How TikTok resurrected the cult of Effy Stonem

Thirteen (!!!) years after she first emerged as a enigmatic, silent teen in season one of Skins, Gen Z is bringing Effy back as an It Girl once again.

by Hatti Rex
09 July 2020, 8:00am

As long as the term has existed, culture has always been obsessed with the idea of the It Girl; the trope that describes a fashionable and effortlessly cool young woman, who’s seemingly chill from dawn (or whenever it suits her to get up) ‘til dusk, an assumed personality who the boys generally lust after and all the other girls want to be. In the past, It Girls have included celebrities like Alexa Chung or Chloë Sevigny, but more often than not these untouchable figures with projected near-fictional narratives are, rather than real women, actual fictional characters. Back in the late noughties, these would’ve included boy-eater Jennifer Check of Jennifer’s Body, and Gossip Girl’s Serena Van De Woodsen. Noticeably, one particular it-girl has made a questionable comeback for Gen Z: the Bristol party girl with the stone-cold stare that began as a supporting role before becoming one of the main characters in the following seasons -- Kaya Scodelario’s debut role as Effy Stonem from Skins.

Effy first stumbled her way onto our screens in January 2007 on Channel 4 to an audience of over one and a half million. Despite being completely silent, and initially presented as a secondary character to protagonist Tony, Effy became a force of nature, a mysterious fan favourite for teenage girls across the country. Her uber-curated grunge aesthetic, smeared make-up and appetite for hedonism were quickly replicated by fans who smudged their eyeliner and tried to perfect vacant, judgemental stares in honour of their new queen.

Fast forward thirteen years and it’s evident from TikTok that Effy is still the it-girl for alt youth, perhaps never stepping down from her throne in the first place. Girls on the app are digging out their Doc Martens, penciling black kohl across their waterlines and cosplaying as Effy, paying homage to their idol whilst synced with the original Skins theme tune. Seven years after the show finally ended, Effy lives on in memes attempting to bait “depressed edgy girls” and claims that she walked so that the e-girl could run. But without new content -- aired every Thursday night on Channel 4 -- to stoke the cool fire of teenage apathy, what's it like being a Skins stan in 2020?

Whilst one viral caption reads “every girl in the UK wanted to be Effy at some point, Americans can sit this one out”, there are many US fans of Skins on TikTok. Having first heard of the show through GIFs and fan edits on Tumblr, sixteen-year-old LA-based creator Gaby was instantly intrigued and started watching it online. “I loved how unique the characters were,” she says, “not only their looks but their personalities as well. Each character had their own little story that coincided with each other, allowing me to understand who's being portrayed whilst relating their experiences to my own.”

“At the time I made that video I would get a lot of comparisons to Effy in my comment section, especially when it came to my fashion and makeup,” adds Gaby, who uses TikTok occasionally to create montage or homage videos to the character. “I used to be mesmerised by Effy and her character definitely influenced me when it came to my look... everything from the fishnets to the heavy eyeliner. I was absolutely in love.”

Though she also realises that Skins “is shot in a way where 'reckless living' is glorified”, Gaby recognises a lot of the behaviour in her friend group but admits this could be down to living in a city. “I live in LA where the nightlife is crazy and the people I surround myself with are even crazier, so a lot of aspects of Skins are relatable to my own experiences. But for a kid who lives in a small town and has a generally tame friend group, I’d assume the show is seen as pure fiction.”

Coco Vieno is an 18-year-old singer based in London who came across the show after an ex introduced her to it, her Skins inspired look” TikTok video has amassed over 200k views. “the look was inspired by her makeup because she seems so effortless and careless in everything that she does and when I’m going through a tough time I like to distance myself from it and imagine what she would do to act like she isn’t bothered. I wanted to make that video so I could live the fantasy of being like her for a few minutes.”

Asides from directly influencing her fashion sense, which she admits changed to appeal more to the “dirty” 2000’s aesthetic of the show, Coco feels Skins has affected her life in other ways too. “It made me feel like my life was boring compared to theirs,” she reveals, “and it compelled me to get into bad situations with people that reminded me of the characters, and to party and drink more to escape from the boringness of everyday life.”

Arguably though, there is something a bit sinister, or questionable at the least, around incorporating aspects from a fictional character into your own life, especially when the way they act results in little consequence and obviously glorified. Since the show first aired, both Effy and Cassie have often been linked to #thinspo or #problematicfave posts, triggering eating disorders in young watchers trying to achieve that look. But whilst they can be written out of a bad situation, that’s not how reality works and so it can be dangerous.

TikTok user Juulspodsleftthechat, known IRL as Savanna, created a fake How To Be Effy From Skins tutorial to bait all the “d3pr3ssed edgy girls" into watching. As someone who suffers from mental illnesses herself, she understands why Effy’s character appeals to that specific demographic so strongly. “She has obviously toxic traits but still seems to be portrayed as popular and desirable to the characters around her. I believe this speaks to a lot of people because it’s about being accepted despite your mental illness.”

“Personally, I think that Skins is actually an awful show for those suffering with mental health problems,” she tells me. “It seems to romanticise addiction and unhealthy relationships with those around you. I think it is especially damaging to those with eating disorders as Cassie in Gen 1 seems to outline specific eating disorder tips and tricks. Eating disorders are incredibly competitive and seeing someone else who is ill can urge other people to try harder to be recognisably ill. I think there is danger in emulating fictional scenarios as people are more likely to take the ‘fun’ aspects of Skins and forget about the problems the characters had due to their self destructive behaviours.”

With so much pressure on teenagers nowadays -- from academic achievement to growing up with social media -- it’s easy to see why Effy’s indifferent attitude and edgy aesthetic are still exciting, becoming the ultimate dream life for teenage girls over the past decade despite being an exaggerated work of fiction. Even if Skins had never existed, teen characters and their problems would undoubtedly still have have been romanticised across fiction. But there's something specifically about Effy's character in particular which remains captivating, even for a generation of teens who were too young to notice or care about the show when it originally aired. Coco perhaps sums it up best: “Our generation has either grown-up with or recently come across Skins, and every time I’m in a weird situation that seems like it would fit the Skins aesthetic, there’s always someone that acknowledges that," she says.

"I think this show has really influenced my generation on what our teenage years should be like.”

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