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by Ismene Ormonde

Messy, glorious, and pleasure-seeking: meet Dakota Warren.

A girl in a floral dress and red-ribbon-tied braids is filming herself walking down the street. Superimposed over the video, the text reads: “can’t post a single thing on this app anymore without the comments being 90% ‘where’s the jumper from’ ‘what brand dress’ ‘lipstick?’. I just want to read you a poem”. 

Underneath the video, the caption expands: “the intention to rapidly consume bc of a girl on TikTok is alarming! god forbid I say ‘thrifted’.” 

The girl is Dakota Warren, and, yes, the dress is thrifted. Open the profile of this 24-year-old TikTok creator and writer, and you’ll be greeted with burning candles, collared dresses, dancing around pianos, underlined passages in books, berry-red lipstick, mysterious bloodstains, bodies carved from marble, and a soundtrack which is as likely to include Ludovico Einaudi as it is Björk. Scroll through her feed, and you’ll find yourself drinking in lines from Keats, second-hand book hauls, words of the day, and surreal cinematic tableaux.

With a published book of poetry already out, and more creative writing on the way, all whilst amassing hundreds of thousands of followers across her social channels, Dakota is a different kind of TikTok creator – and it’s art, not products, that she wants you to consume.

And yet, unlike many of us, Dakota didn’t grow up online. “My internet usage at a formative age was quite monitored, so I feel like I jumped on everything quite late,” she says. “But I think that’s why I have such a strong sense of my actual passions and interests, because I had that time away from what was being fed to people on the internet at the time.”

Now, social media gives her an outlet to create – and, most importantly, to share the things she finds inspiring. “I feel like I’ve adopted this audience that are into this more slowform content,” she says. Her relationship with social media is complicated – falling into a “doomscroll black hole,” she laughs, “is the least inspiring thing possible” – but she finds that she’s able to “post long chunks of writing which people actually read.”

At the same time, however, as her audience expands (and her video points out), it can be hard to escape the beast that is consumption on social media. The problem with being an ‘influencer’ – regardless of whether or not you want to be defined that way – is that people will be influenced by you: “I have to be conscious of how it’s going to be emulated, how it’s going to be mimicked, how it’s going to be interpreted.”

DAKOTA shares art on TikTok, but is any social media equipped for this kind of organic experience of art, culture, thought, and experience? Does consumption and consumerism get in the way? “In this glorious late-stage capitalism,” she says, rolling her eyes, “you’re defined by what you consume.”

She finds it interesting how “things that are external and enriching like culture and art, and thought, and style turn into “these rapid-fire trend cycles, like almost… aesthetics.” She’s touching on perhaps one of the biggest buzzwords of the early 2020s. How does she feel about how ‘aesthetics’ operate online nowadays? “I hate that word,” she laughs.

Because it’s not just the content she shares which is often reduced to what and where things can be purchased and consumed: search ‘dakota warren aesthetic’ on TikTok, and you’ll be met with a thousand reproductions. “My lifestyle… is constantly pushed and pulled into these compartmentalisations,” she says, “so they can be understood.” It’s something she thinks is endemic to apps like TikTok, where “identity now is based on […] what you consume.”

TikTok is a breeding ground for this obsessive desire to curate aesthetics. Curation in itself contains multitudes: it’s an awareness of beautiful things and how they can be put together, but it’s also the cropping and sanitisation of real life to look perfect on a social media feed.

Dakota is interested in hedonism – it’s something of a red thread through her content, a compelling contrast because, as she says, “social media is inherently performative, and hedonism is all about being messy, and glorious, and pleasure-seeking.” Yet both are “very picturesque”, and she’s interested in how social media can be used to explore pleasure-seeking and messiness.

On the topic of messiness, we talk about the photodump trend: the intention behind “the way that you select, and crop, and filter, or choose not to filter, and randomly curate.” The photodump is a performance of randomness, but when “you know you’re being perceived a particular way, it’s not natural at all.”

Does she feel that messiness – that any kind of authenticity – is even possible on social media? Her approach is to “post what I want to post and not get in my head too much about… how it will be perceived”. Earlier in our conversation, she tells me that her aim on social media is “to share and cultivate a mass love for the arts”. She returns to the idea again when we talk about the pursuit of pleasure and how it fits into the digital world: “Things that are going to constantly inspire me and fill me with joy, and pleasure… that’s what I want to promote.” 

Follow Dakota Warren on TikTok here.

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