When Joel Fory and Greg Lutze created the app “VSCO” in 2011, the two could not have possibly known they had just planted the seed for a meme that would grow into a cultural phenomenon eight years later. The app itself began as a tool for editing photos, and more recently, videos. Similar to more mainstream social media, VSCO users can post photos and videos to their profile, follow other people, and message other users directly. However, there are key differences between VSCO and more mainstream apps. “I don’t think it’s as popular as other apps like Instagram. It’s much less focused on other people [so it] is easy to use without interacting with others,” says Lucy Benoit (11) about the app. Benoit downloaded the app a couple of years ago and has been using it ever since. “It’s a great app for editing photos and videos and it has a lot of options to help you enhance your photos with filters. I use it frequently to edit pictures in order to highlight specific colors more or lighten the shadows,” she says. And she’s not alone. According to “theverge.com,” a tech focused website, around 30 million people around the world use VSCO. Due to the simplistic nature of the app, it can be assumed that most users enjoy VSCO for the same reasons outlined by Benoit.
So a photo editing app is created, it gains popularity over the years, and that’s the end, right? Not quite. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date, the term “VSCO girl” became widely used sometime in June of 2019. The label itself is slightly vague; someone who had never heard the term before would not be able to infer the exact meaning. In an anonymous Instagram poll, the majority of people described a VSCO girl as someone who owns metal straws and a Hydro Flask, and who wears oversized t-shirts, messy buns, Birkenstocks, scrunchies, shell necklaces, friendship bracelets, and of course, who edits photos with the VSCO app. Respondents also reported common VSCO girl phrases, such as “and I oop” and “sksksk.” Stereotypically, a VSCO girl would say “and I oop” after dropping her Hydro Flask, followed by “sksksk” to “laugh” it off.
But how do people perceive VSCO girls? Rory Johnston, a freshman at Franklin High School, also describes VSCO girls with these same characteristics, but goes beyond to say that VSCO girls are associated with “an annoying, quirky attitude.” Generally speaking, this seems to be a common opinion. Both Johnston and Benoit believe that the term has almost exclusively negative connotations. “I have not heard one good thing about VSCO girls,” says Johnston. Similarly, Benoit classifies the term as an insult. But why?
The general consensus is that VSCO girls are annoying, but that’s about as clear as it gets. Thanks to TikTok, a popular social media platform known for short videos, the “VSCO girl” became a meme practically overnight. There is no detailed essay outlining the reasons why VSCO girls are annoying, why people don’t like them, or why it was even worthy of becoming a meme; it is simply a stereotype that has been exaggerated for comedy. Like most memes, there is admittedly little logic to it, but it has undoubtedly supplied the general teenage audience with a great amount of entertainment.
Perhaps the deeper question to be asked is, does this meme have consequences? It certainly seems so, but the weight of said consequences remains to be seen. “The meme has been exaggerated and it has ended up being applied to girls who only have one or two of these characteristics or items,” explains Benoit. This trend has made many teenage girls think twice about what they wear in the morning and what objects they purchase. “I do own a puka shell necklace,” says Johnston. “I’m never wearing it again.” Similarly, Benoit has noticed that the fact that she owns a Hydro Flask has been regularly pointed out by some of her male classmates so far this school year. But to her, this is hardly specific to the VSCO girl meme, rather it is representative of a larger trend that teenage girls consistently experience. “I believe that girls in high school are being judged and criticized for their interests or style choices no matter what those preferences are,” argues Benoit. The purpose of this article is in no way to defend VSCO girls or to really take a personal position at all. It is, however, valuable to explore what may lie beyond the surface of this meme.
Regardless of one’s perspective on the VSCO girl meme, whether it be that it’s all in good fun or for the unnecessary criticism of teenage girls, it’s nearly impossible to argue that the meme has not left its mark on the culture of this generation. To think that it grew from an app that was created eight years ago makes one wonder what’s next; which current under-the-radar app is the next mega-meme waiting to happen?