legitimate; in fact, the fans feel they could
be any one of them as long as she is pretty. The variety of images the Spice
Girls displayed are included today in the Fakatsa stereotype without dif-
ferentiation contradictions between them are ignored since as long as
a girl is absorbed in beauty and grooming and is interested in fashion, she
is labeled a Fakatsa.

302 Visual Communication 15(3)


The impression conveyed by blog culture is that the ethnic split that
had been so significant in Israeli discourse and was a significant component
of the Frecha label has become obsolete. This means that a girl is no longer
a victim of a fixed identity branded into her skin, as reflected in the matura-
tion narratives of Sephardi women during earlier periods (Dahan-Kalev, 2002;
Naaman, 2006). The ethnic divide loses relevance when the girls play with a
variety of identities that aspire to the same goal: being a member of a con-
sumer society that is feminine, sexy and fashionable. Post-modern consumer
culture seems to offer equality and freedom from ethnic and other limitations
to anyone participating in the fashion consumer culture and who is willing to
fall into line with hegemonic femininity.
Since the Fakatsa stereotype is that of a loud girl who aims to be noticed,
I was surprised by the amount of mouth-less images of Hello Kitty, fairies, and
iconic little girls found in the corpus. The popular cartoon icon Hello Kitty,
displayed on a variety of popular culture products aimed at girls in Israel and
throughout the world, originated in Japan. Hello Kitty has no mouth and is
representative of the submissive woman whose voice is unheard in Japanese
culture (Yano, 2004). Since the girls have chosen other characters as well who
are missing the lips that would allow them to produce a voice, I interpret these
images as expressing the girls perception that the feminine voice is absent.
The voice is a powerful metaphor in feminist theory and the girls compensate
for its absence with loudness on a different modality being visually loud by
including blinking and glittering animation buttons and images of attractive
women. This could be interpreted as a reflection of the traditional expecta-
tion of girls to be polite (meaning quiet or silent) and beautiful, nurturing her
appearance rather than her character.
Hello Kitty is also part of the Japanese culture of cuteness (Kawaii,
in Kinsella, 1995), a trait that seems to be important for Fakatsa girls in
performing an infantile feminine identity. They acknowledge their child-
ishness and naivet through a variety of buttons in which they represent
themselves via images of younger girls and iconic cute images, although
most of them are in fact approaching high school. Such images are often
accompanied by texts such as, I am also nave, I also think that Im cute
(and nave), or It turns out that 70% of me is naive! The latter is a button
that girls receive when they answer a test-yourself questionnaire on the web
that measures their naivet and assigns a percentage score. The button is
commensurable to an official certificate they can post on their blogs if their
score is high enough to be proud of.
Disney-princess buttons are accompanied by texts such as I am also
a princess, I am a Sleeping Beauty too, or (against the backdrop of a group
photo of all Disney princesses) I want to be one of them too. The archetype of
the princess may indeed appeal to little girls; however, resonating this arche-
type in the tween years serves as another resource of self-infantilization for
girls, as well as an identity resource to frame, by way of analogy, a successful

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 303


girl worthy of an abundant and happy life trajectory. Thus, a princess may be
interpreted as an empowering image for some girls. In that sense, cuteness and
naivet are not necessarily infantile feminine stereotypes, but can be perceived
as post-feminist resources of girl power that a little princess needs in order to
succeed in the world if she follows the pink way.
Fakatsa girls blogs display only images of beauty, often with impos-
sible body proportions, accompanied by texts that turn these images into self-
assertions: I am a radiant girl too, I am SO perfect, I also have an insanely
sexy body. It is interesting to note that most images are animated/iconic, and
only a few are actual self-portraits. The image of the perfect body is iconic
for a reason, since no actual woman can meet these impossible standards.
All images on Fakatsa blogs share this standard of unrealistic physical mea-
surements: big breasts with hips so narrow the image is almost a distorted
caricature of the female body. Furthermore, these iconic Fakatsa avatars are
often drawn as engaged in stereotypical feminine practices such as shopping,
makeup, and fashion, often accompanied by texts like I am also a fashion
victim or I love shopping too.
There were relatively few images of men on girls blogs. When Fakatsa
girls portray themselves as Disney or other princesses, they already imply they
are waiting for a prince, but in some they express it explicitly. One common
button on these blogs is of a young girl or princess kissing a frog, accompanied
by the text I want a prince too. There were no images of desired princes in this
corpus; however, there were some buttons of young pop stars accompanied by
texts that express desire and fandom.

F r e ak P e rfor m a n c e
Freak girls blogs have either a black background or a white background
covered with black, silver, and blood-red Gothic iconography. Gothic esthet-
ics is based on the dramatic contrast between pale skin and black hair and
accessories, so that blogs with a white background adorned with dark sym-
bols reproduce this esthetic, with the background homologous with the
color they give to their skin, while a black background is homologous with
the color of their clothing.
Black was established as the color of mourning and grief during the
Victorian period, and gradually transformed into the color of anger, rebellion,
and protest. It expressed feelings of differentness, contrasting with the hues of
consumer fashion. From the point of view of gender, the color black is associ-
ated with forbidden practices, such as witchcraft, and images of strong and
threatening femininity that consciously contrast with the gender stereotype of
pink femininity (Holland, 2004).
Moreover, since blogs are also a reflection of internal moods, the black
background can also be considered a symbol of uncertainty, lack of control,
fear, anger, or depression. Some blogs in this genre include combinations of

304 Visual Communication 15(3)


Figure 2. A lonely vampire or fallen angel image found on several Freak blogs with text-
in-picture that reads, I find it hard to live in this world too.
Source: Israblog.co.il.

designs and photos featuring black with shocking pink clothing, the only
legitimate shade of pink for Freak girls. When combined with black, shocking
pink communicates a punk appearance, rejecting connotations of soft femi-
ninity but remaining associated with femininity.
The iconic images of women and girls are rooted in Gothic iconog-
raphy: pale Caucasians with very dark hair (the silver-blonde vampire in
Figure 2 above is an exception in this corpus). On the local Israeli level, Freak
girls were always Caucasian (Ashkenazi) and their otherness protects them
from being interpreted as sexually inviting, unlike the dark-skinned Frecha
(Naaman, 2006). The centrality of whiteness for Goth identities (Wilkins,
2008) is expressed via such images that continue to have value-laden ethnic
connotations even as they circulate in a multi-ethnic subculture.
Those pale-white dark-haired iconic girls are portrayed as helpless,
sad, and lonely. Sometimes wearing tight white clothes that resemble strait-
jackets, they seem lost in big spaces (castles or open fields). The images are
accompanied by texts like I also feel Im alone in this world or I dont belong
to this world. In addition, Freak girls tend to use powerful non-human images
such as angels and vampires in a powerless desperate state.
Figure 2 presents an example of one button found on a number of blogs
featuring a silver-blonde girl with sexy black clothes and open legs, sitting
holding her head in despair. The text reads, I find it hard to live in this world
too. Only black lipstick and heavy black eye makeup mark this girl as an other,
but her gray wings might suggest she is a fallen angel or a lost vampire. In the
Gothic narrative, the vampire is constructed as abnormal in comparison to
the normative world (Carter, 1997); thus, Freak girls express their feelings of

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 305


otherness and alienation at not being in line with hegemonic happy girlhood
through vampire iconography.
On the other hand, a handful of images found in this corpus portray
power through evil inclinations, evil expressed visually as ugliness. One but-
ton that reads I also bite portrays an ugly old woman with unkempt black hair
biting her own hand. Another button that reads Everyone has two sides, one
that is evil and one that is eviler shows a beautiful girl with long black hair,
her facial expression tight, possibly malicious or in an effort to hold back her
true nature that is portrayed below, when the demons burst out of her and we
can still see her feminine body and lace underwear but her face is distorted,
her hands turned to claws, and her hair made of small braids positioned like
spider legs. The female vampire as a phallic woman is often the mark of a
lesbian figure (Creed, 1993), thus her distance from the hegemonic feminine
model is doubly stressed.
Freak blogs contain many male images alongside the female ones;
however, almost all of them are of vampires. The vampire was a com-
mon image in 19th-century Gothic narrative as a symbol of evil, though
since the 1970s vampirism has usually been represented as a symbol of
seductive masculinity or erotic femininity (Carter, 1997), and in the last
decade, vampires have appeared as romantic partners in popular media
texts (Erickson, 2012). The vampires on Freak blogs are young, resembling
punk-rock stars, often bleeding from the mouth or the heart and some-
times with angelic features such as wings.
One button that appears on quite a few blogs shows only a female neck
stretched up in invitation with a male holding her from behind, approach-
ing the neck with his lips. It is accompanied by the text, I also want a kiss
like this. In Hebrew, the words kiss and bite sound similar and differ only in
one character (neshika/neshicha), and Freak girls seem to play on this similar-
ity and equate vampire bites and the practice of blood sucking with romantic
kisses. Against the backdrop of contemporary popular culture texts that pres-
ent handsome vampires as objects of desire, it is interesting to note the absence
of such images from Freak blogs, which seem to prefer iconic representations
that do not hide the vampire features behind angelic beauty.
In contrast to Fakatsa blogs, Freak girls upload self-portraits, often
stressing various pierced or tattooed body parts. Others make do with design,
collection, and display of images of piercings, or photograph themselves wear-
ing accessories adorned with spikes and studs as a type of piercing prosthesis.
These images are turned into blog buttons when framed and accompanied by
texts such as I like spikes too, I am also attracted to that, I just cant believe I
did that, I also want!!!
Piercing and tattoos are interpreted as attempts to control the body
during adolescence, a period that sees increased alienation from the body,
though scholars are divided as to the motivations behind piercing: sometimes
it is an expression of individualism and the search for an independent identity;

306 Visual Communication 15(3)


sometimes it is a declaration of belonging to a certain group or sub-group.
Frequently, however, it is a form of self-destruction and injury to the body,
similar to cuts and scratches, a response that girls typically have to life in a
masculine culture that demands they continuously change and re-design their
bodies (Carol and Anderson, 2002).
Freak girls Gothic avatars rarely smile, but when they do its a devil-
ish smile. Their bodies are often very thin and sometimes look like the skulls
and skeletons theyre positioned near, but almost always what marks them as
Freak is some sloppiness in the form of a tear in clothing and/or the wear-
ing of striped stockings, an iconic mark of Freak femininity, widely worn
by female punk singers during the 1970s, who had developed the style to
parody sexist feminine dress styles, wearing torn net or long striped stock-
ings together with revealing clothing and short, short skirts in an attempt to
take the sting out of feminine sexuality. This style was adopted only par-
tially and the results were controversial: mainstream culture described them
as sluts and the practices designed to draw attention to fetishism actuality
produced fetishism (Leblanc, 1999: 46).
With the exception of representations of evil women, the standard
Freak image is beautiful, thin, and dressed as if she does not care what she
wears, but is actually carefully chosen and exposes body parts with an inferred
invitation, even when the girl is supposed to be busy being sad or desperate.
In some buttons, the girls adopt closed body postures, holding their knees up
to their torsos; yet their exposing minimal dress is in sharp contrast with the
posture, confusing the viewer to interpret her gaze as a possible invitation/
tease. I call this style sexy negligence, since it seems Freak girls do not really
reject some key features of hegemonic gender expectations, a point I turn to
next.

D i s cu s s io n A n d C o n c l u s io n s : P r e tt y I n P i n k
O r P r e tt y I n B l ack
To the best of my knowledge, this study is the first to focus on the analysis of
blog iconography as a site of gendered identity performance. Various signifi-
cation practices create blog styles that are considered indicators of the physi-
cal and personality characteristics of the individual girls in virtual space. The
presence of norms that mandate the girls frequently change the design of their
blog while maintaining its general style that must be in keeping with the image
categories the girl identifies with invites conceptualization of the blog as an
embodiment of the girl on the web. As the girls avatar, the blog represents
both the body and the spirit, metaphors invoked frequently by girls comparing
changing blog designs with changing clothes and moods.
As a space of peer culture that encourages customization, Israblog is
closer to being a safe haven for girls to experiment with identities than a com-
mercially influenced medium that reproduces and enforces hegemonic gender
roles. Yet, Jewish Israeli girls articulate a narrow selection of gender identities

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 307


that fall into gender stereotypes rather than being progressive. It is the girls
who choose to reproduce hegemonic gender norms or domesticated coun-
tercultures represented in the mass media instead of exploring more nuanced
or alternative identities.
Fakatsa and Freak are two local versions of global youth identities that
are performed by Jewish-Israeli girls through graphic design practices on their
blogs. These identities are perceived by the girls as polar views on girlhood
and femininity, thus creating animosity between girls belonging to the two
groups both online and at school. However, based on a close examination of
their iconographic styles, I argue that Freaks do not offer an alternative femi-
nine model to the Fakatsa girlish girlhood. The distinction between the two
iconographies is superficial and merely stylistic, and if one scratches the sur-
face one finds the same hegemonic model of girlhood.
Most images of Gothic girls, vampires, and others are unfailingly thin
and pretty, and most are even photographed or drawn in erotic positions, even
if Freaks add effects such as black eye makeup, bleeding, piercing, spikes and
needles, iconography of death, sloppy clothing, and even horns and tails from
fantasy characters. The unrealistic body proportions discussed above are in
fact evident in all the buttons in this corpus, as illustrated in Figure 3.
Figure 3 features the iconic Freak striped stockings and spiked neck-
lace on a pale skin, dark-haired, tattooed body, and a devilish smile. However,
the image features the same unrealistic body proportions common on Fakatsa
blogs and the character is posed like a model displaying her body. The only
elements that mark this as a Freak rather than a Fakatsa avatar are superfi-
cial: Gothic accessories, skull iconography, body tattoos, macabre graveyard
dcor, and torn stockings that do not match the revealing fashionable clothing
(which, without the skull, could easily belong to a Fakatsa).
Beauty is a source of power for Fakatsa girls and their iconography
implies that beauty and cuteness are important assets that may even make
up for the loss of voice. For Freak girls, however, being beautiful comes with
sadness, loss, and alienation, masking their true inner source of power that
may not be accepted by others when exercised, and termed evil. As a result,
bloggers vary in the degree they are willing to engage with beauty within the
boundaries of the Freak style, with uglyevil women on one end and images
bordering the sexy feminine, like in Figure 3, on the other.
This resonates with some of the punk girls in Leblancs study who felt
they were under the unremitting control of gender norms and expectations
even while taking part in their subversive subculture: whether it was black
lip color or pink, blonde hair or purple, black eye shadow or blue, these are
merely variances in configuration (Leblanc, 1999: 162). Punk girls opposed
specific styles and practices present in mainstream culture but still had the
need to emphasize their femininity within the accepted boundaries of their
subculture. Some even noted that punk-culture males had mixed expectations
of them: they demanded they be violent and assertive in order to be accepted

308 Visual Communication 15(3)


Figure 3. A Freak girl self-representation found on several blogs.
Source: Israblog.co.il.

into the pack, but when they got drunk they treated the women as sexual
objects and demanded they be sexy and feminine (Leblanc, 1999).
Furthermore, Prince Charming (the Fakatsas male fantasy) and the
vampire (the Freaks male fantasy) no longer represent binary oppositions:
in contemporary texts, vampires are positioned as bad boys who are inher-
ently violent and dangerous but who, for the right woman, can risk and change
everything, revealing their heart of gold and desire to be transformed by love
(Erickson, 2012). In other words, they are Prince Charming.
Ultimately, both Fakatsa and Freak are watered-down versions of older
girlhood images the Israeli bimbo (Frecha) and the punk/Gothic, respec-
tively and it seems there is no significant difference between the gender
identities, only stylistic ones: the girl can be pretty (and thin) in pink sus-
pended in the arms of Prince Charming, or pretty in black ardently lost in the
biting love of a vampire.
Gothic narratives enjoy a renewed presence today in the media and
popular culture as a result of the Twilight franchise and television shows such
as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, and the Israeli
Hatzuya (Split), to name a few. Thus, I argue that both Fakatsa and Freak are
hegemonic identities based on media products and popular culture, even
though some of their roots can be traced to countercultures that have under-
gone domestication and been annexed by the cultural mainstream.
Ironically, many girls from both Fakatsa and Freak groups circulate
buttons that imply they perceive themselves as an other. Many blogs in
the corpus display buttons that read Im not weird; Im special. On Freak

Vaisman: Pretty in pink vs pretty in black 309


blogs, the text is displayed against the backdrop of Gothic personas such as
Wednesday Adams, while on Fakatsa blogs it is displayed alongside iconic
images of little girls with pink hair. Such buttons present additional evidence
that Fakatsa and Freak are the same thing in a different guise, wrapped in
different stylistic packaging, but they also imply that gendered identities that
draw on global cultures and subcultures share experiences of otherness ver-
sus the Israeli mainstream. Given the Zionist history of gender blindness
and a strong ethnic divide, it is no surprise that the girls defined as nor-
mal are the ones who are not stressing the gender aspect of their identity
and using gender-neutral iconography, while girls who engage with gender
styles, often ignoring ethnicity, experience otherness.
The state of the Israeli school system might further clarify how far girl
bloggers culture is removed from their local context. There was a consensus
across political ideologies in Israel on a strong commitment to the ethos of
state-funded public education. State schools were regarded as an instrument
for achieving collective goals and designed as melting pots (Ichilov, 2009).
However, since the 1970s, most adolescents tended to define themselves in
individualistic terms of self-reliance and self-fulfillment, rather than in terms
of belonging and participating in the collective (Rapoport and Lomsky-Feder,
1994). This transformation may be attributed to the transition to a neo-lib-
eral economy and globalizing cultural effects (Shalev, 2000), among which
is the transformation of Israeli media: the rise of television culture since
the late 1960s, the proliferation of multiple and independent newspapers
and the introduction of commercial and cable television in the early 1990s
(Weimann, 2008). The above changes were accompanied by a retreat from
public education, stripping the system off any sense of common purpose and
clear objectives (Ichilov, 2009:95). At present, Israeli education is increasingly
fragmented into a series of autonomous isolated schools that reproduce and
intensify existing rifts in society, such as religious, ethnic, etc.
Against this backdrop, Hollywood products that otherwise might sig-
nify a hegemonic mainstream, can be interpreted as a transgressive means of
reaching out beyond local segregation, imagining lives that are removed from
the girls cultural context. It is still an emerging style, competing with addi-
tional locally and globally informed interpretations of girlhood that are nev-
ertheless popular, and thus cannot be considered hegemonic or mainstream
in the local context. Since global styles could sometimes be liberating for local
social groups (Hjorth, 2003; Peuronen, 2011), the mere attempt to articulate
a gendered identity, explore and perform a girlhood model in a society that
shifts from collectivist to individual values and underplays the importance of
gender, could be interpreted as progressive and subversive.
In conclusion, Freaks and Fakatsas have more in common than
they would care to admit. While their semiotic blog battle might be super-
ficial rather than essential, focused on different stylistic guises of the same
hegemonic girlhood model, it is through this conflict that they engage with

310 Visual Communication 15(3)


gendered identity in ways that are novel to previous generations and establish
gender as a key aspect of their identity, drawing attention to it and asserting its
importance through choosing it as a divider and a battleground.
Both identities are based on gendered stereotypes that are meaning-
ful to pre-adolescent girls but seem to lose their appeal in high school. While
American high schools facilitate diverse identities based on activities and prefer-
ences (jocks and cheerleaders, science geeks, etc.), the girls I interviewed admit-
ted to abandoning the Freak/Fakatsa divide in high school when they were
forced to spend more time with the other and realized that people are more
complex, as some of them phrased it. From a feminist perspective, this situation
is a double-edged sword in that it allows for more complex gender identities
to emerge, but at the same time may discourage engagement with gender alto-
gether, falling back into the mainstream gender blindness of the Israeli context.

F u n di n g
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, com-
mercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Biograp h ica l Not e
CARMEL L VAISMAN is an Associate Lecturer in the multidisciplinary
program in the Humanities at Tel Aviv University, pursuing ethnographic
research of digital cultures. She co-authored the book Hebrew On-Line with
Ilan Gonen, and published in journals such as Language & Communication
and the Journal of Children and Media as well as edited volumes such as Digital
Discourse (2011, Oxford University Press), Mediated Youth (2014, Palgrave-
McMillan) and International Blogging 2009, (Peter Lang). She earned her PhD
from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2010.
Address: Tel Aviv University, 55 Haim Levanon st., Tel Aviv, 6997801, Israel.
[email: carmell@post.tau.ac.il]

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