Female African-American influencers are reviving the spirit of gyaru culture, a Japanese subculture that was extremely popular in the 1990s.
With colourful clothing, exaggerated face contouring and oversized eyelashes, these women are borrowing from the aesthetic that made gyaru so successful back in the day.
But this bold trend, which mashes up eras and cultures and promotes self-confidence, is also meeting with fierce criticism.
They wear brightly coloured outfits, sport eye-catching makeup enhanced by oversized eyelashes, and have coloured or bleached hair.
On TikTok, a community of Black female creators is reviving the gyaru aesthetic. They film themselves showing off these exaggerated styles and gestures, and showing others how to adopt their look through tutorials.
On the Chinese social network, the trend has amassed over two billion views, and the #BlackGyaru hashtag counts almost 84 million views.
Some of the best-known creators in this niche are users that go by the TikTok handle Lady Lavender, Xiomara and CitrusMalicious.
So what exactly is gyaru? The word is said to be a Japanese transliteration of the English slang word "gal", meaning "girl".
Gyaru is a subculture that originated in Japan in the 1970s and adopted by non-conformist-leaning women who rejected the traditional beauty standards expected of women in Japan.
This style became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, and was particularly fashionable in Tokyo's trendy districts, such as Shibuya.
As Dr Masafumi Monden, a professor at the University of Sydney who studies Japanese popular culture, tells Dazed, gyaru borrows its aesthetic from both the "blonde valley girl" and R&B style.
The main aim was to reject the traditional Japanese model of beauty (pale skin, dark hair and very discreet, even neutral, makeup) and adopt a more "Western" style of aesthetic.
A new form of self-expression
Today, gyaru is back in the spotlight thanks to the rise in popularity of alternative fashion among Black women.
Indeed, more and more Black women are sporting looks associated with sub-genres on social networks (on TikTok, the #altblackgirl hashtag has hundreds of millions of views).
They mix barbiecore, emocore, manga-style and preppy looks.
The perfect example of this trend is Aliyah Bah, a US TikTok user who who became popular thanks to her eccentric style, known as "aliyahcore".
Her looks mix pieces like earmuffs, suspenders, furry boots, studded belts, eccentric accessories and fishnets with creative makeup looks.
The creator told CNN that her sources of inspiration include the streetwear of the 2000s and Japanese harajuku and gyaru culture.
Since then, other Black influencers have joined the movement, making alternative fashion more inclusive by experimenting with more sub-genres.
"It’s something that kind of puts a twist on all different styles from times and places, and adds a unique, bold twist on it," a British-Jamaican gyaru called Laetitia told Dazed.
A community facing racism
But it's not always easy. Black girls, especially darker-skinned ones, don't feel welcome in the fashion world. They confess to being victims of colourism and stereotypes associated with their skin tone.
"A lighter skinned person could do this alternative stuff and people would eat it up, but when it’s on a darker skinned person we get this negative connotation ... when you’re Black you’re kind of demonised for it," Bah told CNN.
Another well-known gyaru, Xolani, points out that the most popular gyarus are "either not Black or racially ambiguous and/or fairly light skin", as reported in Dazed.
"Black women are seen as angry, big, flashy, violent. So when you incorporate what people already think of us with a style that is so out there, it breeds hate," she told the media outlet.
A Black gyaru by the name of Citrus Malicious also shares her experience of receiving hateful comments in a TikTok video: "Gyaru was made to combat colourist beauty standards. It's very ironic, how I, a black dark skinned person, get consistently degraded within the community. And I get degraded, I get hate from gyarus and non-gyarus.
"So it's coming at me from every angle. Also, I am Black before I am gal, people are going to be racist towards me, no matter what I have on my face."
Others, on the other hand, defend the idea of reappropriating this Japanese subculture, which they claim was inspired by Afro-American artistes.
Gyaru takes cues from Afro-American culture
Although gyaru originated in Japan, variants of the style – such as b-kei, yamamba and ganguro – are directly inspired by US hip-hop culture.
This is hardly surprising, given that gyaru and hip-hop were very popular and highly fashionable at the same time, in the 1990s.
Amuro Namie, a famous Japanese pop star and gyaru icon, even confesses to having been inspired by the African-American singer Janet Jackson's looks at the time.
The braids, streetwear style and bling jewelry were all taken up by her followers.
As gyaru Laetitia told Dazed: "In a lot of gyaru magazines, they would have pages on Janet Jackson fashion or Beyonce fashion... Obviously, the nails being so extravagant and long and blinged out took inspiration from females in rap at the time and things like that."
This mimicry could go to extreme lengths, as some Japanese b-kei enthusiasts didn't hesitate to darken their skin, with an excessive tan, to resemble their role models – sometimes to the point of being accused of "blackface".
In Japan, gyaru style has now become an established fashion subculture, and is considered a style in its own right, even if its followers are fewer in number than they might have been in the past.
But thanks to social networks and African-American influencers, its aesthetic and spirit are enjoying a new lease of life. – AFP Relaxnews