By Jillian Diamond
Though there have always been memes and jokes around teenage girls who fit into high school stereotypes, no such title has captured the zeitgeist of the late 2010s so much as the VSCO Girl. The term has entered the vocabulary of teenagers around the country, from high school freshmen to the University of Maryland students. The source of its spread is simple to pinpoint: social media and other online networks that have popularized the term and the archetype. But its meaning and true origins are more nebulous.
Put simply, VSCO Girls are a derivative of the “basic girl” archetype – girls, typically white and attractive, who follow popular, “safe” trends. They wear chokers and knot their hair with scrunchies, tuck their shirts into denim shorts, and carry expensive Fjallraven backpacks. They use Hydro Flasks and proclaim the virtues of saving the turtles, but also appropriate black and LGBT+ slang.
“The joke is that she’s perky and annoying while espousing the virtues of eco-consciousness via conspicuous consumption,” journalist Rebecca Jennings writes in her article “VSCO Girls and how Teen Culture Goes Viral” for Vox.
The term “VSCO Girl” comes from the photography app VSCO (pronounced “visco”) that allows users to edit photos and videos with filters and other digital editing tools. While it originally emerged in 2017-2018 to describe a young woman who frequently used the app, its perception changed in early 2019. In January, YouTuber Greer Jones published a satirical video titled “becoming the ultimate VSCO girl” in which she attempted to use the app to garner online fame. She posted heavily-edited photos of her participating in “basic” lifestyle and fashion trends, like wearing Lululemon athleisure wear and drinking coffee with oat milk.
“Today I’m going to be trying to become a VSCO girl because that’s my life goal, you know, I’m not focusing on college, not focusing on my grades, because that’s irrelevant,” Jones says sarcastically in the video’s introduction. Jones’s video has garnered relatively little attention compared to later users of the term, amassing only 262,000 views, but it went on to inspire viral content.
The phrase really took off in the summer of 2019, where users of the short-form video app TikTok began posting VSCO Girl POV videos – wherein the viewer takes the role of someone who has the displeasure of interacting with a VSCO Girl. It was at this point when the concept of VSCO Girls really went viral, inspiring videos, tweets, and Halloween costumes aping on the archetype.
But as it’s gained popularity, reception to the idea of the VSCO Girl has been mixed. While some claim that it’s just a harmless critique of today’s pop culture, others see something more insidious in its spread. “I think the whole ‘VSCO Girl’ thing, along with other labels like E-Girl, is kind of a more current way of just categorizing girls into groups based on things men like to make fun of,” says Jordan Willis, an Astronomy and Physics major at UMD. And others agree: “Labelling women for having similar mainstream interests is extremely toxic,” says Suliman Alsaid, a Computer Science major. “It just gives way to women being attacked, even if it is just jokes, about what they do and what they should be doing.”
“It’s better that we appreciate their quirks rather than mimic and even make fun of them,” suggests Naveena Aruldhas, another UMD student. “They’re just super kind girls that find happiness in their choices of clothing and accessories.”
As with all popular memes, the idea of VSCO Girls will not last – according to Google Trends, the term is already on the decline. Searches for “VSCO Girl” on Google have declined by 24% since they hit their peak during the week of October 6, 2019. But the idea will remain a time capsule of teen culture in the late 2010s.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Avalon Mall’s Facebook page.
Jillian Diamond is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.