Dancer-turned-internet personality JoJo Siwa is the last person expected to make an appearance on the Major League Baseball organization’s official TikTok page. Yet there she was: featured in a slow-motion, sepia-toned video, confidently strolling up to the plate during the Celebrity Softball Game, armed with her signature smile. Siwa was behaving as she always does, as the self-proclaimed “happiest human alive.”
But something was missing. Gone was the candy-colored clothing, glitter-caked face and vibrant hair bow that made Siwa an international sensation. The internet went crazy for this far less quirky side of Siwa revealed by, of all organizations, the MLB. The video became a viral hit, even though it lacked any groundbreaking or comedic content, earning 39.5 million views and 8.1 million likes on the app.
Numerous commenters marveled that Siwa appeared to be “hitting different,” praising this video for revealing what they long doubted — that JoJo Siwa was actually a genuine and even attractive person beneath the over-the-top persona she portrays online. In a viral video response to this TikTok, user @nohoesmax remarked that if someone would have told him two years ago that the MLB would post “a thirst trap of JoJo Siwa” they would have been “put in a mental hospital.”
Stripped of the “immature” image she’s associated with and adhering to a beauty standard the internet could understand, finally JoJo Siwa was embraced and even revered by her non-target demographic. It only took half of her life in the public eye to gain the acceptance she never even asked for.
Siwa is the face of children’s toys and apparel in every major retail store. It is impossible to walk into a children’s section without encountering Siwa’s face on just about everything. Siwa had achieved multimillionaire status before even being able to drive a car. Her fame started on the Lifetime reality series “Dance Moms,” where her spunky yet innocent charm as a 9-year-old girl made her an instantly memorable contestant. “Dance Moms” also marked the public’s introduction to Siwa’s signature image and fashion choices — a persona she never abandoned in her transition to YouTube when her run on the series ended.
Now, Siwa is 18 years old. She has evolved into a multi-faceted entertainer and an iconic figure in children’s media, releasing her own music, performing in concerts around the world and appearing frequently on the children’s television network Nickelodeon.
Her massive success and advocacy for acceptance, diversity and positivity created a young and loyal fanbase of children and preteens. Even though her content does not pander whatsoever to teenagers and young adults on the internet, that did not stop the deluge of mockery directed at her.
In 2018, at just 15 years old, Siwa became the butt of every joke and the face of every meme. She became the icon of “cringe-comedy.” Everything that the young girl did or said was considered a prime source of secondhand embarrassment to poke fun at.
When the internet’s antipathy for her had just begun to snowball, Siwa appeared in a mukbang-style eating vlog with her fellow internet personality Colleen Ballinger. In this causal and laid-back collaboration, Siwa reflected on all the heat she was receiving for her personality. It seemed that people were surprised Siwa wasn’t just some fantastical character, but a real person. The outfits and bows weren’t just worn as a ploy for the cameras. Her joyful and childlike disposition is a facet of her personality.
Siwa was accused of damaging her hairline by continuously sporting her tight signature ponytail. Photoshopped photos of Siwa with a receding hairline began to surface. She was also mocked for her height. At the age of 15, she stood at 5’9”. According to Siwa, the ridicule of her height was a true source of pain, as it is something ridiculously out of her control.
Viral videos of Siwa jumbling her words and talking too quickly in her vlog-style videos became a main source of humor across the internet. However, Siwa got attacked the most for her “giant toddler” personality and questionable fashion choices, especially as someone the internet claimed was too old to act in the ways that she did.
Siwa dismissed this criticism, claiming “I’m a child yet.” She remained firm in her conviction that the reason she dresses the way she does is for herself, because she likes to dress and act the way she does. Siwa’s style of dress wasn’t hurting anyone, after all. But this confidence was only ridiculed.
Her ability to not let the attacks on her image affect her too deeply was intensely admirable. At such a young age, Siwa has mastered what many celebrities struggle with their entire lives: the burden of the ever-vigilant public eye.
Internet Impact, a YouTuber specializing in video commentary, addressed the Siwa hatred in her insightful video “Why Everyone Actually Hated JoJo Siwa.” According to the content creator, though Siwa wasn’t outright breaking any boundaries or actively trying to rebel against the culture, she was still acting socially “deviant,” just in an atypical fashion. Instead of acting overly mature or grown-up for her age, as other teenagers do, such as Siwa’s contemporary Danielle Bregoli, Siwa acted unfathomably immature for her age. Thus, Siwa’s persona made people uncomfortable in the same inexplicable way Bregoli did, by breaking an unspoken societal standard of maturity.
Although personalities like Colleen Ballinger understood Siwa (Colleen herself has received massive hate online for a character she portrays on YouTube named Miranda Sings) and stood up for the young creator, not many others had the courage to do so.
After MLB posted their video of Siwa, TikTok creator and Crash Course founder Hank Green finally spoke up on Siwa’s behalf. Green gushed over how happy Siwa appears in the TikTok. He then shared his own experiences with her, saying he met her “four years ago” when she was “pretty young.” Hank said even at a young age, Siwa was super “impressive,” “clever” and “aware of the space that she occupied.” But where was Green, and other creators who supported Siwa, when the internet put her down? With the public now intent on uplifting Siwa, Green’s sentiments, however wholehearted, seem belated.
TikTok has started to take notice of the internalized misogyny and unending pressures forced on girls at such young ages. Many content creators have begun to use their platforms to discuss this brutal reality — girls will be criticized for anything they choose to take an interest in.
Girls who take an interest in video games or sports are labeled “tomboys” or seekers of male validation. Girls who like makeup and fashion get accused of perpetrating harmful beauty standards. Teenage girls are expected to “act their age” without acting too mature. Or in Siwa’s case, acting too immature. Somehow, everyone seems to forget that teenage girls don’t act for the approval of others.
No matter what they do, girls are accused of only desiring attention. Celebrities, like Siwa, are not exempt from this tendency. When young teenage popstar Billie Eilish was Siwa’s age, she was criticized for her choice to wear baggy clothing to avoid sexualization as a minor. Conversely, a pop star of the same age, Olivia Rodrigo, is receiving hatred online for daring to show off her slight frame in her photos. She is also being falsely accused, and receiving backlash for, only writing about men in her music, as if this means she is somehow anti-feminist or a bad influence.
Being a young female is so undesirable, some girls are conditioned to outright reject it in order to claim they are “not like other girls.” TikTok has dubbed the phenomenon the “pick-me-girl.” Creators have begun to imitate and caricature this archetype in spoofs and sketches on the app. A “pick-me-girl” is typically someone who puts down other girls for taking an interest in anything typically associated as feminine, all in the hope of appealing to the male gaze through degrading their fellow women.
In the modern age of feminism, women are supposed to support other women. Not only are “pick-me-girls” part of the problem, so are the people mocking them. Taking part in the mockery is thus no different from being one of them. Amid this hateful culture, the prospects of young women like Siwa, Eilish and Rodrigo ever escaping the internet’s endless judgment seem to be hopeless.
Siwa’s decision to retire her side ponytail and fluffy hair accessories was entirely her own, made on her own terms. Haters on the internet did not get to decide the benchmark of her maturity — she did so on her own. Even when mocked for being herself, Siwa chose to remain true to her identity.
It is not Siwa’s matured, bow-less image, nor TikTok’s seal of approval that has transformed her into a budding adult, but her boundless confidence. Earlier this year, Siwa came out of the closet and introduced the world to her girlfriend, Kylie Prew. Not only was this a momentous step forward for LGBTQ+ representation and her role as an advocate for young fans who may be struggling with their own identities, Siwa’s coming-out represents another milestone in her journey to reshape her image on her own terms, inspiring countless other people to do the same.
Siwa seems to care less that the public is finally accepting her image. Through it all, the hatred has never dampened her sparkle. She remains bright, bubbly and intent on preserving and spreading happiness through her entertainment. Although her hair bow era has come to an end, Siwa will hopefully not abandon her unbreakable conviction to be herself.