Toxic Beauty Standards Can Be Passed Down

When my best friend and I lived together 13 years ago, our shared bathroom had a handful of products: soap, tanning lotion, deodorant, toothpaste, potpourri and maybe, occasionally, a face cream that one of us found on sale at Walgreens. No serums, no toners, no anti-aging products. We never considered we wouldn’t be young forever. Our bank accounts were empty, our pores were clogged, our mascara wands were dry — but we were 22, and we were allowed to be messy. We were allowed to be young.

Our generation came of age during the ’90s toxic diet culture. Millennials weren’t taught to fear aging; we were taught to fear fat. Butter was our enemy. When we watched Victoria’s Secret Angels walk down the runaway, we loathed ourselves. Disordered eating may have been a psychiatric issue, but it was also symptomatic of a social problem. And if you had a mother who internalized diet culture and projected it onto her children, the damage could also happen from within the family. Researchers have found that mothers who encourage weight loss or food restriction or even express dissatisfaction with their body weight may lead to their daughters’ becoming more likely to have eating-related problems.

As my generation grew up and became more conscious of the impacts of diet culture, we began to openly celebrate and encourage body positivity. Many of us became aware of our own body dysmorphia. We began seeing clearly how we were manipulated to shrink and hate every part of our bodies.

And yet, even if parts of society came to terms with natural bodies, the same cannot be said for the natural process of women aging. Wrinkles are the new enemy, and it seems Gen Z — and their younger sisters — are terrified of them. A recent video on TikTok that has garnered more than eight million views features a 28-year-old woman showing her “raw,” procedure-free face, meaning no Botox or fillers. As some women and girls cheered on her bravery, others were left horrified. “Praying I’ll never look like that,” one comment read.

Gen Z-ers are being introduced to the idea of starting treatments early as “preventative” treatment. They are growing up in a culture of social media that promotes the endless pursuit of maintaining youth — and at home, some of them are watching their mothers reject aging with every injectable and serum they can find. Jessica DeFino, a beauty writer, recently coined the term Serum Mom to describe a mother who is “obsessed with meeting a certain standard of beauty and nurtures the same obsession in her children.”

For me, lessons of preventative skin care came from social media, not my mother. I was a few years shy of 30, digging into Instagram and series like Emily Weiss’s Into The Gloss’s Top Shelf. My skin care regimen suddenly became a 10-part routine, each step promising beauty and extended youth.

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