The Loli Lifestyle?

Go on, label them! They don't have feelings!

I’ve amused many (and irked at least one person!) with my oh-so-brilliant outburst during the inaugural episode of Three-Way Action. I’m going to defend myself a bit here.

Although my comment was made somewhat in jest, I do stand by what I said. The casual use of the word “loli” to refer to flat-chested young girls is sloppy and careless. The loli is not simply a girl with a flat chest. “Loli” is a highly loaded word, encompassing a wide variety of assumptions about physical characteristics as well as personality traits. In other words, loli isn’t simply a flat chest— it’s a lifestyle.

Most people immediately label characters as “lolis” based on physical characteristics— if a character is young, petit and has a flat chest, she is most likely a loli. Naturally, this isn’t always true. Consider Kodomo no Jikan. The girls are young and petit, but several of them are quite stacked. This deliberate juxtaposition is a form of gap moe, but no reasonable person would classify these girls as anything but lolis. Conversely, characters like Konata or Tsukasa, from Lucky Star, are rather flat, but would most likely not be classified as lolis. Therefore, it is evident that physical characteristics alone cannot label characters as lolis.

Despite the exceptions noted in the previous paragraphs, lolis do share a fairly consistent set of physical characteristics. In addition, they also share a fairly consistent set of personalities. The distinguishing characteristic of a loli is her lack of emotional maturity. Particularly interesting cases of this can be found in the “loli security” genre, with characters such as Victorique (Gosick) or Murasaki (Kurenai). These characters often act in seemingly contradictory ways, displaying great social aptitude or intelligence despite their young age. Yet, despite their precociousness, they are still children—   and their childish side shows through in times of crisis, or in times of great excitement. Victorique gets excited when Kujo agrees to take her on a trip; Murasaki cries for home when she first settles into the Samidare-sou with Shinkuro. Both Victorique’s sense of wonder and Murasaki’s desire for familiar comforts are characteristic of “loli” personalities.

Therefore, the loli is not simply a flat chest— it is (most often, but not always) a flat chest, combined with several key personality traits. However, as Scamp pointed out, does the term “loli” have any value? What is wrong with calling lolis “young girls?”

There should not be an all-encompassing term to describe characters as diverse as Kokonoe Rin (KnJ) and Murasaki (Kure-nai). Rin and Murasaki serve two distinct functions, both within the narratives they inhabit and within the minds of viewers. It is fairly important for the viewer to discern the intent of the creators when labeling characters as “lolis.” Though the term “loli” may be deliberately sexualized, it is sometimes the creators themselves who specifically intend for audiences to sexualize “loli” characters. Shows such as Chu-Bra and Kodomo no Jikan, and their more pornographic cousins, are obviously guilty of this. In these cases, the labeling of a character as “loli”, or of shows as “pandering to lolicons”, should be perfectly acceptable.

But what of characters like Victorique or Murasaki, whose sexual characteristics are not accentuated? Should they also be classified as lolis, or are they something else? Let us accept the proposition that the word “loli” is sexualizing. Characters like Victorique and Murasaki are not sexualized, and are therefore not lolis. They can reasonably be classified as “young girls”, despite sharing the same traits physical and emotional traits as their more sexually exploitative kin. Calling these sexually non-exploitative characters “young girls”, or any other term which does not have the sexual connotations of “loli”, allows for clearer and more precise communication.

However, “loli” should not be simply discarded. Because lolis serve a distinct, unique role that young girls do not serve, it is important to classify them differently. Simply refusing to acknowledge the fact that young girls are being sexualized is counterproductive. Instead of averting our eyes away from the problem, it is far more beneficial to draw new boundaries around the term “loli” and aim for a more nuanced, precise definition of the term.

Plus, “loli security” rolls off the tongue in a way that “young girl security” doesn’t.

Notes:

1. Don’t take this post too seriously. Or do, depending on what helps you sleep at night. Find me at @Akirascuro on Twitter, or on irc.rizon.net/#nhrv.

9 Responses to “The Loli Lifestyle?”

  1. I wondered if your definition of “loli lifestyle”, as you gave it during the podcast, excluded tsundere, but now that you’ve explained it a bit, clearly it doesn’t. I haven’t seen KnJ, but all three of Victorique, Murasaki and Nagi from Hayate no Gotoku have varying degrees of tsundere mannerisms, and all three of them are “secured” lolis. The level of sexuality is an interesting criteria as well. Given the origin of the word, I’d have thought sexuality is almost an innate part of the loli lifestyle. I don’t think it’s a sufficient to talk about the juxtaposition of childishness and sexuality as merely a gap… I think it’s a genuine conflict which is (or can be) really interesting to explore. Victorique is probably the least sexual of the three names I gave above, despite (from memory) being the eldest. Then again, whatever sexuality Victorique lacks, her mom makes up for it.

  2. Looks like a duck… quacks like a duck…

  3. ?????????????
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=loli

    I hate semantics in general. But I’m pretty sure your definition of “loli” is just wrong. It’s pretty much synonymous with “little girl.”

  4. Though the term “loli” may be deliberately sexualized, it is sometimes the creators themselves who specifically intend for audiences to sexualize “loli” characters. Shows such as Chu-Bra and Kodomo no Jikan, and their more pornographic cousins, are obviously guilty of this. In these cases, the labeling of a character as “loli”, or of shows as “pandering to lolicons”, should be perfectly acceptable.

    Yeah, this. I agree with this. It’s only when people start to use the word ‘loli’ as a replacement for ‘young girl’ that it annoys me.

    (Also, maybe it’s just my too-pure mind not being able to comprehend such things, but how on earth could people take Murasaki from Kurenai as a sexualised character?)

  5. I think the phrase “pandering to lolicons” is key. Since “loli” derives from “Lolita” the term should only be used for characters who might at least be thought to appeal to lolicons.

    However there are two types of such characters. One is the young girl presented in a overtly sexualized way. The other is a grown woman who looks and acts like a child.

    Victorique falls in the second category. She is presumably the same age as Kazuya and Avril, in her late teens. But she is short, dresses like a child and is emotionally immature. Presumably she is old enough to have a sexual relationship with Kazuya, but she is emotionally unable to consider it (unlike her rival Avril.)

  6. @S-K: I’m not too sure how to respond to you right now, but I was going to follow-up this article with one talking about the extreme potential for gap moe within the archetype.

    @TIF: But it doesn’t swim like a duck…

    @bluecheez: Definitions are made to be changed, and I’m challenging my specific definition of the term. Therefore, throwing UrbanDictionary at me isn’t very helpful.

    @Scamp: There’s one scene where Murasaki’s putting pants on. That’s it. It literally lasted for all of two seconds in the show.

    @JT: This is interesting to me. I’ve never thought of precocious young girls as “grown women who look and act like children.” In Victorique’s case, is her actual age even important, given that both her appearance and her personality don’t match up with expectations?

  7. Very interesting post – I never got as far as trying to define the term, but I have been feeling that the word loli is thrown around a lot it doesn’t always seem obvious what is meant.

    You have me wondering about the term(s) in Japanese – shoujo has its own symbolic and genre implications, but it’s what I’d use for ‘young girl’. I suppose I think of shoujo as referring more to teens, those just coming into adulthood.

    Older girls who act and/or appear like young children are another matter and interesting all in themselves. I think this is worth discussing!

  8. “Instead of averting our eyes away from the problem, it is far more beneficial to draw new boundaries around the term “loli” and aim for a more nuanced, precise definition of the term.”
    …So child pornography then?

  9. Kind of late on this:

    @Scamp @Akira
    Regarding Murasaki from Kurenai, I hear that Murasaki is actually significantly more sexualized in the light novel and manga series, as much as to be a viable “ship” with Shinkurou without too much stretching of imagination.

    The more puritanical interpretation of Murasaki and Shinkurou’s relationship seems to actually be an anime exception.

    That, and I do keenly remember receiving in one of my Megami magazines a poster of Murasaki bathing and shampooing her hair with a shower cap on. It’s not the most modest illustration of her out there, that’s for sure.

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