Anyone who has an account on either Tumblr or Instagram will have encountered the “Lolita” or “nymphet” community at some point. The community is more like a girls gang than an Internet subculture, and they are taking over. Donning heart-shaped sunglasses and summer dresses, they stare coquettishly at the camera they point at themselves, captioning the pictures they take with forlorn lyrics from various indie bands and quotes from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Lolita,” sometimes without even knowing the context. The girls and women that form this seemingly exclusive community don’t at first seem to be doing anything harmful in their sugar-coated, childlike actions, but at second glance it can be said that their actions are doing a considerable amount of damage to not only to those who are most vulnerable, but to themselves as well.
Before we explore how this subculture could potentially be dangerous, one must know the definition of the word so often used by the members of this community to describe themselves- the word “nymphet.” Before knowing anything about the community, one would think that this word is just any other word people use without any grim undertones. However, according to the Collins English Dictionary that I painfully dug out of my old school bag, the word “nymphet” means “a girl who is sexually precocious and desirable.” Now, I do realise that that doesn’t sound too bad at first, but it sounds worse when this phrase first earned its spot in said dictionary when it was used in the aforementioned novel “Lolita,” which is infamous for its narrator and protagonist developing an obsession for a 12 year old girl named Dolores, who later becomes his stepdaughter when her mother, his landlady, tells him she will kick him out of his lodgings if he doesn’t marry her. With that, Humbert has an opportunity to become closer to Dolores, for whom he creates an exclusive nickname- “Lolita.” It is in the very beginning of this book, the book’s ill-fated (and for good reason) and dangerously eloquent narrator Humbert Humbert first describes the concept of a “nymphet.”
“Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets.’
In short, the word “nymphet” not just describes a young woman, but a prepubescent girl, and if you haven’t guessed already, Humbert is attracted to girls around the ages of nine and fourteen. The correct term for it is hebephilia, but I just call that creepy, and in my personal opinion, I find the fact that some young girls, some of whom are at the latter and women tag their pictures with the term “nymphet” could be a way for people like Humbert to look for sexually suggestive pictures of young women, and perhaps even girls around Dolores’ age.
Despite the fact I’m writing about this certain community, I absolutely have nothing against them as people. I pay very little attention to them whenever I encounter them online. Live and let live, you know? The things they do in general aren’t particularly harmful at all, but there is one thing I object to that some who are involved in this community tend to do. The moment they begin to romanticise the relationship shared between the two principal characters of “Lolita” is when I really begin to have problems with this community. When doing my research for this article, I noticed two viewpoints on the story online. One group say that Humbert was a predator who ruined Dolores’ life and she wasn’t responsible for what was done to her due to her age, but the other group believe that Dolores was “the incarnate of the devil” (which is the opinion of one Instagram user I have encountered who will remain anonymous) who lured the innocent Humbert in with her “nymphic” charm and had “daddy issues” (taken from the same Instagram user’s words), and if I had to put myself in one of these groups, it would be the former. To agree with the anonymous Instagram user in the latter group would be sheer naivety and ignorance of the book’s plot. To say Dolores was responsible for what Humbert did to her would be exactly like saying a woman who had been raped has “asked for it.” It is nonsense. At times I have noticed times when people, mostly the girls who are involved with the community, talk about how much they want to be in a relationship similar to the one portrayed in the book and films, calling it a “forbidden romance.” This may just be me but the last thing I want in life is to be in a relationship where someone “accidently” kills my mother and repeatedly emotionally and sexually abuses me whilst dragging me across the length of the country, and I feel sorry for anyone who wants that because they clearly have issues they need to sort out. They either do this because they are ignorant of the book’s plot, just like our dear anon is, and cherrypick the details they want from the films, which are both highly unfaithful to the book, or they’ve read the book or seen the films and have completely misunderstood it’s message. The book is a warning of how one person’s sexual obsession can ruin everything, including the other person’s life. In the end Dolores ended up dying in childbirth at the age of 17 and Humbert died of coronary thrombosis while in prison. So romantic.
There is also the problem of the impact this community of self-titled “nymphets” can have on the social media community as a whole. Some of these “nymphet” accounts post pictures of actresses such as Brooke Shields and Natalie Portman when they were young girls (surprisingly) around the same age as Dolores Haze was meant to be, and tagging them with the word “nymphet” along with their own suggestive photos. Imagine how much fun a paedophile on Instagram will be having now! This kind of behaviour occurred even before the internet existed, with films such as “Pretty Baby” being made in 1978. This particular film centres around a 12 year old prostitute, played by Brooke Shields who was of the same age at the time, following in the footsteps of her mother in early 20th century New Orleans. Despite it’s commercial success, it (unsurprisingly) aroused controversy because of scenes of a sexual nature involving an actress who wasn’t even a teenager. This is clearly child pornography, and many people agreed. It was banned on release in Canada but was repealed in 1995. Before becoming involved with the “nymphet” community I had never even heard of this film, but once I saw pictures of the young Brooke Shields on the internet accompanied with captions saying how much of a “nymphet” she was, I was in shock to realise how young she was and how she had been exploited in the film. When the term is used in the same context as it is on poor Dolores Haze, it sexualises a child, and not a fictional one. Shields herself years later talked about how the role had affected her, and it’s terrible that these images are still circulating around without her control, just like they were taken without her control.
To conclude this essay, I need to add something that I haven’t already. It’s probably one of the most vital things that I feel makes me able to write about this community, which is my own involvement in it a couple of years ago. The fact I did used to tag my photos with the word “nymphet” on my old personal account, which I have now deleted, is not really something I’m particularly proud of. I used to think it was alright since I had read the books, but on hindsight it didn’t really make things any better. I just liked the vintage aesthetic the community have, and in a way I was stupid to not realise it was dangerous. As a result of that men did used to comment strange things on my photos that I only half understood, and I never really knew what to do, because I was too naïve to realise they were sexualising me. I have this to say to people who are still involved with the “Lolita” or “nymphet” community- be careful what you post and with the people you’re involved with online. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post cute pictures of your outfit or your new heart shaped glasses. No-one deserves to be sexualised, no matter what community they belong to.
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