The Millennial Self-Love Revolution

By Betsy Wecker

Many millennials are doing something few in previous generations have done before: they’re starting to love themselves, exactly as they are. It may sound trite, but coming on the heels of Gen X’ers who are often dubbed the “low self-esteem generation,” it’s revolutionary. In fact, millennials are spending twice as much as boomers on self-care tools like diet plans, fitness memberships, therapy, and apps that focus on improving their well-being.

To be clear, self-care is loosely defined as identifying one’s own needs and taking proactive steps to meet them, and self-love is regard for one’s own well-being and happiness; so it’s not altogether surprising that millennials are more accepting of non-binary definitions of things like gender and sexuality, and diversity and representation are top priorities across the spectrum.


Give Them What’s Real

So what does this mean for brands and businesses targeting the millennial consumer? If you’re examining the challenge through a behavioral science lens, it really boils down to the notion that shoppers want authenticity. If you show them a product, they want to know that they can take it home and it will look and perform exactly the same. No over-promising—just give it to them straight.

One brand that has had tremendous success leveraging this concept in the beauty space is digital native Glossier. The brand’s imagery depicts un-retouched photos of women with bushy eyebrows, sometimes with a stray pimple, but always with dewy, moisturized skin. Ads feature taglines like “Skin first. Makeup second. Smile always,” and, “Beauty in real life.” CEO Emily Weiss says, “Our customer shouldn’t have to try the product on to know how it will look on her skin.”

The commonly accepted paradigm for traditional cosmetics brands is that makeup should cover up a woman’s flaws; ads depict airbrushed pores on women with the kind of features that only exist in magazines (because now we know that even those people don’t look quite like that in real life). Glossier smashes this orthodoxy by preaching self-care and acceptance of flaws; makeup is quite literally secondary.

Millennial-geared lingerie brand Aerie went viral with its explicitly un-retouched campaign that uses models of different shapes and sizes.  Possibly in response to Victoria’s Secret’s constant play on variations of the word ‘sexy’ accompanied by images of waif-thin models appropriately dubbed ‘angels’ for their other-worldly, unrealistic attributes, Aerie proclaims, “The Real You is Sexy.” In the world of Victoria’s Secret, lingerie makes a woman sexy; for Aerie, the woman makes the lingerie sexy. It’s a nuanced difference that makes all the difference for a demographic that actively strives toward self-acceptance. While their predecessors may have aspired to certain lifestyles, millennials merely aspire to be themselves.


Inclusion is Key

Millennials are the most racially diverse generation and arguably the most gender diverse, with conversations about non-binary terms of identity at the forefront. This is a cohort that understands, perhaps better than anyone, that most things in life simply can’t be defined as black or white.

CoverGirl made waves last year when the brand named its first CoverBoy, James Charles. It was groundbreaking for two reasons: one, they were the first major cosmetics brand to feature a non-female spokesperson; and two, Charles wasn’t your typical celebrity—rather, he was a 17-year-old high school student from New York who gained notoriety through his social media makeup tutorials. 

They expanded on the inclusion message with their #LashEquality campaign, which featured Charles alongside women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, including a woman in hijab. In this ad, the brand made it clear that being a CoverGirl isn’t just for one specific gender, race, or ethnicity.

A gym in Los Angeles called EVERYBODY has the following mission:

We welcome all bodies, genders, races, nationalities, faiths, classes, sexualities, sizes, ages & abilities. We do not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or oppression of any kind.

With class names like, “Move: Fat Kid Dance Party” this is a place that’s turning the standard of what a ‘gym-goer’ looks like completely on its head. The space boasts no giant posters of sweaty muscle heads nor svelte models; rather, it’s a place where people can come just as they are and enjoy the experience of movement, and eschew the means-to-an-end mentality of a big box fitness center. Might EVERYBODY members lose weight in the process or gain muscle tone? Sure, but that isn’t the ultimate aim—the real mission is to create a space for acceptance of diverse bodies and lifestyles. 

On the surface, what all of these brands know is that millennials aren’t fooled by Photoshop, but what they understand on a deeper level is that a large swath of today’s consumers aren’t looking for a fairy-tale that doesn’t exist. What they really want is reality; they want to see themselves reflected in the brand. And for a generation that pioneered the selfie, it isn’t totally surprising. 

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