A friend’s Facebook post sent me into an hour of obsessive Googling. “Who knows what I’m talking about when I say #sksksk?”
Hours earlier, my 13-year-old explained a phenomenon at her school that I understood to be called “Visco” girls. Half listening, I shrugged it off with an eye roll. But after stumbling upon this serendipitous social media conversation that same evening, I realized it was actually a thing.
Desperate to obtain more information on behalf of my fellow clueless Gen X parents, I plunged into an online research rabbit hole: VSCO girls, their characteristics, what they like, their connection to 1990s culture, something about mom jeans… I had to understand.
Though I suspect I may be the last person alive to have heard of this trend, I’m going to pretend there is someone else out there who hasn’t, or, like me, didn’t understand it is spelled “VSCO” and is neither an actual word nor an acronym.
What’s a VSCO girl?
A VSCO girl embodies an easy-going, beachy aesthetic with some environmental awareness thrown in. She likes Birkenstocks, Crocs, Vans, Hydroflasks, and ultra-specific brands of backpacks, bracelets, and shell necklaces. I gleaned this information from countless articles, a reluctant exploration of TikTok, and YouTube videos of teenagers talking ridiculously fast and making that horrifying sksksk sound alternated with, “I oop!”
I studied products favored by VSCO girls (Scrunchies? Mom jeans? Can this be?) and realized with horror that when my teen used her birthday money to order her very own Hydroflask and stickers an hour ago, she was doing so directly because of the VSCO trend.
I pictured myself running in slow motion down the stairs, shouting “Nooooo!” while frantically cancelling the Prime Now order that would deliver both the fraught birthday Hydroflask and an irrevocable induction into VSCO-hood to my doorstep between 8 and 10 p.m.
While initially dismayed by the idea of my daughter jumping on this bandwagon, I calmed down as I pondered it. 1990’s-style clothing (score!), a desire to save the planet, non-toxic hydration sources, a beachy, natural vibe, high-waisted jeans—was that really so bad?
Can I be a VSCO Mom?
Beachy pants and bohemian fashion are my jam. At 41, I also sport a natural look and carry my sticker-dotted Hydroflask everywhere. As far as trends go, there are certainly worse ones. Sure, the slang is problematic; as a die-hard user of “haha,” I refuse to text “lol,” let alone “sksksk,” but I digress.
During dinner, my daughter joked, “Oop, I dropped my Hydroflask, sksksk.” I couldn’t figure out whether her pals wanted to be VSCO, or whether her commentary was ironic. The dichotomy is a perfect fit with the cognitive dissonance and contradictions of middle school—mocking something you are simultaneously clinging to is a trademark of adolescence.
“So, do you guys want to be VSCO girls?” I innocently inquired.
“Ugh, NO,” she replied, disgusted.
“But you just bought a Hydroflask with those stickers! And VSCO isn’t bad—they want to save the turtles and stuff,” I countered, perplexed.
“I like Hydroflasks, but I do NOT want to be VSCO,” she explained. “But Hydroflasks are VSCO!” was my final, anemic contribution to the conversation.
My daughter mumbled something about how the sea turtles can save themselves.
I recalled my own reaction to belatedly discovering the concept of being “basic.” I wanted to like my seasonal lattes, leggings and messy buns without being reduced to a cliché of myself, insignificant and unoriginal.
My daughter wanted to like VSCO girl things without becoming one. She wanted to be above the trend, a counterculture, authentic VSCO, not the girl who unapologetically hashtags #VSCO everything. I had a friend who loved indie bands. But as soon as one of them hit it big he stopped liking them. I argued that was actually worse than people liking them just because they were popular. But he remained unmoved, basking in the superiority of his discerning taste. However, I continue to order pumpkin spice lattes despite the stereotype that only vapid nitwits enjoy them.
I could see in my daughter that stubborn refusal to believe you are part of a trend but the desperate desire to fit in. “Label me/Don’t label me” seems to be the teen incarnation of the toddler phenomenon “hold me/go away.”
Despite their insistence on being unique and non-conformist, middle school girls want trends to follow and find comfort in labels.
When I was 13, I adored magazine quizzes. And truth be told, I still relish personality tests and articles that help me understand myself through the lens of a common trait.
Though it’s possible that within the span of a few months, the VSCO trend will no longer be a “thing,” I can get on board with saving the turtles, having a beachy glow, and yes, buying scrunchies again, even after Carrie Bradshaw eviscerated her boyfriend on Sex and the City for even referencing them. Perhaps the real value of trends is in helping us to see ourselves more clearly, to examine what we feel compelled to reject, and to find meaningful things to connect us.
Or maybe they’re mostly about how comfortable footwear and tangle-proof hair ties bring people together and—no matter what generation you belong to—there will always be a divisive expression to indicate laughter. Sksksk.