Not a VSCO Girl, Not Yet a Woman: Why Today’s Teen Girls Give Me Hope
Welcome to the world, VSCO girls. The same teen-style-trend to social-media-ubiquity to Twitter-parody cycle that gave us Tumblr girls and Tiktok girls has birthed the VSCO girl. This teen girl sports oversized t-shirts, wrist scrunchies and natural makeup. In her hand: a heavily stickered, eco-chic Hydro Flask water bottle; on her feet: Birkenstocks, Tevas, or Chacos.
The VSCO girl aesthetic is, in part, a backlash against the dramatically made-up, filtered-into-near-oblivion Instagram influencer look. It’s also simply a reflection of how teenage girls dress in 2019, which is not dramatically different from how teenage girls have dressed for decades.
Tiktok videos make a mockery of VSCO girl slang: “sksksksksksk” (a cousin of OMG); “and I oop” (used to denote self-deprecating mock-shock); and, most cuttingly, a flippant–and, it’s implied, insincere–“Save the turtles!” Watching these parody videos, it’s clear that I’m supposed to be annoyed by these girls, but instead, I feel a kinship borne of a mutual earnestness.
I see young women who were born into a world in which climate apocalypse is a near-guarantee; today’s college freshmen have, in less than two decades on earth, witnessed the extinction of 14 species, with signs of a global mass extinction on the horizon. My generation was shaped by the destruction of the twin towers; VSCO girls have been shaped by the destruction of the entire planet.
The truth is, in VSCO girls, I see myself. In ninth grade, I wore my “Save The Rainforests” tee until it faded beyond recognition and sported Naot sandals (a crunchier, fuglier Birkenstock alternative). We didn’t have “and I oop,” but we had “Wasssuuuuup!” (thanks, Budweiser!). Oxy Pads were the closest thing we had to Mario Badescu (the burning is how you knew it was working!). And we didn’t have scrunchies. Oh wait, yes we did. We invented scrunchies. (I’m going on record as saying we also invented having sleepovers on our trampolines–take that, Gen Z.)
I remember how sincerely I did, in fact, want to save the rainforests. Twenty years later, I am a grown woman, and the actual Amazon rainforest, even as I type, is on fire.
Everything is different and everything is the same.
When I encountered the VSCO girIs, I had a visceral reaction: oh my God, it’s me. (I also immediately purchased a bright yellow Hydro Flask, because you never outgrow wanting to be ~on trend~). Sporting tie-dye and braiding friendship bracelets in my high school bedroom, I was living the VSCO girl life before the iPhone was a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye, and way before anyone knew what a “filter” was (a technological innovation for which I am profoundly grateful, tbh).
I believe there is a VSCO girl inside all of us. She’s the part of us that wants to save the turtles, but isn’t sure where to start. She’s the part of us that’s unafraid to shame our friends for indulging in single-use plastic. She’s the part of us that always has a spare scrunchie (or six) for a friend in need. While being a VSCO girl is ostensibly about style, I think it’s deeper than that. I think it’s about wanting to effect change in whatever small way you are empowered to do so as a girl in the world in 2019.
To be a teen girl has always been to be written off and underestimated and reduced to a high-pitched trope. But the young women of Gen Z are generous, full-hearted, and smart. They know that the future of sea turtles (and the Amazon, and the glaciers, and all the rest of it) quite literally depends on them. So while their metal straws make them the butt of the internet’s latest joke, I believe they’ll have the last laugh.
In fact, we’re already seeing it: from Internet darling and climate activist Greta Thunberg’s trip across the Atlantic to Gillian Sullivan’s viral TikTok in support of pay raises for her school district’s teachers, the girls of Gen Z are turning their mastery of social media into a force for social good. They are creating real policy change, sometimes at the global level. Mock them at your own risk.
Perhaps Millennial pop princess Britney Spears said it best in her 2001 ballad “Not Yet a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”:
“I’ve seen so much more than you know now/ So don’t tell me to shut my eyes
I’m not a girl/ Not yet a woman/
All I need is time/ A moment that is mine/ While I’m in between.”
If VSCO girls have taught me anything, it’s that they’re going to be the ones who save the world. Their eyes are open. This is their moment. And all they need is time.
- September 10, 2019