A few weeks ago, my friend told me about a game he and his friends play: essentially a version of Punch Buggy, but with “VSCO girls.” VSCO girl must-haves — scrunchies, shell chokers, Birkenstocks and Hydro Flasks (among many others) — would all elicit a punch. These items don’t strike me to be anything out of the ordinary; I have seen many Oxy students with these items around campus.
VSCO Girls have been dubbed the “Tumblr girls of 2019” by Urban Dictionary. They are frequently found on boho blankets at the beach, eating açai bowls, covering their walls with polaroid pictures or spritzing themselves with Mario Badescu’s facial spray — an aesthetic blend of California cool, East Coast prep and 60s free spirit. While their tastes are often brand-specific (and expensive), these girls also incorporate an element of eco-consciousness into their “brand” with their #savetheturtles message and undying loyalty to metal straws.
The number of Google searches for VSCO girls peaked in August, yet this trend feels very familiar. It’s the latest iteration of something that’s been around forever — from the outdoorsy girls I went to high school with in the Pacific Northwest to the Tumblr girls I aspired to be in 2013. That is to say, a group of fairly average (albeit upper-middle-class) girl-oriented items and interests create a derogatory caricature that suggests girls who ascribe to them are bland and ditzy. This is often the case for whatever new trend teenage girls want to bandwagon: from “Twilight“ to One Direction, it seems “girly” fascinations equal invalid fascinations.
There will always be a new, “hip” trend for teenage girls to follow, and most pre-pubescent teens and young adolescents would rather conform than be an outcast. Growing up and figuring out your identity out is hard enough as it is, and we shouldn’t penalize adolescents for wanting to dabble in (or fully embrace) new trends. Young girls are often put down for having typically “girly” interests— shopping, makeup and the color pink — sending the message that embracing your “femininity” is always frivolous. The film “Legally Blonde” epitomizes this; Elle Woods is a Barbie-esque blonde at Harvard Law School who has to tirelessly prove herself, essentially because she’s “too blonde.”
Considering the history of teen girl trends that I’ve seen in my lifetime — from the exclusive “cool kids” image from Abercrombie’s Mike Jeffries to 2013’s skinny, white Tumblr girl — this latest aspirational “It girl” trend is a step in the right direction to making inclusivity and environmental activism mainstream.
That is not to say that this VSCO girl trend is flawless: in many ways, it’s classist, body-exclusive and white, catering mostly to wealthy, skinny, blonde suburban girls with its collection of higher-end products, such as a $40 water-bottle and $100 sandals. You’ll be spending upwards of $1,200 to get all the VSCO girl essentials.
While buying brand-new items for this trend can be costly, most of the items themselves are not so exclusive due to their “basic” nature — oversized T-shirts, Vans, scrunchies and mom jeans can all be found at thrift stores for a price that’s better for both your wallet and the planet. Plus, it’s extra cool to thrift these trends as teens trade malls for thrift shops. This new iteration of the “cool girl” trend is not unattainable.
The most problematic element of this trend, however, isn’t the VSCO girls themselves, but the words used against them. “Basic girl” is a common female-on-female insult conflating common aesthetics and interests popular among girls. It ascribes their lack of personality and conformity to being like “every other girl.” This kind of conversation has pushed some young women to dissociate from “other girls” because of the negative assumptions.
Cassandra, a teenager, told Slate: “I’ve been wearing oversized shirts since seventh grade, but I stopped recently, because of the VSCO girls. I don’t want to be associated with them.”
Another teenager, Kelly said: “They’re just kind of basic and not that interesting as people.”
Once something becomes popular and associated with being a girl, many girls will want to stray from it. They are taught that being like “other girls” is an inherently bad thing.
Last I checked, wearing oversized T-shirts was no clear indication of an individual’s airheadedness. Wanting to take “aesthetic” polaroids doesn’t mean your #savetheturtles activism is disingenuous or your “feminine” pursuits should not be taken seriously. We must break the habit of dismissing the interests and making fun of teenage girls for being exactly who they are: teenage girls. To raise a generation of strong young women, we can’t feed into this single-minded narrative that basic things such as T-shirts and water bottles are indicative of a girl’s (lack of) thoughts.
Ellen Oscar is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.