2015 the year of... girl gangs

Famous groups of girlfriends lit up our social media feeds this year, making the girl gang a hallmark of 2015.

by Courtney Iseman
24 December 2015, 3:05pm

Please stop saying #SquadGoals. Or rather, please stop using it as an Instagram caption on images of old ladies doing cool things, or North West and Penelope Disick palling around. Like "I woke up like this," the term started trending on social media, became the cool thing to hashtag, and then blew up and became the phrase that your mom started using on Facebook.

There was a reason #SquadGoals blew up in 2015: this was the undisputed year of group friendship, the girl gang, specifically. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all became fascinated with who was friends with whom in music, fashion, TV and film, and we turned our attention to our own friendship game (or lack thereof).

You can't browse girl squad-related content online without being bombarded by never-ending details oabout Taylor Swift's crew. Who they are, how much they make, what they'd look like as cartoons, what the problem with them is -- from tabloid to glossy to Pulitzer-winning, every publication out there has devoted ink to Taylor's gal pals. There's no doubt that it's this very girl gang -- Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne, Hailee Steinfeld, Lorde, Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, the Haim sisters -- that popularized the squad this year, and made life barely worth living unless you had a group of gorgeous girlfriends to live it in photos with you. But girlfriend groups existed long before Swift.

In an essay for Grantland, Rembert Browne talks about when and how we form our own squads. He pinpoints the time when we start assembling our friend groups and acting like a unit -- having a certain style together, going to certain parties together. "At 13, you begin the ever-important process of being seen -- and, with that, deciding with whom you want to be seen." There were probably friend groups in middle and high school that we wanted to be in or model our own groups after. We sought to form our groups with the people we not only liked best but wanted to be associated with.

The difference now is social media. Taylor Swift is the most popular girl at Instagram High School. Her every move is documented for all of us to see and decide to love it, hate it, or emulate it. This is true for tweens, as well as for grown people; she's unavoidable. The girl gang is actually totally mundane when you think about it -- it's just a group of your friends. But Swift took friendship to new heights with her super-powerful girlfriends and their aspirational activities (concerts! crafternoons!).

The rise of #squadgoals made us start to pay more attention to other groups of famous (and pseudo-famous) girlfriends. There is the original NYC indie girl ride-or-die crew, for example: Chloë Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Rita Ackermann and Tara Subkoff.

But some of these girl gangs are problematic, particularly from a diversity angle. Most of these Internet-famous groups are composed of young, thin, rich white girls. Is this because girls of different races, ages and body types don't form friend groups? Obviously not. They just don't get attention for it. This leaves the public with a pretty privileged, whitewashed vision of what a girl gang looks like, and could potentially make young girls feel inferior when they see the friends the world cares about. These whitewashed girl gangs can lead to whitewashed feminism, as this The Verge story explains. Anyone not in these It girl leagues tend to get unfairly sidelined.

In an overly dramatic approach, The New York Post likens Swift's girl gang to a cult. But the doomsday story does make a few valid points: many women in that group, as with other famous gangs, are similar in physical appearance and even behavior. There's also the suspicion that girl gangs like this are very carefully curated, and each member serves a different purpose. Post writer Lindsay Putnam writes of Taylor's girls: "Baking cookies with Hailee Steinfeld makes Swift look innocent and down-to-earth; being named godmother to Jaime King's newborn makes Swift more maternal; standing next to models such as Karlie Kloss and Martha Hunt reminds the world of how tall, svelte and blond Swift really is."

The danger of a famous girl gang making any other women feel inferior is a threat to feminism. An image of a group of girls conquering the world and having fun doing it screams "girl power!" at first glance, but without any diversity, how much are they really empowering girls? While it's fun to see the girl friendship celebrated, the social media-driven worship of certain friend groups can make something so accessible and average seem suddenly less obtainable, reserved for people who look a certain way or have a certain living.

At best, famous girl gangs highlight the importance of female friendship in our lives. They make it feel like the sky's the limit with a few of our besties at our side. At worst, they can make us feel insecure or less-than, like there's something wrong with us if we wouldn't fit into one of the media's celebrated squads. Even the ever confident and inspiringly so Lena Dunham admitted feeling smacked by her perceived shortcomings when she saw herself onstage with Swift and her model friends at a concert. The token not-super-tall-and-skinny woman up there, Dunham recalls of the experience: "I mean, on most days, I feel really great and fine about my body, but I don't think standing next to, like, three supermodels or so is anything even the most confident woman needs to do." When Lena Dunham doesn't even feel like she fits into your girl gang, there might be something wrong with that gang.


Text Courtney Iseman
Photography Paul Buck for EPA

Girl Gangs
Cara Delevingne
taylor swift
Karlie Kloss
lena dunham
Selena Gomez
Hailee Steinfeld