Sometime in late 2019, Diana Deets started changing her face. An Instagram influencer and OnlyFans adult content creator going by Coconut Kitty, Deets had until that point looked like a woman in her late twenties to mid-thirties. In her new pictures, however—while her body remained unchanged—her face gradually morphed into something otherworldly: Her chin became pointy, her lips waxed into a perma-pout, her eyes grew bigger and languid. Some argued that she looked considerably younger. Some said she looked like a teenager.
Deets’s fans appreciated the transformation. She says that, before the change, she had about 700,000 followers on Instagram, and since then they have risen “exponentially” to over 3 million. On OnlyFans, where she publishes explicit pictures and videos also sporting her new face, Deets has amassed 10,700 paying subscribers each shelling out £8 ($11) a month—80 percent of which goes directly to her.
But someone else has noticed the metamorphosis, too. In October 2020, people on Reddit started discussing how Deets had clearly been using digital editing to restyle herself as a “prepubescent” girl, with many labeling the move “disturbing.” In early July 2021, popular TikToker Bekah Day posted a video eviscerating Coconut Kitty for modifying her features to look “like a young teenager,” straight-up accusing her of pandering to the “p-word” (i.e. pedophile) cohort. Several other videos from various TikTokers followed, riffing on the allegation. Deets says they are all “hilarious” and “wrong.” She laments having received “lots of” hate and threatening messages, and having lost one of her sponsors, Fashion Nova, following the controversy. Fashion Nova did not respond to a request for comment.
In her retelling, the tweaking of her face into Coconut Kitty’s cartoonishly youthful simulacrum sits at the intersection of privacy and performance art. Deets says she had become weary of being recognized in public by her online fans, and that on top of that she was looking for a way to grow her profile in order to sell her paintings. Hence, she tried her hand at visual modification—“I am a completely self-taught digital artist,” Deets says. “I started trying these editing programs, messing around with them,” she says of her digitally altered persona. Deets is cagey about the exact techniques she uses, but what we know is that eventually the new Coconut Kitty was born. (Deets has since given up on capitalizing on the buzz to sell her paintings. She says that most prospective buyers who got in touch with her did not strike her as “art connoisseurs” and seemed more interested in chatting her up.)
Deets denies having consciously gunned for a teenage or even youthful look. The inspiration for Coconut Kitty’s face, she says, came more from anime characters or Disney princesses—all of whom tend indeed to be very young (Snow White is 14, Jasmine is 15, while Ariel and Aurora are both 16), but first and foremost, Deets says, are paragons of idealized feminine beauty.
“Let's look at their eyes, their chins,” Deets says of Disney princesses. “Do they have a youthful face? I was not intending to go for a youthful face. I was just trying to go for a character’s face. Coconut Kitty is no different than Jessica Rabbit—a fictional character, a fantasy.”
Any argument that Deets is catering to pedophiles is hard to back up. Henry Adjer, a deepfake and digital media expert, says that it is nigh-on impossible to accurately determine the age of a face. “In some cases, you can argue that a face is clearly too young. But I don't think [Deets’s] is in that place. You'd probably argue that [Coconut Kitty’s] face is certainly 16 and above, probably 18 or 19,” he says. “I don't think there is a way of saying definitely how old a face is.” (Deets won’t say how old she is in real life).
According to Maggie MacDonald, a PhD researcher at the University of Toronto who specializes in porn platforms, the outrage elicited by Deets’s digital restyling speaks first and foremost to western culture’s tendency to attack “folk devil[s]” rather than the underlying causes that make them emerge. In other words, the sexualization of young women is nothing new—what is new is the emergence of a canny and tech-savvy entrepreneur playing that game by completely remaking her online image.
“[Deets] is just using a new technology to do the same thing that women do in so many walks of life, and are compelled to do it because of the demand for youth—and youth being equated with beauty,” she says. From plastic surgery, to skin care routines, to dieting, to Instagram filters used in non-sexually-explicit contexts, MacDonald argues, everyone is scrambling to achieve the holy grail of youthful femininity. “Now [Deets] has found a gap in the system—she has found a way to make money off that. She is accepting that we sexualize young women, and taking it to its logical limits: she is showing a very young woman having sex—that is horrifying to people. But she's just acknowledged the elephant in the room.”
John Mercer, a professor of gender and sexuality at Birmingham City University, agrees. “Porn is not the first place to look for the kinds of examples of digital image manipulation that this story seems to be such a dramatic example of,” he says. “Instead I'd look more widely across fashion and beauty advertising and online cultures.”
This is not to say that the Coconut Kitty affair does not raise unsettling questions.
Gina Martin, a UK-based activist focused on women’s and digital rights, says that she finds Deets’s Instagram activity “terrifying,” and says it might make it harder to “[fight] against decades of covert and overt sexualization of female children in the mainstream.” MacDonald says the technology used by Deets “further entrenches unattainable, impossible beauty standards. Women are already expected to be impossibly thin and impossibly symmetrical and now they're expected to literally time travel.” Deets counters that the editing of celebrities’ images has long been the norm in fashion magazines, films, and advertisements. “As a single business woman, I'm doing nothing different than what huge corporations have been doing for years,” she says.
Both Adjer and MacDonald point out that one way platforms such as Instagram might address some of the most burning questions raised by this controversy would be to clearly label digitally manipulated images. Instagram already flags—and hides—photoshopped images that might be construed as misinformation, but cracking down on digital beautification would be quite the step for a platform that has become a byword for airbrushed pictures. Deets herself says she has never tried to mislead her followers, as she left her pre-transformation pictures online and always defined herself as an artist; of course, neither did she go out of her way to disabuse them. Instagram did not respond to a request for comment.
Whatever platforms decide to do, one thing is clear: This is not going away. The future of porn looks like Deets – or rather, like Coconut Kitty. Deets says that several women active on OnlyFans have reached out to her, paying a consultation fee to be taught some editing tips, and other general advice on how to grow their follower base. “I started sharing some of the programs that I am using. I never gave away everything, but I did try to help,” Deets says. “I was never trying to have them do my exact look: I really don't want someone to do my exact look.”
MacDonald predicts that, given Coconut Kitty’s success, both performers and pornography platforms will take a leaf out of her book. “I think it's going to be picked up very quickly— exponentially quickly,” she says.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, in MacDonald’s opinion. The kind of high-quality, convincing digital manipulation showcased by Coconut Kitty, she says, has the potential to be a powerful device for “fantasy fulfillment,” opening the door to new, unconventional and norm-shattering types of pornography. If anything, MacDonald argues, Deets’s experiment was too conservative, as it simply conjured up another beautiful very young woman. “The first forays into [new technologies] are always going to be the lowest common denominator, the least interesting,” she says. But over time, similar techniques might be put to use in more subversive ways.
“What’s hidden in this technology is that if it was used to create more monstrous, more nuanced, more interesting sexual personas, we could have such a phenomenal new template for fantasies,” MacDonald says. “There's a huge audience that wants to see goblins having sex, and robots come alive.” If Rule 34 is anything to go by, the list of possible niche fantasy porn genres is very long.
Deets herself says she has toyed with the idea of coming up with new characters—even ugly or scary ones – but eventually decided against it. “I've always enjoyed the female form and so this is just what I'm most passionate about,” she says. “If I was passionate about scary monsters, then that might be something that I would pursue.”
This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.