The quote “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has been used so often that it has become a cliché. But could it be that it still sums up our contemporary views on physical attractiveness? Generation after generation, the saying has continued to 'explain' our collective and always evolving, subjective beauty standards. As trends come and go, young people have reclaimed this statement of individuality and showed us that, although there are more prevailing representations of what beauty “should” be, confidence in difference, fluidity, and interchangeability is no longer a vice, but rather a plus - in other words, the face of modern beauty is plural, or so we hope.
Despite the perceived open-mindedness of today’s fashion followers, who are active in pushing for diversity in all corners of the industry, certain looks still reign supreme, and this can feel like a contradiction to modern attitudes about inclusivity. The most notable example of such is obviously the Kardashian family, who divide audiences around the world. Regardless of how you feel about the famously famous sisters, it is impossible to deny that their influence. People are drawn to their perceived “perfection” and the coordination of their lifestyles; the alliteration in their names, their bodily proportions, and now, even their coinciding due-dates paint a picture of utter harmony. For Gen-Z audiences (aged 11-18), youngun' Kylie Jenner is the leading influencer of the family, with a beauty empire extending from her Kylie Hair Kouture clip-in locks, to the Kylie Cosmetics line which consistently sells out faster than you can say "the year of realising stuff." Time and time again, Kylie is listed as one of the leading beauty influencers of her generation and at age 20 has already netted almost half a billion dollars in cosmetics sales. Her beauty looks are known for their eye-popping contouring (like her whole family), heavy false eyelashes, and of course, big lips by any means neccessary.
Perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum, however, the fashion and beauty industries have developed an eye for beauty that is decidedly imperfect and desirable because of (rather than despite) features that are considered quirky and atypical. Execs are catching on that for many young consumers, street-cast models who fall outside of the realm of normative supermodel looks represent a demographic that represents a huge margin of potential beauty consumers. In the United States’ fashion capital alone, native New Yorkers are redefining the standards of style and the idea of the bodily perfection; you’ll find models like the brown beauties @genvega and @aalexijae who challenge the 6-foot height standards in runway modelling, or @barbienox and @palomija who owning billboards around the city and reshaping modern body image. Of course there is also @uglywordwide, whose entire aesthetic language revolves around exposing the fallacy of beauty standards and normality. This is a generation of game-changers who are motivated by the possibility of inclusivity. Not since the tumultuous and politically charged 60’s and 70’s has a generation of young people been so excited and motivated by the prospect of bucking the system politically, socially, and aesthetically. It is this restless nature that pushes us to challenge the established limits of beauty in order to be able to define with our own unique voices.
So what is the current trajectory of beauty standards, if both ends of the spectrum are so polarizing? Arguably, what both camps have in common is the importance put upon independence. Jenner herself has admitted that she’s been financially independent since she was 14 years old, and although most of us don't come from the same kind of privilege, young people from all over have begun to see how they can bring their goals and dreams to fruition by their own hand. You’ll find that a lot of musicians, artists, and actors have started to form their own collectives and production companies because they want to define their craft on their terms. New communities for every subculture, interest group, political faction, and artistic inclination are popping up all over the Internet landscape. "Hot" and "pretty" have less to do with what a dogmatic code of standards defines than with the communities you chose to align with, or even create for yourself. Independence is understanding that we create our own titles and hallmarks of beauty and that they don't discount one another.
It’s somewhat become accepted, if not encouraged, to be vulnerable and to highlight our pre-conceived “flaws” in public, because it is our insecurities that bring us closer to those who surround and admire us, building bridges and creating relationships based on shared experiences. You might be a fan of the Kardashian movement, or identify with the gender fluid scene, or enjoy painting your whole face pink and posting it to makeup artistry accounts - whatever your preference, as a member of the generation Z, you have the choice to step outside of the walls of confinement - it’s 2017 and who care what club you subscribe to? There is no longer 'one' type of beauty because each branch has its own subgenres, acknowledging the multiplicity of the postmodern teenager, and that labels just won’t cut it. Your style, your grace, your intellect, your boldness, your joy, and the beauty of your insecurities can only be defined by the most attractive word in the English vocabulary - "you."