Op-Ed: The Danger of The ‘VSCO Girl’ Label

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VSCO is an app for editing photos. There’s also an Instagram-like social media aspect where you can post them. I’ve used VSCO for years a simple way to make photos look better before posting them. But a recent trend in the app — the “VSCO girl” — has real consequences for the way young women navigate the world — the real one, not the stylized one on the screen.

A VSCO girl isn’t just a girl who enjoys the app. It’s a particular aesthetic, defined by a love of environmentalism and a wardrobe full of oversized t-shirts, Birkenstocks, and scrunchies. This means a VSCO girl is, simply, just a girl who follows certain trends, and then posts herself with those items.

Notice something important here: have you heard about VSCO boys? Obviously boys also wear Birkenstocks and own Hydro Flasks and drive Jeeps. Wouldn’t that put some guys into this same group? No, because — unsurprisingly — the issue isn’t about footwear and water bottles.

When many young women enjoy something popular at the same time, they’re labeled as vapid and lacking in personality. According to the New York Times, over 422.4 million TikToks are tagged #VSCOGirl and nearly all of them are parodies. But surely these parodies and memes are harmless, right? In a world with so many issues, is focusing on Instagram and TikTok worthwhile?

It may just be, and here’s why.

Here’s a familiar example. How many times have you heard a teenage girl rave about how obsessed she is with One Direction and Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Probably not very many, right? Conversely, how many times have you heard people joking about teenage girls being obsessed with One Direction and Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Probably a lot more. In the end, whether the trend in question is Crocs or lattes or Hydro Flasks, it doesn’t matter: girls and young women can’t take part in any trend without being seen as annoying bandwagoners.

But why does owning a specific brand of water bottle and a pair of Vans say anything about your personality? Since when has enjoying a trend defined your personality, or rather indicated a lack thereof? Millions of boys are just as trend-obsessed as the Internet claims today’s teenage girls are- if not more so. So why do young women get so much for grief for the same thing? It’s called a double standard, and it occurs when the social norms and expectations for one group are different from those for another.

Women have to navigate life according to different rules than men. Double standards are very real, and very damaging, and they have negative consequences far beyond TikTok. Respect is automatically given to young men in a way it isn’t given to young women. What’s socially appropriate is often determined by your gender.  While many of these rules are adaptable and change with time, the reality is that women are constantly needing to justify themselves in a way men are not.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to justify this double standard when we consider the impact it has on women. According to the NYC Girl’s Project, adolescent girls experience a major crash in self esteem between ages 9-13 and another one between ages 18-23. It’s high time we reevaluate our prejudices. We owe girls more – they deserve respect, not just to be hashtagged and parodied.

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