Do you like True Religion jeans? Is Effy Stonem your style icon? Have you ever wondered aloud where your tobacco is? Are there times you feel uncontrollably drawn to the Southbank? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be eligible for the label of “Southbank girl”.
Over the last year, a new trend emerged on TikTok. Videos about Southbank girls were all over London’s For You page, with users like simp4beanz carving out the archetype. They had vocal fry, dissociated quite a lot and wanted everyone to know they loved smoking cigarettes. In the early videos, their uniform was the Depop homepage or the Urban Outfitters stock room. At the same time, Southbank as a spot for all genders was having a bit of a moment on TikTok – there were a huge number of videos showing just how cool Southbank and all the people who went there were.
Videos like those made Southbank sound exciting, and being a Southbank girl alluring to some, who then made videos about aspiring to be a Southbank girl. These aspirations – surprise, surprise – were torn apart in the comments. Southbank girls, commenters said, were private school kids who bullied their parents into sending them drug money; who could be identified from miles away by their affected rasp of, “Rah, where’s my baccy?”
Teenagers have been hanging out at Southbank for decades – some of them guys, some of them girls. But when I saw the term “Southbank girl” on TikTok, I couldn’t connect the dots between that supposed stereotype of K-holing Godolphin students and the girls I’ve seen hanging out in the skate space and under the Leake Street arches, just round the corner from Waterloo station.
Like most trends making fun of teenage girls, there was a lot of artistic license taken in the early videos. However, as time went on, the Southbank girl signifiers changed – they became more goth, with C.P. Company beanies and Juicy Couture bags swapped out for cans of Monster and a pair of Demonias. This lined up more with what I saw when I went to chat with some of the kids hanging out under the Leake Street arches.
I only met one person who accepted the label of “Southbank girl”. Molly, 16, goes to the Southbank with her friends up to four times a week. Even though she accepts that the term might apply to her, she says it’s used by “small dick men”. For what it’s worth, Molly matches the description in some ways – she goes to Southbank frequently and she’s stylish in a way her parents probably don’t really get, but she wasn’t rude and she doesn’t go to private school.
When I spoke to skaters about the presence of Southbank girls in the skate area, almost everyone agreed that it was annoying. Millie, 16, said that for skaters like her, the presence of “Southbank girls” can make it harder to be respected. “Most boys are nice, but some can be particularly harsh,” she said.
Foey, 15, said that, for many, “Southbank is a space to escape” London’s dry outskirts, and a place to meet likeminded people. He goes almost every Saturday to hang out with friends and engage in some healthy escapism, but says he takes precautions that he doesn’t see others doing.
After blacking out at Southbank, he decided that drinking wasn’t for him in a setting like that. According to Foey, a sober person is an unusual sight under the Leake Street arches. He describes seeing “people crumble to the floor”, and worries about the safety of girls hanging out in the tunnel.
When I asked if the culture at Southbank encouraged a dangerously casual attitude to drugs and alcohol – if Southbank girls really are all K-holing intentionally and constantly – Foey said it’s not Southbank specifically that encourages this behaviour. He pointed out that you could find similar behaviour in various other “motive spots” across the city – and he’s right. Head to Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath or Wandsworth Common on a Saturday night and you’ll find a similar mess.
So while the idea of a Southbank girl is kind of fun, there’s not a lot of truth to it. Southbank girls exist inasmuch as Southbank boys exist – i.e. there are both boys and girls who hang out at Southbank, smoke cigarettes and sometimes take drugs. Mind you, it’s only the girls who get mocked online.