More Than a Scrunchie: VSCO girls and the History of Labels

Clara McWeeny, Managing Editor

On a recent, rainy, fall afternoon, my high school soccer team and I found ourselves down 4-0 to a county rival. And being taunted mercilessly by the opposing fans. Needless to say, I was not having a good time. Gaining a bit of momentum late in the second half, we eventually worked the ball far enough up the field to earn a corner kick. In other words, an ideal scoring opportunity. My friend Liv, a natural lefty known for her dangerous in-swinging crosses, jogged over to take the kick. And right into enemy territory. The corner flag was backed by a row of bleachers, all filled with boys from our rival high school. But as Liv backed up to take the kick, a strange thing happened. The boys behind her, quietly but noticeably, began to chant a phrase that had become all too familiar to me, and many high school girls, this fall: “VSCO Girl. VSCO Girl.”

Urban Dictionary defines a VSCO girl as “Basically the most basic of girls you’ll find out there. Common interests include scrunchies, hydro flasks, seashell chokers, and Birkenstocks.” VSCO is a social media app that is mostly used for editing, sharing, and reposting photos. But importantly, it’s used almost exclusively by teenage girls. Scrolling through my VSCO feed (yes I do have one. No, I’m not ashamed), here’s a bit of what I see: a dog dressed as a reindeer. Ok, that’s pretty cute. Not going to lie. I scroll down a bit more. A post reads, “I hope that in twenty-twenty you become fluent in self-love.” I wasn’t informed self-love was a language. But hey, whatever works. Right beneath it, a billboard back dropped by a sunset reads, “The Past has Passed. Let it Fucking Go.” Under that, from an account named unforgettablevibes (whatever that means), about ten teenage girls, all with scrunchies, all with sea-shell necklaces, and all with hydroflasks stare back at me in a flawlessly yet seemingly effortless mirror selfie. VSCO girls, in the flesh.

But I thought back to that gloomy fall afternoon, and the taunts Liv had to endure. She wasn’t wearing a scrunchy. Or in a jeep — that would seem a bit out of place on the soccer field. So why had these boys so mercilessly and boldly chanted this at her? Sure, Liv owns a few scrunchies. And she loves Birkenstocks as much as the next girl. She does have long blonde hair, and may fit this stereotypical mold. But these are not her “common interests”, and they certainly do not define her. This label of a “VSCO girl” strips women of their passions and interests, characterizing them by the color of their water bottle or graphic t-shirt. It is sexist and misogynistic, and has dangerous consequences.

Women, for too long, have been labeled by what they wear or how they look, usually in an effort to stifle their independence. In the 1920s, Flappers wore their hair short and their skirts short, signaling new-found liberties and rights. They were often written off as promiscuous and immoral. In the 50s, “house-wives” wore pearls and shin length dresses, and were expected to stay home to conform to the rapidly expanding “sphere of domesticity” fueled by mass production. In the 60s, “Mod girls” wore loose-fitting baby-doll dresses that were seen as “un-feminine,” but actually allowed for movement and freedom, demonstrating the rise of second-wave feminism. Each one of these labels defined women as one thing, often negative, but eventually gave rise to bold and revolutionary movements.

I must admit I’ve struggled to come up with any revolutionary nature to over-sized t shirts and scrunchies. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. In all seriousness though, these labels attempted to define women by their clothing. Society, and men in particular, take women’s expression and made it their own. They throw labels on women, confining them to one role and one role only. These labels leave little room for other forms of expressions, solidifying gender roles even further. 

The term VSCO girl is just another example of this, but users of this term are often protected by VSCO girls’ perceived privilege, good looks, and social status. And it’s true. These aren’t exactly refugee orphans in need of defending. But terms that have historically been used to describe women by their looks and clothes allow men to group girls into categories of hairstyles and nail colors. VSCO girls have passions and they have interests and they have real thoughts. Behind any scrunchy is an actual brain, just like any other teenager. Having a jeep and being a smart, fascinating, unique person are not mutually exclusive, last time I checked. We must stop using this dangerous label so carelessly, as it boils women down into items and not interests. 

Hidden in between the inspirational quotations and puppy pictures, there are some posts of “substance” on my VSCO feed. Here are a few: a picture of the Burlington high school girls’ soccer team, smiling and sweaty, all wearing #EqualPayforEqualPlay jerseys to support the members of the US Women’s National Team. After a few more quotations and some sunsets, a sign reading “Without Hermione Harry would have DIED in Book One.” appears on my screen. Clever. Below that, a shirt reads “If fertilized eggs are ‘people’ & refugees aren’t we have a problem.” The shirt is pink and cropped and very cute but it is also bold and brilliant and So. Fucking. True. But wait. VSCO isn’t only pictures of hydro flasks and bracelets? It has actual, real messages? 

Maybe this is why society is so quick to label this platform. It is a space almost entirely for girls and this can be threatening. Finally, somewhere women can speak their minds without the patriarchy to limit them. Beneath the mirror selfies, is a revolution forming? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, the term “VSCO Girl” has g2g.