In Review: The cult of Effy Stonem and the enduring appeal of the IT Girl

In Review: The cult of Effy Stonem and the enduring appeal of the IT Girl

'Indifferent attitude and edgy aesthetic' appealing today

How TikTok resurrected the cult of Effy Stonem

i-D says years after she first emerged as an enigmatic, silent teen in season one of Skins, Gen Z is bringing Effy back as an It Girl once again.

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 ‘til dusk, an assumed personality who the boys generally lust after and all the other girls want to be (think Alexa Chung). 

More often than not these untouchable figures with projected near-fictional narratives are, rather than real women, actual fictional characters. Noticeably, one particular it-girl has made a questionable comeback for Gen Z: the Bristol party girl with the stone-cold stare aka Effy Stonem from Skins.

Effy debuted in  January 2007. 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.

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Fast forward fourteen years and it’s evident from TikTok that Effy is still the it-girl for alt youth. Girls are digging out their Doc Martens, pencilling black kohl across their waterlines and cosplaying as Effy, paying homage to their idol whilst synced with the original Skins theme tune. 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. 

The British show has an “every girl in the UK wanted to be Effy at some point, Americans can sit this one out” vibe. But Skins has a US fanbase. Gaby, 16, from LA, is one of them.

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.

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.

With so much pressure on teenagers nowadays 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. 

But there’s something specifically about Effy’s character in particular which remains captivating.

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'Skins didn't need to be realistic, and neither did Effy'

The Enduring Appeal of Effy Stonem, the ‘Skins’ Character Who Keeps On Giving

Vice says before Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”, there was Effy Stonem. The Skins side-character-turned-protagonist became an instant pop culture icon in the late 2000s – the Patron Saint of teenage girls, typically found smoking behind the science block and communicating mostly through eye contact.

Effy is an enigma, a train-wreck, a femme fatale whose allure is inherently bound up in her own undoing; Marissa Cooper if she had a sense of humour and partied in Stokes Croft. Her magnetism comes from the conflict between how she really feels (deeply) and how she acts (as though she doesn’t feel a thing) – a façade recognisable to the audience, but very few characters in the show.

Her appearance is either prim in a school uniform, or dishevelled in fishnets; her behaviour either “cool, detached” or “screaming in the middle of a dual carriageway”; her dialogue either Kat Slater or Laura Palmer, In short: she is melodramatic and completely unrealistic, but that was the point. Effy is a characterisation of how teenage girls feel, not how they actually are.

Skins continues to occupy the teenage imagination thanks to its distinct character-driven format and the fact it was the first show to truly reflect both the volume and nature of underage partying in the UK. Drugs, sex, poverty, racism, divorce, domestic abuse, eating disorders, heartbreak – Skins came at these issues through the eyes of a teenager, with the emotional lens of an adult, taking each one seriously but respecting its audience enough to entertain rather than moralise. While pretty much every character still holds up, there’s something about Effy that continues to resonate more than most other characters.

In one early episode, Michelle asks her, “Why don’t you speak, Effy? Does nobody ask you why? It must mean something…” Even when she was the focal point of the show, Effy remained stoic, speaking less than those around her, but usually communicating more.

In retrospect, it was a genius move, laying the foundation for Effy to supersede Tony in season three as the mysterious and Machiavellian lead. It became clear very quickly that Effy wasn’t just a substitute chaos agent. She was one of the most gripping characters of the entire Skins franchise, and it seems her appeal has only snowballed since.

It’s quite funny that a character in a show targeted at British youth between the years 2007 and 2010, resonates so strongly with an international audience of teens today. 

The vast majority of teen dramas also skew conservative and wealthy. By contrast, Effy is average – a part of the thriving but recognisable English middle-class. She goes to a sixth form college, lives in an identikit terraced-house-with-bay-windows, and dresses in high street clothes.

Skins, in general, has held up because, even in its most surreal moments, it was able to communicate the distressing and exhilarating experience of being young in such a relatable way.

In that sense, Effy is a vessel for the whole spirit of Skins. Both stern and dreamy, she embodies the show’s initial catchphrase: fuck it – a blunt acceptance of circumstances which, as a young person, you’re powerless to do anything about, as well as the element of fantasy that often kicks in to convey the inarticulable. In a video analysis of Effy’s style, the narrator says “her fashion is the embodiment of the rebellion, beauty and mystery that the Skins franchise holds”.

A severely depressed and traumatised character, Effy spends most of her arc running away from her troubles by creating more immediate ones. It’s an ill-advisable but understandable act of agency; a way of coping through control rather than passivity. Instead of lashing out or doing nothing, she turns her violence inward. 

Ultimately, Skins reflected the ambient melodrama of puberty better than any other show of its time. It never needed to be realistic, and neither did Effy. She just had to reflect teenagers the way they see themselves.

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'Worrying stereotype of mental illness'

Skins and the glamourising of mental illnesses

Theboar says Skins followed the lives of British teenagers as they grew up – it’s natural then, of course, that the show depicted various characters with mental illnesses.

But the representation of mental health problems in Skins largely enforces representations of mental health problems as something that only affects a particular group of society, predominately white teenage girls rather than allowing viewers to see any diversity in those affected.

Effy Stonem in particular portrayed a worrying stereotype of mental illness. As a slim, white female, she conforms to all too typical tropes of mental illness. While girls who look exactly like Effy do suffer from mental illnesses, there are also vast majorities of people that suffer who do not resemble her in any way.

Effy’s character perpetuates the stereotype that leads to increased stigma in society: that illnesses like depression only affect slim, pretty, white girls.

Effy’s story-lines glamourise mental health problems as something that will make you increasingly desirable to boys who want to ‘fix’ you.

Effy is one of the most popular Skins characters, portrayed as beautiful and complicated. Her depiction of mental health, although at times gritty and bordering on realistic, is mostly based around a fantastical perception in which mental problems make you increasingly attractive and interesting.

There was also Cassie in the first generation of Skins, who from the first episode had a serious problem with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are one of the most deadly mental illnesses, with an incredibly high mortality rate. Yet Cassie’s character only hindered the representation of mental health, suggesting that eating disorders only affect pretty, white females. Yet again, this is far from reality: in fact, eating disorders among men are a steadily rising crisis, however, I don’t personally recall a time I saw a male character in TV who had an eating disorder.

By glamorising these problems, TV shows trivialise all those who actually suffer from these illnesses.

Representation, particularly with issues like mental health where there is such prevalent stigma, is crucial in TV shows and popular culture in general. If people are led by shows like Skins to believe that mental health problems only affect people of a certain gender or ethnicity, like Cassie and Effy, there is no way to breakdown stereotypes and misunderstanding. 

'Most dangerous fictional character'

Effy Stonem from Skins was not a role model

The Tab says Effy Stonem was the 2009 goal. Dark hair, black-lined eyes, shrouded in mystery – every angsty fourteen-year-old girl’s dream. Everything always miraculously turned out okay for her despite the fact that her friends had been murdered and gone to prison in the middle of her wild antics. All of this I can deal with. Effy isn’t real. 

Effy is the embodiment of glorified ill mental health. 

Some may say I’m taking this way too seriously. She was a fictional character whose life was completely unrealistic in so many ways. And surely, teenagers wouldn’t be so willing to replicate someone who is clearly suffering from mental health issues, would they?

Sadly, they would. Many teenagers attempted to replicate her look – effortless yet glamorous. They wanted the life too, the drugs and the drink and the boys. However, we all know what made Effy so endearing – she was “fucked up”.

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Now, I’m not saying that every teenage dream was that of mental health disorders. The real problem lies with the fact that Effy’s condition was completely covered up by romance. Her most prominent characteristic was that she was problematic, and this characteristic is what brought her attention from Freddie, JJ and Cook. She smoked and stared and cried and didn’t care. She wore torn clothes and had make-up smeared across her face and looked flawless with every step she took on her path to destruction. She was depressed, and bipolar. She disregarded everyone’s feelings for her own sense of self-entitlement. She was careless. But that was the dream.

Amongst the sex and the drugs and the partying and the heartbreak, there was no sign of the true ugliness of mental health illness. Skins failed to show Effy in her bed, not with a three-day hangover but because she couldn’t bare to leave her room. Skins failed to show the isolation of depression, and how sometimes friends and boys aren’t going to just wait for you to call the shots.  They think you’ve stopped talking because you’re mysterious but it’s actually because you have nothing to say without screaming or crying. Skins doesn’t show us the filth or the ugliness or the despair or the tiring nature of depression.

Skins showed us slow rock songs and reading books. It showed us abandoned human connections being fixed in an instant. Skins showed us that it’s cool to be sad and it’s cool to feel nothingness. Skins showed us beautiful destruction.

Skins gave us Effy Stonem, who is the most dangerous fictional character on television. If she was designed to be a cautionary tale, they should have made her a realistic one.

Go Deeper into the story

Remember When Literally Everyone Wanted To Be Effy Stonem From Skins? TikTok Does – Pedestrian 

Skins: 5 Characters Who Got Fitting Endings (& 5 Who Deserved More) – ScreenRant

18 Reasons Tony And Effy From “Skins” Are The Best TV Brother And Sister Of All Time – BuzzFeed

England’s ‘Skins’ shows the imperfection, viscerality of being a teenager – DailyCal

Quick Facts

Skins is a British teen comedy-drama television series that follows the lives of a group of teenagers in BristolSouth West England, through the two years of sixth form. Its controversial story-lines have explored issues like dysfunctional familiesmental illness (such as depressioneating disorderspost-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder), adolescent sexualitygendersubstance abusedeath, and bullying.

Each episode generally focuses on a particular character or subset of characters and the struggles they face in their lives, with the episodes named after the featured characters. The show was created by father-and-son television writers Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain for Company Pictures, and premiered on E4 on 25 January 2007. Skins went on to be a critical success as well as a ratings winner and has developed a cult following. Read on

skins effy

Elizabeth “Effy” Stonem is a fictional character in the television series Skins, played by Kaya Scodelario. She appears in all of the first four series, as well as the seventh series, and appears in the most episodes (27). Kaya Scodelario was included in Entertainment Weekly’s 2009 “Summer Must List”, being named “Bad Girl” for her portrayal of Effy. She was included in AfterEllen.com’s Top 50 Favorite Female TV Characters. 

Read on

Effy’s (un)Closet(ed)

Check out Effy’s iconic wardrobe here

effy stonem personality type 

Extroverted Feeling (Fe): Effy is always aware of what other people are feeling and uses it to her advantage. She easily charms people to get what she wants out of them because she knows what will work on that person even if she hardly knows them, if at all. She tells Katie that she also sees through her act and this is true since she has a knack for knowing what other people’s emotional needs are.

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