The Modern Loli and The Importance of Being Earnest

***This was going to be a collab but everyone else dropped out so now it’s just me. Unfortunately, the post was written with the idea that there would be a counterpoint so I was more insistent than I would normally be and it comes off a bit lopsided. Feel free to counter in the comments if you like***

***Disclaimer the second – this is a somewhat ranty post about lolis – if you don’t want to read that , I understand, see you tomorrow I hope!***

Recently, I inserted myself into a Twitter thread debating the meaning of the word “loli” by the greater anime community. This was a dumb move on my part. What do I know about the greater anime community? Like most things not all that much.

stupid girl

what can possibly go wrong?

My input was that the word is generally used to describe a sexualized (although not eroticized) young looking female character. Jon corrected me by saying that now the great majority of anime fans understand the word to mean simply girl not yet of the age of consent and associating anything sexual to it was wrong. Astral agreed so I’m in the minority here.

Just for context I did explain that sexual and sexualized aren’t the same thing. What I meant is that  generally speaking what we understand as loli characters are designed in appearance and/or personality to be appealing to a core demographic. They are purposefully created to elicit feelings if attraction or affection even if they are in no way overtly sexual characters. Most often they play on gap moe or themes of innocence and vulnerability to attain this.

I’m not saying that is *all* these characters are, or that every anime fan only enjoys the archetype because of inherent attraction but to pretend there is *no* element of seduction of any form in these characters seems a bit at odds with reality. Here’s some completely circumstantial evidence that proves nothing to support my point: a goggle image search of anime loli gives me this:

https://www.google.ca/search?q=anime+loli&rlz=1C1CHZP_enCA804CA805&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi0sr_anYXhAhUEq1kKHU9dAyUQ_AUIDigB&biw=1777&bih=786

There is a reason characters like Rin from Bunny Drop (despite having a physical romantic relationship with her much older legal guardian) or Kyoko from March comes in like a Lion, (Riko from Made in the Abyss) are not routinely referred to as lolis despite being young female characters while Shiro from NGNL is.

no-game-no-life- Shiro

that reason is Shiro rules?

To me though the semantics are moot. You can use words to mean whatever you like. Don’t be surprised if people understand the most popular interpretation though. The problem with the base thesis that no one uses the word loli in a sexualized way is two fold in my opinion.

1) It doesn’t take into account either history or context. The word itself, Loli from the novel Lolita has a lot of baggage to it. Even those that haven’t read the book have a general idea of the implications. And that is the specific reason the word was chosen. For a very long time the connotation was explicitly sexualized.

To pretend that isn’t the case and the term has no such implications at all is a bit like saying you’re subscribed to playboy for the articles. It may be true, but it sounds unlikely. And the downside is that it risks making the community sound laughably naive at best and willfully ignorant or even duplicitous at worst. Like there’s something to hide here.

Haruhi

it’s a misunderstanding!

Which brings me to my much more important:

2) Sexualized character archetypes are not inherently a bad thing. If we go back to that Twitter thread, the argument that loli was simply an indicator of age and absolutely nothing else was presented almost like a defense of the term. As if there was something shameful about the more traditional usage. There was even the general notion that people that don’t watch anime would (or already do) consider fans pedophiles if we acknowledge the archetype might exist.

I walk around with Persona 5 school bag covered in anime pins and have never been accused of being a pedophile.

More to the point though, the idea that people have any desires to enact the fiction they consume is dreadfully outdated if it was ever believed by anyone of legal driving age in the first place. Media does have an influence on us but it’s hardly a direct line. You can read the dozens of studies on the correlation between violence in video games and movies and real world violence, or lack thereof, to very easily see that just because you watch something doesn’t mean you are going to do something. Or else I would be in amazing shape considering all the Sports anime I go through.

anime six pack

what do you mean? this is all natural!

I know that the implication can be more subtle, taken the other way. Basically, you would only watch a show that has appealing young looking characters or particular taboo situations if that’s what you already want to do. But that’s also completely ridiculous, so much so that I’m not sure anyone has ever wasted grant money to research it.

We all know how fantasies and escapism work, we don’t actually want to fight dragons, but if you need a more anime example, how about this. The overwhelming majority of the audience for BL and Yaoi fiction is women. Both heterosexual and homosexual. In fact, the ratio was pretty much identical as that of the general public (a slightly higher lesbian percentage but that’s most likely due to the younger median age), so you could say the core audience is women of any orientation. There is no doubt that the salacious components of these works are one of the major selling points. But it’s not because those women want to have gay sex.

Just like I’m pretty sure that the universal popularity of Pokemon is not that children the world over secretly dream of being cruel to animals. I went from gay sex, to Pokemon, to animal cruelty in three lines. This post is getting weird. Bet a nice little loli anime seems like a tame option now!

I mean honestly, a lot of Holy books have actual description of pedophilia and we’re supposed to read those. No one ever argues that they will turn you into a peodophile.

Really, I don’t know why I’m going on about this. It’s self-evident. People that actually believe anyone interested in shotacon or lolicon must be a pedophile is either being dense on purpose or has issues with understanding basic facts. To change our vocabulary for fear of this kind of judgement, lends credence to this insanity.

anime angry

let’s not do that

And then there’s the core idea that sensuality or sexuality is somehow dirty (from the Twitter thread) or shameful. It was suggested that the meaning of the word had changed in time. The problem with that is that language evolves in specific ways. Words change meaning somewhat organically when the general people who use them are uneducated to their real meaning and use them incorrectly so often that the mistake becomes official. This takes a long time and would mean that anal retentive otaku somehow forgot or never really learned the original meaning of loli. The other way that words change meaning is through appropriation or in this case reappropriation.

Why would you reappropriate a word that means sexy young looking girl to mean young girl? We already appropriated shoujo for that. There’s also the word “girl”. We don’t actually need a word for that so it must be to change the original meaning. And that pretty much goes with the idea that there was something wrong with the original meaning.

I’ve spent a lot of time un countries where both sensuality and sexuality in media and art was not considered bad in any way or inappropriate. I find it mind boggling that people are still so very accepting or brutal, cruel and sometimes gratuitous violence and yet aghast at the idea of a little skinship. We don’t even notice when Isekai characters mow down innocent bystanders for the high crime of being aligned with the wrong political party or something and happily discuss the details of potentially lethal boxing matches in MegaloBox (great show), but we’re embarrassed that we find schoolgirls in short skirts fun to watch at the end of a long day?

c2eed5afe15d6af19551622267a4bd9d0be8affb_hq

I tried to find a picture for “anime school girl” and this was the least disturbing one which sort of destroyed my entire point here…

Honestly, that just seems a little unhealthy. The human brain created fiction as a way to explore all sort of situations and fantasies. It’s very important to our development and stifling it does have real world repercussions.

Man I vomited up a lot of words. You guys are going to hate me for this… I’m going to say everything I just did, again! Anime can be a little pervy and there are a lot of sensual elements to it, and that’s great. I like some of the pervy elements and it’s part of why I enjoy the medium. I’m a proud anime fan and I love anime for what it is. I don’t think we need to pretend it’s anything else. If we change our own lexicon that we use among each other because someone has the wrong idea, it’s like admitting they’re right and we shouldn’t do that.

There was more, but I’ll spare you. See how much I like you guys! Random fact, I personally don’t care much for the Loli archetype but I have seen some really good versions of the trope.

my favourite loli

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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61 Responses

  1. Actually Orwell went beyond standardization. Orwell was concerned about the state changing the accepted definition of a word as a way to redefine the thing the word described. The theory was that controlling what words could be used and by adjusting their definitions on the fly, you can control and maneuver the people wherever you wanted them.

    But words have a way of doing their own thing. They are not so easily controlled as Orwell feared.That doesn’t stop people from trying. Not so much by government here but primarily by advocacy groups.

  2. wingking78 says:

    I’ll say right up front that I’ve never had much of a dog in this fight. I’m not a fan of overtly sexualizing children (I don’t even like it when I see nine year olds in real life wearing stuff like crop tops and belly chains), and if a show is pushing that boundary beyond a point that I’m comfortable with I will stop watching it. I’ve never been one to tell others what they should or shouldn’t watch, though, or acted like my personal boundaries must be the only correct ones.

    That being said, let me share a little about how one particular fandom is dealing this issue. I’ve been playing Fate/Grand Order (and been active on its reddit community) ever since the English version of the game launched two years ago. Now F/GO has its fair share of loli characters, some of them clear-cut and some more debatable. No one argues, for instance, that the characters imported from Prisma Illya like Chloe von Einzbern are lolis. Some characters also have alternate child or childlike versions, and they too are often given fan nicknames such as Lolidusa (for the child version of Medusa) and Shotaskander (for the child version of Alexander the Great), even if the characters themselves aren’t really sexualized at all. And when someone comments on being a fan of a loli/shota character it’s always been common for people to joke about the FBI paying them a visit soon, but it’s all in good fun.

    Then you have characters who are much more extensively debated such as Shuten-Douji. In Japanese folklore, Shuten-Douji was a 50-foot tall male Oni with 15 eyes who abducted and ate people, until Minamoto no Raikou penetrated his fortress on Mount Oe and cut off his head. In the game, Shuten-Douji is female and depicted as more of an Oni succubus, with horns and fangs, a petite childlike body, and a rather skimpy outfit, but her overall personality, demeanor, and voice are all very mature. So there are many fans who don’t consider her a loli at all, since even if she physically looks young she’s a centuries old demon that doesn’t act the least bit young or innocent. Others disagree, pointing out that regardless of age or behavior, her character art just by itself was clearly designed to appeal to the loli fetish, and that’s enough to label her as such. She’s not the only character like that (young body, adult personality), but she’s one of those who inspires the most debate. Abigail Williams (of Salem Witch Trials fame) is another one, since her in-game character is basically an eldritch abomination in the body of a loli, meaning she gets to appeal to loli fetishists and tentacle fetishists at the same time.

    Now interestingly, one character who almost never gets any kind of “loli” associations even in jest is Saber. According to the official character profiles she’s actually just 15 years old, believe it or not, but both the way she’s drawn and the way she carries herself are nothing like any typical 15 year old, plus the fans basically know her personality inside and out at this point since she’s the flagship character of the entire franchise. So between those two things it’s like she’s kind of evolved beyond simple labels like “loli,” at least where fans are concerned.

    Anyway, those kinds of debates are entertaining, but would be largely be just trivia if not for the fact that reddit revamped their policies a few months ago regarding “sexual or suggestive content involving minors.” The new policy now reads in part (emphases mine): “Reddit prohibits any sexual or suggestive content involving minors or someone who appears to be a minor. This includes…fantasy content (e.g. stories, “loli”/anime cartoons). Depending on the context, this can in some cases include depictions of minors that are fully clothed and not engaged in overtly sexual acts.” Which is an extremely broad and vague policy that basically gives admins carte blanche to ban users or entire subreddits for posting any pictures or drawings of a child or even an extremely petite adult, if it just happens to trigger that admin. The problem, of course, is that as your post and the conversation threads here have proven, there’s no universally agreed-upon standard for what a loli is or isn’t. We don’t know, the FGO redditors don’t know, and the reddit admins don’t know. So as things stand, the mods for the FGO subreddit have basically thrown up their hands and given us a whole list of characters that we’re not allowed to post ANY fanarts for anymore (and all of the characters I mentioned above including Saber are on that list), not even vanilla artwork, lest we risk running afoul of a grumpy admin and getting shut down. Needless to say that has not been a popular decision, but most of us understand why our mods are erring on the side of caution. It just kind of sucks since reddit is basically forcing us to operate under the broadest and most judgmental definition of a loli, simply for the sake of our group’s survival.

    • Irina says:

      This is another and enormous debate. The responsibility and impact of fictional media. If a character could come off as a sexualized child it’s banned and so people debate whether it is a sexualized child or not. The NOT becomes difficult to sustain when you can go buy a body pillow of that same character in some state of undress and suggestive pose even though the show my have little to none of that.
      To me, the debate we should be having is – is a drawing of a small sexualized character the same as child pronography. What about young actors in seualized roles for legitimate movies?

      • WARNING! About to get hyper-nerdy and wonky on you. Skip if not interested.

        Legally, anime porn is allowed. At least in the US. Pornographic photos of minors are illegal because *the photos are of an illegal act*. The act of taking them makes you a party to the act and the act of later acquiring them makes you an accessory after the fact. I don’t have a problem with this construction of the law. It allows child pornographers to be prosecuted while preserving our First Amendment rights.

        Problems still crop up in arguments over whether a given photo is lewd and therefore illegal – or innocent of lewd content and thus legal. The whole issue of intent and of what feeling it arouses in a theoretical third party is still mostly whatever the prosecutor thinks he can get a jury to accept. Actual cases and appeals have moved to bar to a more permissive standard but it still depends heavily on the local culture.

        The trope would not be so common if there weren’t a LOT of interest in seeing it. Given the age demographic of anime, it is teenage boys who are the big viewership. So a lot of boys enjoy it which means at least a fair number of them fantasize about it right?

        I am of the opinion – and I believe the empirical evidence supports it – that watching a forbidden fantasy on the screen serves as a pressure valve, making it less likely to actually be engaged in. The actual activity is still forbidden and no minor is harmed in the production.

        Others think that watching something encourages people to actually engage in the act. I grew up in the 60’s watching death and destruction on a regular basis. It hasn’t gotten any more pacific over the decades. If anything it is much more realistic plus we now have first-person shooter video gaming. Yet over the last 20 years, the violent crime rate has dropped steadily from 567.6 violent crimes per hundred thousand population in 1998 to 382.9 in 2017. (Lowest was 361.6 in 2014.)

        I did a blog once on how teenage sex activity has declined in the digital age. Research appears to show easy access to sexually explicit materials and the ease of “sexting” are the primary cause.

        Taking out your frustrations and fantasies on a computer sounds much preferable to doing it IRL. But that is just my opinion.

  3. Krystallina says:

    I usually think of the loli being the young (usually elementary age) girl of a group of teenagers or adults. It’s a good point that loli = lolita = the novel, but Japan also has adapted loli as in goth loli or lolita, and that’s more of a cutesy, pretty fashion rather than sexy.
    That being said, I usually like the loli types to just be the cute innocent younger sister type (as in *just* being a cute younger sibling, not anything else). The kind of character where everyone else feels relaxed (or gets defeated by her smile) just by looking at her.

    • Yeah. But I consider that moe or kawaii. Loli is not cute and innocent.

      I think what is going on is just an attempt to mainstream something that doesn’t need to be mainstreamed because they felt guilty about enjoying something they shouldn’t feel guilty about. It is only pictures flashed on a screen.

      If loli means any little girl, then you’ve lost the word for a little girl with sexuality added. That’s why loli came into use to start with, to distinguish between character types.

  4. fredheiser says:

    “words change meaning… through appropriation or in this case reappropriation”

    That is positively Orwellian. Do it enough and you have “new-speak”.

    • Dawnstorm says:

      It’s actually what “new speak” is trying to prevent. “New speak” is an attempt of a central authority to control language by reducing the number of words and systematising valid expressions. This is different from anime fans picking up a word that’s being said about them and using it to fit their own needs – without much thought, according to circumstance. The central authority would probably love “lolicon”, as long they can use it to stigmatise people, and keep anime character designs a thought crime (assuming they’d be in the first place; I think they would, though they’d probably more than welcome in the Brave New World, whose control mechanisms always felt a lot more plausible, because they require less police and redirect rather than curb general creativity).

      /SF nerd – off.

      • Irina says:

        Brave New World is the most probable dystopian future. This conversation went off down an interesting path

  5. AK says:

    If a loli-type character is designed to serve the plot and deliver the message the creator is trying to get across, I don’t think there’s anything to complain about. And anyway, no one’s strapping all these holy white knight crusader critics down and prying open their eyes Clockwork Orange-style in front of Fate/kaleid liner. There are plenty of series for them to enjoy well enough.

    As for the accusations of perversion among anime fans, those have always been around, even back in the 90s. I think the whole loli thing is just another iteration of the same old argument, which always seems reducible to “I think it’s gross, therefore it’s objectively immoral and must be banned.”

  6. Ever since Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novel, there’s really only one way to interpret any derivative of Lolita.

    Apologies to apologists, but sometimes you just have to accept that the world understands a word a certain way. It’s hard for me sometimes, too. “Hacker” used to be someone who wanted to explore computers and operating systems; a “cracker” used to be someone who did that with evil intent.

    In the wider world? Hacker has a very negative connotation, and the other word, well…

    I really enjoyed how your post explored this topic. It’s an important contribution to the conversation, not only because it’s clear in its analysis of the word’s meaning, but also because it acknowledges that there are some ambiguities.

    For example, maybe it’s because of how much I respect the character’s FPS abilities and her raw gambling talent, but I never saw Shiro from NGNL as sexual. Because of that, I never thought of her as a loli, but I’m clearly in the minority on this. I think what’s perceived as sexual is where the ambiguity lives, and I think that is an example of what you were talking about when you said, “I find it mind boggling that people are still so very accepting or brutal, cruel and sometimes gratuitous violence and yet aghast at the idea of a little skinship.”

    Also, I see a lot of folks throwing the word pedophilia around indiscriminately. That’s a word for which there is a strict, psychiatric meaning. There are also strict criteria for a diagnosis. It’s distinct from hebephilia and ephebophilia, and the latter is what seems to me to what most folks really mean when they talk about high school age lolis (if there is such a thing!).

    I wonder if using those terms just put your site on the wrong Google results pages…

    Glad you’re exploring these ideas!

    • Dawnstorm says:

      *********Also, I see a lot of folks throwing the word pedophilia around indiscriminately. That’s a word for which there is a strict, psychiatric meaning. There are also strict criteria for a diagnosis. It’s distinct from hebephilia and ephebophilia, and the latter is what seems to me to what most folks really mean when they talk about high school age lolis (if there is such a thing!).*******

      Actually, the term loli is also used for pre-pubescent children. It’s difficult. And at this point, you really can’t assume it’s about them sexually attractivity, even though it’s always part of the associative cloud and you can’t really get rid of it. I’m also not sure how many people know about the origin of the phrase. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people out there who always associated the term with, say, lollipops, as a symbol for childhood (though I’ve never heard anyone actually say this; it’s just my imagination so far – I just find it a plausible assumption to make if you don’t know the origin).

      Language expands in many different directions at once, and when people say the term is no longer inherently sexual defaulting to disbelief is as likely to miss the mark as uncritically believing this. It’s horribly difficult, and I’ve tried to navigate that difficulty in my post.

      (Linguistics is a formal part of my education; and your analogy to hacker/cracker can as easily be used to challenge your initial sentence about Nabokov as to support it.)

      • I’d hope you would challenge anything I say! Heck, I do. I appreciate self-diagnosis…

        I just haven’t seen any evidence that loli is devoid of sexual overtones. I’m well aware it may be a lack of exposure to source media; even with the number of anime series I’ve finished watching, it’s completely reasonable that I’ve missed key examples of some genres.

        After all, the shows I watched weren’t randomly selected!

        But I still buy Irina’s line of thought here.

        I think your most persuasive point is that loli might not come from Lolita at all — it might be a derivative of lollipop. Without interrogating a random sampling of folks using the term, and absent any good written source, I’m not sure how I could evaluate that…

        • Dawnstorm says:

          No, “Loli” definitely comes froms Nabokov’s Lolita. That’s not controversial. But in etymology, orign isn’t destiny. That’s one of the first things you learn. Origin is only important for meaning if people continue to make the association. And you’re right that we just don’t know how many people do. I expect all the people posting in this thread so far to at least be aware of it.

          More importantly, though: from Jon’s post in this thread, I don’t think anyone is actually claiming that “loli” is devoid of sexual overtones: just that it’s no longer in the core meaning, the way it is in the compound “lolicon”, which is a shortening of “Lolita Complex”.

          To expand on an example I gave in my post: if you were to stage a best loli contest and had people nominate characters from various anime, you couldn’t automatically assume that the people who nominate them nominate them because they find them sexually attractive. They might even nominate “lolis” they explicitly do not find sexually attractive. At the same time, you can be reasonably sure that for every character somone who’s voted for her finds her sexually attractive (with different certainty ratios for different characters). And the chance that nobody has any sexuals thoughts during the entire process is about as likely as winning the lottery five times in a row.

          You can’t account for a situation this complex by putting the sexualisation into the core-meaning of the term. It’s not a denotation; it’s more like an inevitable connotation. And I think that’s pretty much compatible with what Jon says when he says, “I don’t think loli has to come with an inherent sexualisation”.

        • Irina says:

          I think comparing a human girl to a sweet snack you lick is way more perverted than calling her a lolita….

      • Irina says:

        Prepubescent is generally under 9 years old right? Not that it actually matters.
        As for how many people know that Loli is from lolita, like lolita complex or gothic lolita (and the the other derivative lolita styles) – I think it’s a popular enough term that most people do know the name. At least any young lady who’s into fashion! How familiar they are with the novel is another question but the clothes themselves also tell a story.

        • Dawnstorm says:

          Yes, about the age range. Example: I’ve heard more than once “loli [character name]” as a short way to refer a character as she occurs in childhood flashbacks [I don’t remember seeing “shota” used that way], indicating nothing but age.

          ***

          As for knowledge: I expect most people to know about the connection, actually. The question is whether the origin is still actively present in the usage. I’d say it is, mostly, but there are habitual ways to use the term bypassing the meaning (as “loli [character name]” for childhood flashback versions).

        • 9 is about the earliest. It can take until 13 for some. Boys start later than girls. Bell curve distribution. Because of our high-calorie diets, it starts years earlier than it used to.

    • fredheiser says:

      Nabokov wrote about a genuine pedophile. Here is the DSM definition:

      A. Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).

      B. The person has acted on these urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.

      C. The person is at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion A.

      I find it interesting is that 13 is the age of adulthood in many early cultures. I don’t think it a coincidence.

      Most people have not read Lolita the novel. She is 12-13 and just starting puberty, a “budding nymphet” is what Humbert called her. The book explains his pedophilia by saying he fell in love with a young girl as a young boy himself. It didn’t work out but left him fixated on them. (That’s not how it happens IRL.)

      A small number may have seen one of the movie versions of Lolita. The 1962 classic by Stanley Kubrick barely got in under the Hays code. Lolita, in that movie, was changed to a physically developed and sexually precocious 14-year-old and the actress who played her was, ironically, 13. The most erotic thing you see is him painting her toenails.

      In the 1997 movie, she is a well-developed 13-year-old played by a 17-year-old. Because the actress was older they were able to show more eroticism. I never saw it but, IIRC, it bombed.

      In all cases, Humbert kind of – sort of – semi-redeems himself. The guy is quite atypical for a pedophile. He is genuinely in love with the girl but she gets seduced away by another man whose name I cannot remember. The seducer impregnates her and also tries to force her to do porno. When he gets wind of this, Humbert murders the man and dies in prison. She dies later in childbirth.

      • Irina says:

        I have read the book. His name was Quilty.. yup. And Lolita (who’s name is Dolores) married a guy named Richard.

    • Irina says:

      I’ve been on some fantastically interesting watch lists for a good while I bet

  7. Dawnstorm says:

    It’s a difficult term. What I’m going to say here is entirely an account of my subjective experience and memories with the term. I may sound analytic, but that’s just me ordering my thoughts and not any sort of objectivity, nor is any of that based on any kind of research. To summerise my impression: The term is inevitably connected with an aura, but the term doesn’t include inherent sexualisation as part of its meaning in all of its uses. Details follow:

    I think the term “loli” is a back-formation of the term “lolicon”, which is a term directed at anime and manga fans from outside. There’s a hint of stigmatisation of fans of certain type of anime as sexual deviants. I’m guessing at this from anime itself, and how otaku are portrayed in more self-critical anime – the only definite title I can think of Welcome to the NHK (where there is a scene I distinctly remember), but I’m guessing it would also have come up in shows like Genshiken and others (though I don’t remember any particulars).

    Now, if you take the “loli” out of “lolicon” in that meaning, you’re left with all anime schoolgirls, and that’s clearly not how the term is used in genre discourse, when fans talk about “lolis” to each other. The term would have very little power to make any sort of meaningful distinctions. Thus the Welcome-to-the-NHK sense isn’t really present as a term in itself. In anime discourse among fans, “loli” is a character type. There’s a harem, and one of them is “the loli”. But even then there are variants; the term doesn’t always describe the same type. The older type, here, is genre-consciously explained Haruhi Suzumiya, when she coerces Mikuru Asahina to join the club: childlike in some aspects, sexually mature in others. It’s the gap that makes the attraction here. From this, you take steps back: child-like but no obvious sexual maturity, child-like in look but mature in behaviour (mirror image: precocious child), actual child, and so on. As you step down that particular ladder, you may lose the idea of sex-appeal in favour of cuteness-appeal.

    So there is actually usage of “loli” around today that uses the term in a context that’s more about the protection of an “optimistic and positive outlook” than it is about sex. But again it’s important to state that this is not necessarily a separate meaning. The relationship between ecchi and moe is difficult, and how much sex appeal goes into moe before it destroys the illusion isn’t clear, but moe is generally more about cuteness and purity. However, purity ideals are also sexualised (which is the most disturbing aspect of idol shows and the business in general, IMO). And people who use the word “loli” often watch both ecchi and moe.

    The fact remains, though, that it’s possible to hear the word “loli” in the wild without sexual connotations, and sometimes even in contexts that explicitly exclude, even from people who are not emberrassed to admit they watch ecchi, and who use the term unashamedly in other contexts, too. You can interpret this in two ways: two different meanings of one term (dictionary wise it would look like this: Loli (n): 1. … 2. …) Or sexualisation is not part of the inherent meaning of the word, but is a very common connotation of the word.

    A big problem for pinning down the meaning is that certain genres have a ero-background radiation to the extent that it’s normalised. So including younger characters in the show is itself a form sexualisation, even if the show actually lampshades the younger status of the character as non-arousing. The most clear real-world analog would be “grooming”: you prepare the girl for her future role. Is she sexy? Not yet, but soon. This often hinges on breast size, but there’s also the flat-is-justice league (named after an “evilty” in the Disgaea games franchise, where a flat-chested girl character gets stat boosts for every other flat-chested girl character you deploy). So it’s this aspect I’m thinking of that the term has an inevitable sexualised aura. It’s true, I think, that I don’t see the term “loli” applied to Rin from Usagi Drop (much), and I think the reason is genre. However, the other way round, if you were to organise an award and included a category “Best loli”, Rin might actually get nominations, and that wouldn’t necessarily mean that the people nominating her find her sexy. It’s pretty complicated, and hard to articulate, and on top of it I’m confident any of this is true, since I’m a fairly marginal figure in fandom, don’t read as much as others, and don’t use the term at all myself.

  8. Jon Spencer says:

    Sorry life got busy at the time when you were putting this together. You already know my thoughts on this, but for the folks at home, I largely agree. At worst we have a minor difference of semantics.

    I don’t think loli has to come with an inherent sexualization. However, I also see no issue with that. Not looking for an argument but that’s the general stance. It’s a complex topic and I don’t need a rehash right now I have enough other stuff going on.

  9. My uderstanding of loli was always the sexualised one. Honestly, I don’t think everyone who enjoys loli is attracted to real life children. That’s far too big a generalisation to make, IMO.

    From a personal standpoint, I don’t tend to enjoy loli characters that much though. Sexualising young characters, even if there is a difference between that and eroticizing, is something that bugs me and tends to lower my enjoyment somewhat. To each their own and all that.

  10. Scott says:

    “Disclaimer the second” Is that a foldable human reference? Did I find another fan?

    And I guess I don’t know where I really stand on the issue yet. It seems to have a lot of complicated parts that I still haven’t started out for myself yet.

    • Irina says:

      I am a foldable ideas fan….i may have accidentally stolen the quote as it wasn’t consious.. Still might as well steal from the best

  11. fredheiser says:

    This is a really important post.

    Loli = Lolita + Humbert Humbert = sexualized little girl. Pubescent or earlier. Someone who has a strong preference for this has a lolicon, which is short for Lolita Complex.

    Only people who lack any historical perspective would fail to understand this. But because so many are uncomfortable with the original meaning, they dance around it. There’s the loli adult to make them feel better. Gate, Fairy Tail, and Monogatari all have them. Ancient, powerful and looking like a 12-year-old.

    Anime plays an important role in mental health. One thing it does is present forbidden desires in a “safe” format. I can’t go out and kill the monsters in my life so I do it vicariously in anime. There are those who find a character interesting just because she is a loli/shouta. It is a safe playground where nobody gets hurt.

    *Every* study of pornography ever done by the US government found that it doesn’t cause people to engage in sex, sex crime or even think of their IRL sexually preferred people disrespectfully. Just like watching Black Lagoon doesn’t make you more likely to be a pirate.

    Let’s get real here. *Most* of anime involves underage characters. A lot of it involves middle school characters who are so developed, they look like full adults. Should only teenagers be allowed to watch because an adult watching might get inappropriate ideas? It is just drawn pictures on a screen guys, Lighten up.

    • Irina says:

      Ironically, the only studies I’ve read about over consuption of pornography led to lowered real life libido and less sex as the instant gratification was less present

      • fredheiser says:

        Yeah. I posted a blog on that once. Teenagers are having a lot less sex because the internet makes sexual excitement available without the risk of actually having to meet another human being. I suppose that is a good thing but it is happening to adults too.

  12. Dewbond says:

    Again I point back to my idea of “We don’t know how to talk about Lolis,” that I’ve discussed in my previous blog posts. The inability to have a good faith discussion about this topic is going to be a problem as anime becomes more mainstream popular.

    Great post and yeah I don’t consider Megumin a Loli either.

    • Irina says:

      Considering how many platforms exclusively dedicated to anime exist, it’s pretty close to mainstream already

      • Dewbond says:

        This topic blew up.

        I agree that “loli” has fast become a catch all term for any young looking anime girl which has sort of erased the orgin of the term, hell i was unaware of it myself.

        In regards to the mainstream comment, I agree that it is rapidly becoming more and more common, but it has yet to actually fully enter the popular discourse like comic books and DnD have. Once it does, you can expect many people to morally grandstand over all the things long term fans have been able to accept or reconcile with. Loli and Shota are just one of them.

        Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be determined.

        • Irina says:

          Well maybe not. If a long time fan like you was unaware that loli had an element of attraction maybe Jon is right and no one thinks of it that way anymore

          • Dewbond says:

            Oh I knew what a Loli meant, just the actual origin of where it came from was something I was unaware.

            I think most anime fans who have been around the block a few years don’t care. It’s the newcomers who don’t, and who haven’t had time to come to terms with the “baggage” that anime has.

    • fredheiser says:

      We don’t know how to talk about non-lolis. How do you write about a 10-year-old girl who is powerful, precocious or pretty but NOT a loli?

  13. marthaurion says:

    ahh, the joys of arguing about word meanings. fun. ultimately, i tend to have a muted reaction to these kinds of semantic arguments, since definitions are just representations of how words are used, rather than declarations of how they should be used. that being said, i do think that loli has a much more general usage these days, and i wouldnt be surprised to see it used to describe characters like rin in a reddit thread or something. when we talk about modern word usage, i also think that history doesnt really apply. many of the words we use today are heavily distorted from their original meanings.

    on the other point, i do think that it’s disingenuous to link lolis with pedophilia, and ive seen that argument rage in the background. but it’s not one that i particularly care about, so i cant really comment much on it, to be honest.

    as for the side comment on holy books, i have seen criticisms of islam (as an example) because of accusations of pedophilia on the part of muhammad, so there’s that.

    • Irina says:

      I’m pretty sure all of them have underaged brides.

    • fredheiser says:

      Pedophilia isn’t sexual desire for well-developed teenagers. It is a strong sexual desire for physically and emotionally undeveloped children, prepubescent and pubescent.

      Anime tries to get around this by the “she’s older than she looks” trope and the “mature for her age” trope (i.e. big boobs on 5th grader).

      Take the troop of females we see in Fairy Tail. If Wendy is the one who gets a person hot, they may need to think about why. She is treated with a lot of respect in this show. Compare to the adult females who are always having their clothes blown off.

      Mavis falls into the “much older than she looks” trope. Hard to categorize her, but visually? A few people will see that 12-year-old body and think, loli. Since she never does anything sexual on screen, doesn’t dress sexy, doesn’t flirt and no subtext, I don’t consider her loli.

  14. Pete Davison says:

    You’re on the money here. I think the reason people get so defensive is that the “paedophile” accusations can and do happen, particularly to men. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of a few, and most of the stuff I cover has lolis in a supporting role at best, if at all.

    Eventually it just becomes tiresome to feel like you’re having to constantly justify your interest in something and put across the fact that no, you’re not a sex pest and/or a kiddie-fiddler, you just think Illya from Fate/stay night is kinda cool and terrifying, and the scene where she sits on Shirou’s lap provocatively is extremely effective precisely because of the discomfort it generates in both Shirou and the audience. For, you know, example.

    I do think the term is used a little too liberally though! I’ve seen Megumin from Konosuba and Neptune from Neptunia referred to as “lolis” and they *so* aren’t. That’s an entirely different argument, however!

    • Irina says:

      I still think that those people are being willfully ignorant and it would make no difference to tell them actually we as a community have decided this term no longer has sexual connotations….

    • fredheiser says:

      Problem is that a very large share of the under 13 shojo in anime are highly sexualized. There’s a lot of loli out there. You would have to create a separate term for little girls who aren’t sexualized. I propose “little girl” but I suspect I’ll get few takers.

      Megumine is not a loli. I don’t see her behaving like a loli. Loli is behavior. How you dress is a kind of passive behavior but more important is how you act. She doesn’t dress or act loli.

      OTOH, if we say loli is in the mind of the beholder, every little girl in all of anime is loli because someone out there will have fantasies about her. Moe, innocence and kawaii are sexual turn-ons for some. I suppose we could go down THAT road but I’d rather not. There are words that need to keep some objectivity and precision of meaning else they mean nothing. Too many useful words have gone that way already and have been reduced to mere epithets.

  15. Yomu says:

    Yeah, Loli is a weird one. Some are sexualized, like Shiro as you mention, and some aren’t… like Anzu or Hina. But then maybe Anzu / Hina aren’t considered lolis? I don’t really know, but it seems to me like the definition itself is a bit subjective. Personally I wouldn’t consider Anzu / Hina lolis… maybe there is a better example of a character that walks the line between loli / not loli that I just can’t think of.

    • Irina says:

      Maybe it’s va bit like the difference between someone who’s pretty and someone who’s hot?

    • fredheiser says:

      A loli who isn’t sexualized isn’t really a loli. I don’t know if animespeak has the proper word. Loli just started getting used for any pre or pubescent female because “girl child” and “little girl” don’t sound cool and they don’t have a clue of where loli is derived from. They may think it comes from lollipop. Also, I suspect the fraction of little girls who *aren’t* sexualized in anime is less than 1/2.

      The proper term for a young child of any gender is kodomo. That’s an entire genre of anime. Specifically for primary school girls and anyone younger, it would be “on’na no akachan” but that doesn’t roll off the tongue easily.

  16. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the inherent sexual nature of Lolis is not only lying to you but also themselves. There isn’t as much mental gymnastics as there is when people go out of their way to justify the use of the word, “traps,” but the goal is the same. They’re usually trying to cover up a part of themselves that they’re uncomfortable with.

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