Love her or hate her, Jojo Siwa is one of the most popular celebrities at the moment. In her earlier teen years, she was often criticized for her childlike style choices and overall unique persona. Starting her career on Dance Moms, Jojo was the recipient of much bullying throughout the show and always seemed to stand out from the other girls. After leaving the show, she began an extremely successful YouTube channel and gained a loyal following of younger girls. Given her recent coming out, she has also gained respect from older audiences, but I think those who continue to criticize her style should think twice.
Jojo Siwa is iconic. Jojo Siwa is anti-mainstream, she is camp, she pushes boundaries, and she defies limits placed on today’s celebrities. Dressing in ambitiously ‘girlie’ clothes, such as sparkles, hair bows, and light-up shoes, Siwa has been the recipient of far too much criticism concerning her wardrobe. There seems to be something inherently sexist in the criticism that Siwa receives. Why are we so afraid of women being proud to embrace their femininity? This being said, she stays unwaveringly true to herself. Her pushing of boundaries and expectations through extravagantly subscribing to the cultural expectation of young girls is not meant to be understood or easily received. It is intentionally controversial, but society’s default opposition to her persona says a lot about the hidden sexism in all of us.
Above all else, Jojo Siwa is camp. What is camp? Think drag-queens, think Lady Gaga. Camp is the use of kitschy, corny, or over embellished pieces in a self-aware and ironic way. Lady Gaga did not wear a dress made of raw meat thinking it was the epitome of dominant fashion ideals, she did it because she was aware that its shock value and individuality made it something to behold and appreciate. I could talk about camp all day, and recommend Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, but I hope to make the case that Jojo Siwa is naive-camp: a form of camp that does not know it is camp. It is the attempt of something too iconic, too grand to succeed. It is not entirely serious nor entirely ironic, but it is 100% genuine. Siwa, with her steadfast loyalty to her audacious style, perfectly sums up naive-camp.
There is another layer to Siwa’s style on top of it being the definition of camp, and that is its comment on societal expectations surrounding femininity. It is expected that young girls like pink and sparkles, but this expectation is also subject to paternalistic and condescending criticism. It’s like the Madonna/whore complex: no matter if young girls love unicorns or baseball, they will be paternalized for their self-expression. Jojo Siwa, in performing feminine expectations of young girls beyond an extent that would be seen as appropriate by society’s standards, proudly claims femininity in an empowering way.
As a bisexual woman, my friend asked me why, as a child, I was so hyper-feminine. I think this is more common in women that are attracted to other women than we think. If I consider my love for the Barbie movies, it was because they were created to be looked at and enjoyed by women. These movies were made under the assumption that the audience would be mostly girls, almost entirely eliminating the male gaze. Barbie wore pink because she liked to wear pink, not because she was performing for men. In my eyes, that is inherently about women loving other women. So returning to Jojo, she wears her clothes because she likes them, not because she wants others to. If it was the latter, she would have caved under all of the criticism that she receives. Jojo Siwa’s campy hyper femininity is an active stance against conformity and sexism.
Jojo Siwa is far more revolutionary than she gets credit for, and I feel entirely comfortable in the fact that she is a role-model for many young girls today. What I have discussed here, along with her recent coming-out as a member of the LGBTQ community+, she should be respected as an advocate for women everywhere. Jojo Siwa was and remains one of my inspirations, both in her deep sense of individuality and intuitive drive to oppose societal expectations surrounding what it means to be a female celebrity in the media’s eyes. Of course she will continue to receive criticism because she actively weakens systems that have benefited those who choose to conform for hundreds of years, but I ask her critics out there to consider which side of history you hope to belong on.