The so-called Femme Fatale aesthetic has begun to trend on social media- but is it more problematic than fun?
The Femme Fatale trope has existed for centuries, persistent through literature, art and film. Think of Pandora from Greek Mythology, or Pre-Raphelite paintings of Lillith and Circe, or even Angelina Jolie in the film Mr and Mrs Smith.
She is an attractive, seductive and mysterious woman. But beneath her beautiful appearance, she has the power to be deeply destructive to the men she lures in.
Perhaps it is therefore unsurprising that social media has also latched onto the enduring trope of the femme fatale. In recent months there has been an explosion of TikTok videos explaining how to look, act and seduce like a femme fatale. But are these posts just for entertainment, or are they more problematic than they initially appear?
Focusing on Your Appearance
Because so much of the femme fatale’s allure comes from their physical beauty, it is unsurprising that many of these pages put a huge emphasis on ‘glow up’ tips.
These tips include advice like using teeth whitening strips, getting your brows done, practicing eyeliner and investing in hair care: things that are likely to appear on mainstream For You pages.
But the femme fatale sharply differs from these mainstream videos. Instead of just physical beauty, it puts an emphasis on all aspects of how you present yourself.
Take this video by the user @mesmerizingpower.
Marilyn Munroe is considered an icon by this new wave of femme fatale idolisers. According to this user, she “spent a lot of time perfecting her image, her voice, her appearance and even her walk” in order to appear “attractive” and “sexy”.
The video also mentions that this was a result of creating “self-love”. Whether true or not, this does send a positive message. Despite this, encouraging entirely overhauling your appearance and controlling your entire body to appear “sexy” for men is hugely problematic.
And this is the key problem with the femme fatale aesthetic and the harmful message it sends to young women. Your work on your appearance is not for you, but for men.
Being Attractive to Men
Due to its roots in film and literature, the femme fatale is known for little else than her ability to attract men. Correspondingly, the overwhelming amount of content on Femme Fatale pages is about seducing men.
One of these videos on the TikTok page @becomingafemmefatale offers seduction tricks from their ebook “Become a Femme Fatale”. It tells women to control a man’s gaze by, for example, touching and drawing attention to your neck.
One video advises you to wear red to look bold, attractive and confident. Another suggests moving slowly and gracefully to appear more sultry.
These tips all come off as slightly ridiculous- over the top and nearly impossible to execute with success every time. Whilst hopefully the majority of people view these snippets of advice as just a bit of fun, TikTok has an overwhelmingly young audience.
Creators cannot control who their content reaches. Younger users are more impressionable and may follow this advice more seriously- even if they themselves are too young to be sexualising themselves and using their bodies to seduce others.
This issue of younger users coming across these pages only intensifies with more problematic aspects of the aesthetic.
These pages try to emulate the irresistibility of the archetypal femme fatale by encouraging their followers to manipulate men.
Methods such veer from absurd to abusive. One tactic is to cut off all contact over small mistakes for a couple of days. Another titbit of advice is to avoid chasing men when they get distant. Why? Because it means they like you- totally not the opposite.
Other videos such as this one by @empoweringmajesty insist that “it’s easy to manipulate men” and make them “obsessed with you”.
Whilst seduction is by and large unharmful, encouraging manipulation, abuse and toxicity in relationships is awful. These pages feed their audiences unrealistic and unhealthy codes of behaviour which could lead to catastrophic consequences.
The Importance of Finding a Wealthy Man
Wealthy men are the ones luckily enough to be the target of this manipulation on advice of these pages.
On the @becomingafemmefataleofficial Instagram account, one post recommends that you “train” a man by asking him for “small” things outside of dates. Examples include designer perfume and airpods, both of which are out of the question as a small gift for the average man. It then says that you should work up to bigger items, presumably like whatever is in the mysterious Chanel box shown in the background.
Other examples include a video arguing that “broke men” can’t respect and treat you as well as rich men. Or another, more frank, video has “smart girls marry money” written across it in capital letters.
Apparently, by dating rich men “you can be sure that he sees you as the best match”. This is because of his wealth, which means that “he does not have to settle for less.”
Once again, the femme fatale aesthetic promotes unrealistic expectations in dating, presenting money and materialism as equating to respect and love.
Confidence and Loving Yourself
Despite these problems, there are some positives to these femme fatale accounts. They preach self-love, confidence and give some useful advice for managing social situations.
One video outlines that the “Femme Fatale Mindset” is all about “matching your own energy and not changing yourself for others.”
This is slightly questionable given that these pages normally give out “glow up tips” and tell you to change yourself for men. But at least its an attempt to make the aesthetic less problematic.
They also give advice on managing social situation, promoting quiet confidence over drama.
Femme fatale pages are just a small fraction of TikTok’s plethora of aesthetics for users to enjoy. Like many of their competition, they are a fun place to learn some new glow up tips, get advice on growing your confidence and pick up some entertainingly absurd dating advice which you will probably never use.
But it can also be a breeding ground for the promotion of materialism, shallowness and abusive relationships. To younger viewers, it says that a woman’s sole purpose is to attract men. For others, it sets up unrealistic dating expectations.
But maybe the biggest problem is that these pages are trying to groom you to be something that isn’t real.
The femme fatale is born out of male desire, a figment of imagination forged from passion. And she does not exist outside of the minds of men, so to strive to form yourself in her image will forever end in failure.