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Kylie Jenner Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture SS 2024
Kylie Jenner Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture SS24Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage

Is Gen Z really ageing faster?

According to social media, young people are ageing prematurely due to their penchant for Elf Bars and retinol – but is there really any truth behind these theories?

“We live in a time nowadays where millennials look younger for their age, while Gen Z looks way older for their age,” says a man in a TikTok that has now been watched over 20 million times. With his full, salt-and-pepper beard, forehead creases, dad glasses and tweed jacket, at first glance it would seem that he is an older millennial, looking in from the outside at the new generation coming up behind him. Then comes the big reveal: “If you don’t believe me, I’m Gen Z.” He pauses for effect. “Get closer,” he says, zooming into his reflection in the mirror. “I am Gen Z… I’m younger than Zendaya.”

The man behind the video, 26-year-old Jordan Howlett, isn’t the only Gen Z to be recently told he looks ‘old’ for his age. In another TikTok, 23-year-old Taylor Donoghue rails against being mistaken for a woman in her early thirties. “You look seven to ten years older than me and I’m mid-30s,” reads one comment. “I looked like a baby at 23. I don’t understand what is happening to Gen Z,” reads another. Many Gen Z celebrities have also been derided online for apparently ageing quickly: in one post on Twitter, 26-year-old Kylie Jenner is sarcastically described as looking like a “rich, beautiful 46-year-old lady”, while innumerable others claim that 19-year-old Millie Bobby Brown looks 35.

Several reasons have been floated for why Gen Z appears unusually old. Some say it’s because we’re avid vapers and Elf Bars (RIP) have ruined our skin. Others say we’ve damaged our skin by overusing potent ingredients like retinol. Another theory posits that it’s because baby Botox and filler are making our faces look distorted (Jenner’s pillowy face is usually touted as the strongest ‘evidence’ of this). Howlett, the man in the aforementioned viral TikTok, claims it’s due to “stress”. But is there really any merit behind these claims?

Of course not,” says Professor Meredith Jones, a cultural theorist at Brunel University London. “That’s biologically implausible.” So, no, Gen Z definitely aren’t ageing faster. But why do so many people think they are?

It’s possible that a small minority of celebrities or influencers may appear much sleeker and ‘put-together’ – and therefore more older. The main reason Donohue, the aforementioned 23-year-old influencer, looks older than her age is largely because her personal style is pretty ‘mature’. But she has no wrinkles or grey hair, the typical, physical signs of ageing. “While younger people may be participating in trends that are typically attributed to older people, I do not think this has physically aged them,” explains esthetician and content creator Alicia Lartley

The idea that ready access to tweakments is ageing Gen Z is another popular theory for why we supposedly look older, and it is true that cosmetic work can make faces – young and old – appear homogeneous. “Certainly fillers and Botox can make everyone look the same age – for example, Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian look like twins in their latest Instagram photos,” Professor Jones explains. “A lot of cosmetic work makes the old look younger and, by default, the young look older, because they look the same. So rather than thinking ‘oh, everyone looks 25 now’ we tend to think ‘oh, everyone looks somewhere between 45 and 75’.”

But, as Lartley says, while high-profile, wealthier young people may be getting Botox and filler, your average person probably isn’t. “Perhaps having access to filler and tweakments at an early age can drastically change people’s faces, but this is not what the majority of Gen Z are doing,” she says, adding that Kylie Jenner’s infamous use of filler is “quite a unique case”. Essentially, as individuals like Jenner are hypervisible, it’s likely we’re looking to them as bellwethers for ‘how Gen Z look’ – even though the majority of us haven’t been getting lip filler since the age of 16, unlike the youngest Kardashian sibling. While it is true that the number of under-30s getting Botox is ballooning, the total number is still minimal. It’s estimated that around 900,000 Botox injections are carried out a year in the UK – a mere drop in the ocean considering Britain has a population of 67,330,000.

The oldest Gen Zs are now 27 and as people stop producing so much collagen around the age of 25, it is possible that some of us are starting to notice a few fine lines on our faces and freaking out about how “quickly” we seem to be ageing. Of course, we’re not really ageing “quickly”, but we can’t be blamed for feeling like that’s the case when we’ve spent our formative years online, exposed to pictures of influencers and celebrities whose faces appear frozen in time. Take Kim Kardashian, who is 43 but looks pretty much exactly the same as she did 20 years ago – courtesy of plastic surgeons, Photoshop wizards, dieticians, chefs, and personal trainers, which most people don’t have access to. Maybe it’s a banal point, but it’s worth reiterating that thanks to social media, young people are growing up with a uniquely skewed view of what constitutes ‘normal’ ageing. Case in point: the Gen Alpha clearing out all the Drunk Elephant stock at Sephora.


Bye digging my own grave never ask social media ur age lol

♬ original sound - Taylordonoghuee

Arguably, though, there’s no such thing as ‘normal’ ageing anyway. While some people are being derided on TikTok for looking old, there are doubtless many Gen Z of the same age who are still getting asked for their ID at the pub. And although there are people who think Howlett looks older than 26, does he really look that different to George Lazenby at roughly the same age playing James Bond in the 1960s? Because while we’re claiming Gen Z are ageing like milk, many people are simultaneously questioning why previous generations looked so old and gawping at a viral Twitter video of mature-looking high schoolers caught on camera in 1989. In much of the discourse around Gen Z looking old, there seems to be an ignorance or forgetfulness about what people in the past actually looked like and how they behaved. One theory that previous generations didn’t wear make-up or get their hair done as teenagers is simply not true – just take a look at a yearbook from the 1980s.

Social media has warped our perception of people’s appearances. We’ve become so used to total homogeneity when it comes to the picture-perfect faces we see online, à la Instagram Face, that we’re forgetting so much diversity still exists offline. There are always going to be people that look younger or older than their age – 12-year-old Sasha Pieterse was cast alongside actors in their 20s in Pretty Little Liars, Cameron Diaz was 21 in The Mask and no one has ever believed Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s age. Today, some Gen Z ‘look old’ for their age, some look young for their age, and some just look their age. That doesn’t make for viral discourse or a clicky headline – but it’s probably the real answer to all these questions about whether Gen Z are really ageing faster than everyone else. Ultimately, these discourse trends say little about whether certain age demographics are really ageing faster or slower, and instead speak to our mounting anxieties about ageing more generally.

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