Most of the posts on Bonskinny’s TikTok account show a young white woman in shorts and a tank top dancing to various popular songs like Die Antwoord’s “Pitbull Terrier” or Insane Clown Posse’s “Great Milenko.” In this respect, it’s like pretty much any other TikTok, except Bonskinny is wearing a giant, terrifying clownlike mask topped with a shock of bright red hair, the words “I like sweets” written in cursive on her forehead.
In the content on her page, Bonskinny, also known as Bonnie, is never seen without the mask, which looks like a pastiche of Pennywise the clown and Momo from the eponymous viral challenge. But in truth, the mask (which you can easily buy for $5.99 on Amazon) is the least terrifying part of her account. On her TikTok and her Instagram, Bonskinny posts extremely disturbing content, often set against the backdrop of what appears to be a decrepit basement, alluding to being in the care of a shadowy father figure she refers to as “Mr. Guy” or “Mr. Man.” In one TikTok, she pounds on what appears to be a bathroom door, emitting agonizing shrieks and begging to be let out; in another, she stands in the shower, in a puddle of what looks like blood. Occasionally, she appears to sport wounds on her chest or arms, the authenticity of which are hotly debated by commenters. The fact that such posts are interspersed with innocuous content such as her making mac-and-cheese or dancing suggestively to ICP makes her page all the more unsettling.
On TikTok, Bonskinny has about 90,000 followers — a sizable, if not staggeringly impressive, following. Many of these followers appear to be genuine (or, as is often the case on social media, ironic) admirers of hers, sending her fan art and referring to her as “Mommy”; but most are embroiled in a heated debate as to whether her content is an elaborate performance art piece or the product of a genuinely disturbed woman trapped in a dangerous situation. This dichotomy plays out in the comments of her posts. “I’m genuinely worried about this person. I really hope this catches the attention of either the police or a therapist,” reads one comment; another reads “gorg queen slay <3.”
Bonnie represents the more extreme side of an emerging genre on TikTok that is rapidly racking up views, in which users blur the lines of fantasy and reality to craft elaborate, often frightening narratives. In one such post with 500,000 views, a user shows himself on a ski vacation with his girlfriend, only for her to briefly disappear; when she returns, she appears haunted by something she saw in the woods. The clip then cuts to the middle of the night, during which the user follows his girlfriend into the woods, who appears to be drawn there by some malevolent force. (The account, White Rabbit App, has more than 574,000 followers on TikTok, and appears to be part of a promotional campaign for an upcoming app, a not uncommon digital marketing stunt.)
Another TikTok user, Brenden Curran, has garnered nearly 74,000 followers by exploring purportedly abandoned locales, such as factories and theaters, in his hometown of Buffalo, New York; in the captions, he claims to have heard the voices of shadowy spirits, using audio from popular 1940s and 1950s songs to up the creepiness factor. “The paranormal is very interesting to me and I like to incorporate it in as a story element for those who believe in that type of thing,” he tells Rolling Stone, adding that the settings of his TikToks “definitely have some sort of mysterious or paranormal feeling around them.” An added bonus: they tend to rack up “a ton of views.”
As is the case with Bonnie’s content, the comments sections are usually divided between people who view the account as extensive performance art and those who genuinely believe it to be real. In some cases, creators vacillate between earnestly depicting the unfolding events and nodding to other intentions. One of the common tags on Curran’s TikToks, for instance, is “#art,” a pretty explicit clue to the fact that he is crafting an extended fictional narrative; but sometimes, not even lifting the veil dissuades people from wanting to believe the unbelievable, and commenters frequently ask him if he’s OK. “I normally just like the message and leave it be,” he says. “It lets them know I am but doesn’t take them out of the story and lets them stay immersed in a way.”
There’s nothing particularly new about these elaborate horror narratives on social media, according to ReignBot, a YouTuber whose channel is devoted to explorations of the mysterious and bizarre (and who has covered Bonskinny in the past). “I’ve seen ARGs [alternate reality games] or creepy performance art pop up on pretty much every platform,” ReignBot tells Rolling Stone, citing Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram as examples. It hasn’t been until recently that such content has migrated to the platform du jour, TikTok, mostly due to its rising popularity. “These things do follow the trends, and once a new app takes TikTok’s place, I’m 100 percent sure we’ll see a new surge of creepy art or ARGs emerge there,” ReignBot says.
But in some respects, TikTok makes for an ideal platform for spooky content. Because it is short-form, it lends itself to creepy imagery being presented with little context or explanation; what’s left unsaid, or kept offscreen, is often more scary then the content of the actual video, and its editing tools make it easy for viewers to stitch together whatever narrative they like. Creepy TikToks take advantage of this by blurring the lines between fiction and reality, and much of their popularity stems from commenters debating whether they’re “real” or not.
That’s especially true for Bonnie, whose content is much more crudely shot than that of other horror TikTokers, and whose voice-overs are childlike and often incoherent, giving the impression of someone genuinely mentally disturbed who may be in serious danger. In Bonnie’s comments sections, “Are you OK” is a common refrain, with many urging others to call the police or the FBI. Others appear to be more curious about who she is and what she’s doing than anything else. On YouTube, speculation as to Bonnie’s identity and the claims she has made about herself run rampant, with digital detectives eagerly sussing out breadcrumbs.
The most compelling interpretation, as espoused by a number of vloggers, including ReignBot, is that Bonskinny represents an ongoing commentary about body image and beauty standards. “Bonskinny checks all the boxes for ‘performance art’ — at least in my opinion,” says ReignBot, pointing to the consistent narrative elements of Bonnie’s mask and an obsession with beauty as the primary example. The art Bonnie showcases on TikTok tends to be focused on such themes, featuring collages of models with their noses X’ed out and the recurring message “make me pretty” etched in a childish scrawl. “I think she’s expressing the same insecurities many women face,” ReignBot says. “I think she feels ugly, and chooses to express it through a character who wears a mask.”
ReignBot also points to the fact that Bonnie “breaks character” on her Instagram on a number of occasions, interacting with her followers, answering their questions in her stories, and posting their fan art. When she interacts with fans, she does so in a far more cogent, measured fashion than her shocking, hysterical TikToks, detracting from the argument that she is deeply unstable or out of control of her own narrative. All of this, ReignBot says, is “enough proof for me that none of this is technically real — unless we’re talking about her pain/depression. That, to me, is real — Bonskinny is not.”
There are many rumors circulating about Bonnie on Reddit and Instagram, most of which are culled from various “hints” and Easter eggs scattered throughout her posts. Because Bonnie has yet to respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment, we were unable to verify any of these directly. Yet the theory that she is crafting an elaborate commentary on beauty standards based on her own personal struggles actually lends much more poignancy and resonance to her content than the supposedly real story on which her account is predicated (and is certainly far more plausible than the idea that a shadowy captor would give his unstable captive an iPhone and access to TikTok).
But as is the case for many of these projects, were Bonnie to acknowledge the fictional elements of her account, that would have the effect of unmasking something that has garnered a great deal of attention in a relatively short amount of time. In a series of now-deleted TikToks, Bonnie said last month — in relatively measured, earnest tones — that she was planning to take a break from posting due to her anxiety over attracting this attention. At the time of publication, however, she appeared to have reverted back to her previous aesthetic, posting a photo on Instagram last week of what appeared to be urine on a dirty bathtub floor. Some commenters told her to get help. Others congratulated her on her number of followers.