The grainy lo-fi aesthetic of the late nineties/early noughties is a thing with Gen Z right now. All over the socials, you can find young people embracing ‘messy chic’, sharing unedited, overexposed spontaneous looking snaps of themselves and their friends. The key word here is ‘spontaneous’ – the anti-staged. The unposed. The real.
It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a ‘trend’. What we’re actually witnessing is an exhausted generation who see no sense in working to please their audience, when they could be pleasing themselves. That’s not to say that they are selfish – they just hold a different set of values to those we’ve been so used to seeing across social media over the last decade. If ten years of stylised selfies, gym poses and posts about being #blessed while watching the sunset have taught us anything, it’s that social media is hard work. Why on earth would a generation who have grown up through one crisis after another want to put themselves through even more stress? Writer and illustrator Florence Given speaking to The Times in August 2022 explains, “We’re incentivised to have a lack of boundaries to be popular, to keep sharing parts of yourself. I say that my IRL [in real life] is better than my URL – I always want to make sure my real life is ten times more enriching than anything I’m putting online.”
On top of this, these young people are not afraid of radical honesty. It’s a concept that strikes fear into the collective hearts of every generation that came before, accustomed as they are to keeping separate private and public personas. Millennials, after all, were considered the maestros of the socials, known for artfully curating every shot (remember laughing at Instagram boyfriends?). And Gen X, who grew up without smartphones, are forever reminding everyone how great it was to have all the fun in the nineties – but with barely any evidence.
However, for Gen Z it is interesting to note how honesty and privacy are equally guarded. For while they are entirely unafraid of imperfection and prioritise presenting themselves authentically to the world, they have an incredibly strong sense of what should and should not be publicly shared. The latest tradition that Gen Z have wholesale denounced as ‘cringe’, for example, is the gender reveal party. Yes, in part because their attitude to gender is largely fluid, but also because they believe that such personal moments are not for public consumption.