The online popularity of the ‘VSCO girl’

If you spend any time on social media, your head can spin at some of the acronyms being thrown around.

Especially when you don’t know a term has become an insult.

Take “VSCO girl.” You can find hundreds of thousands of tweets, Instagram hashtags, YouTube videos, and TikTok posts tagged “#VSCO girl.”

ICYMI: Now, how about some distractions?

VSCO (pronounced “VIS-co”) is a photo editing app for applying filters that was launched in 2011. For some reason, it has become associated with teenage girls who post photos of themselves. Many of them have similar clothing and accessory choices: oversize shirts or sweaters, Hydro Flask water bottles, hair scrunchies on their wrists, Birkenstock or Croc shoes, and the occasional puka shell necklace. They say “and I oop” and “sksksksk” a lot.

Dictionary.com says the term “VSCO girl” first appeared in 2017: “Some of these instances apply the term to describe a young woman who is a loyal user of the app. Other instances use VSCO girl, likely with an ironic tone, for a young, white woman who posts perfectly—and enviably—attractive pictures online.”

Sign up for CJR's daily email

Keep that racial reference in mind.

This past year, “VSCO girls” have generated dozens of media stories. It’s a testament to how quickly language and slang change that the news coverage includes contradictory articles on whether being a “VSCO girl” is a good thing or bad thing.

A peppy August 15 article in Seventeen, “Who Are the VSCO Girls Taking Over Social Media?” reads, “Some words people have used to describe the VSCO aesthetic are preppy but laid-back, beachy, trendy and basic, though sometimes basic can be associated with negative connotations.” A September 12 Slate piece, “‘You Can Never See Their Pants For Some Reason,’” quotes teenagers saying they’ve seen “VSCO girls,” but certainly wouldn’t want to be one, because they’re so conformist. How many of us were teenagers who dressed like our peers while denying that we dressed like our peers? 

On September 29, The South China Morning Post published a piece headlined “The VSCO girl trend is so hot right now even millennials are starting to feel old,” noting that VSCO girl posts were starting to be trolled. By October 11, the needle moved, with another South China Morning Post article, “VSCO girls – rich, white, vacuous and on the way out before you even knew who they were.”

Note the racial reference again. As Dictionary.com said: “The underlying implication of the insult VSCO girl is that she is white, relatively rich, conformist, and obsessed with social media.”

And maybe a copycat. The two expressions most associated with “VSCO girls” are far from original to them. “And I oop” means, “I made a mistake,” though it’s repeated at sometimes random spots in a conversation; “sksksksk” evokes a keysmash, an expression of being shocked or amazed, and no, we will not try to give you a pronouncer.

In 2015, a black drag queen, Jasmine Masters, was recording a video when she hit her private parts. “And I…ooop,” she said. (Warning: The video will tell you the parts she hit, near the end.) “Sksksksk” also seems to have originated on Black Twitter in the early 2010s. 

It’s still easy to find the “VSCO girl” being used in both positive and negative ways in social media, but the negative is overwhelming the positive. Fast.

The Aggieland Humane Society is among those who have not gotten the message. 

When the meme extends to cats, it has ceased to be adorbs and it’s probably totes time to, like, let it go, you know?

ICYMI: The shady roots of ‘quid pro quo’

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.