Alanna Jimenez / Daily Trojan

Daily Trojan Magazine


Gen Alpha goes to Sephora

Social media’s beauty and lifestyle machine is driving today’s youngest internet users to the stores — and away from a carefree childhood.


The blush went in my pocket. The concealer slipped up my sleeve. Moisturizer that promised to rid my face of stubborn acne was tucked into the waistband of my jeans, and I prayed for it not to fall down my pants. It clamoring to the ground would blow my cover, revealing my shameful secret that I, an 11-year-old girl, depended on drugstore makeup and skincare products for my self-esteem. Locking myself in the middle school gym bathroom, I’d frantically apply my makeup, slathering a Maybelline cover stick over my zits and blending it in with my fingers until I was sure no one in my class would notice I was wearing any. (Spoiler alert: They did anyway.)

Less than 10 years later, the same ritual I hid like a pesky breakout has become a badge of honor, an Instagrammable routine for pre-pubescent girls who proudly apply hundreds of dollars in beauty products for the internet to see. And boy, am I scared for them. 

Videos of little girls’ skincare routines and reviews have blown up on social media over the past few months. On a recent scroll through my Instagram Explore page, I saw a Reel of an 8-year-old showing off her Christmas beauty haul, composed of high-end products that I, at 20, can only dream of owning. Commenters applauded how cute and knowledgeable she was and told her to “go off, queen.”

Another video featured two girls, probably between the ages of 6 and 8 — one of them still missing adult front teeth — talking about being “Gen Alpha influencers.” “We’re Gen Alpha influencers. Of course we’re obsessed with skincare,” one quips, looking over an array of Drunk Elephant, Glow Recipe and Peter Thomas Roth skincare products that cost upwards of $40 for a few ounces. “We’re Gen Alpha influencers. Of course our favorite stores are Sephora and Ulta,” the other adds.

Whenever I step foot in Sephora, I feel like I’m back in my parents’ bathroom, reaching over the counter to grab my mom’s makeup bag, slathering her ruby-red lipstick over my lips and teeth. The aisles lined with ‘pore-reducing’ this and ‘lip-plumping’ that look like the grown-up clothes hanging neatly in my mom’s closet, like the purses and high heels I’d wobble around in when no one was looking. 

Before my face broke out at the world-shattering onset of puberty, makeup and adult-exclusive accessories were a form of make-believe and dress-up. I’d strut around the house with winged eyeliner and so much eye shadow you could see me from space, but it was always aspirational, not real. I had felt a divide between me — a clumsy, childish little girl — and the women I saw in magazines and on TV. They were me in 20 years: me when I grew up, learned to do the perfect makeup for my bone structure and figured out my sense of style. 

But the proliferation of beauty influencers online, promoting seemingly attainable looks and standards, has all but closed the gap between young girls and the women they aspire to be. 

Lifestyle YouTubers like Alexis Ren rose to prominence when I was a preteen, heralding in an age of subtle social media product placement. Mixed in with hauls, vlogs and get-ready-with-me’s, gorgeous women — typically between the ages of 18 and 30 — market sponsored products to online viewers seeking the same glowing skin, fit-beyond-belief bodies and perfected aesthetic. With time, the field of beauty and lifestyle influencers expanded vastly, and the finesse with which they push recommended or sponsored products on their followers only grew. 

And while I’ve noticed growing resistance to and acknowledgement of the power of influencer marketing among my Gen Z and millennial peers — who might sheepishly concede that “TikTok made them buy it” — I’m not sure that the same (admittedly weak) discernment is exercised by today’s youngest internet users: Generation Alpha. Born between 2010 and 2024, Gen Alpha is using social media more and at an earlier age than the preceding generation. In the United States, more than half of its members — all 14 years old or younger — have their own tablets. Nearly 60% of Gen Alphas’ parents say their children are watching shopping content, like hauls and unboxing videos, that expose them to new products and brands. 

Early interaction with displays of rampant consumerism — where an influencer opens a makeup goodie box the size of a carry-on suitcase — normalizes consumption and convinces kids they need retinols for their non-existing fine lines and chemical exfoliators for their already-even skin tone. Eleven-year-old girls interviewed on NBC News in November divulged their entire skincare collections — replete with multiple cleansers, toners, moisturizers, serums, masks and more — and all said they’ve added yet more skincare products to their holiday wishlists. 

The cyclical consumerism they’re getting wrapped up in is nothing new — I had a few too many notebooks and scented erasers as a kid, too — but the interweaving of self-perception and a Sisyphean chasing of supernaturally dewy or glowing skin differentiates Gen Alpha’s skincare craze. It looks like the iPad kids Gen Z and millennials laughed at just a few years ago are growing up, armed with beauty wishlists and wellness-centric For You pages.

An increasing sense of connection with adult influencers online has led some young girls to imagine themselves as the women they see on their screens — not in five or 10 years, but right now. Unscrupulous, heavy-handed Instagram and TikTok sponsorships can exploit Gen Alpha’s need to feel accepted, beautiful and grown-up. 

When high-end beauty products are represented as the building blocks of leading a social media-worthy life, it’s no surprise that the youngest internet users, who have soaked up years of fitfluencer and skinfluencer content, are dashing for the stores and acting as mini-adults.

Videos of preteen girls lip-syncing to explicit songs or wearing full faces of makeup have been circulating for a few years, sometimes stitched together with videos of Gen Z or millennial users when they were 11 or 12 as a comparison for “how quickly kids are growing up these days.” It seems as though Gen Alpha kids — at least the ones I see online — are skipping that awkward in-between phase previous generations suffered through in middle school, seamlessly transitioning from childhood to a performative kind of adulthood. 

It was only a matter of time before the need to look and act grown-up would spread beyond dance videos on TikTok to the ways in which Gen Alpha participates in the market. Kids see role models online and know what they need to buy to become like them — adult, mature, non-childish. 

Long gone are the days when 11-year-old girls (me) would beg for the newest bedazzled Justice T-shirt that read something goofy like “WHATEVS” or “Oh Snap!” or when getting the newest glitter iPod case from Claire’s would secure your standing in the fraught social hierarchy of middle school hallways.

Stores like Justice, Claire’s and Abercrombie & Fitch — lucratively targeted, in their heyday, to tweens — served as third spaces and avenues for expression for me and my friends at a time when we were figuring out who we would be. They reflected our inbetweenness: We weren’t quite teenagers with all-consuming high school worries and drama, but we weren’t the same kids we were just a few years prior. Silly Bandz were out, sappy John Green books were in, and we were starting to experiment with identity in a playful middle space that didn’t ask too much of us. The 2010s also offered a wealth of popular tween media that my friends and I ate right up, from “iCarly” to “Wizards of Waverly Place,” which normalized not being entirely sure of yourself or the person you’re becoming. 

Taking identity formation and coming-of-age one step at a time gave me space to be weird, awkward, clumsy, and cringey, and that’s the way it should be. The growth we experience as young adults has to build on the foundation of all the embarrassing, tween-coded things you did when you were 11 or 12 or 13, but Gen Alpha kids seem to be pushing through to adulthood on a superspeed conveyor belt influenced heavily by Instagram-marketed perceptions of beauty and maturity. “We’re Gen Alpha influencers. Of course we don’t have toys.” 

As a kid, one of my chief worries — my “Roman empire,” as TikTok would call it — was a fear of growing up too quickly. I tried, consciously, to stretch out my childhood as long as I could, which is why I think I find it difficult to fully grasp Gen Alpha’s race to maturity. 

The effects of a childhood left unfulfilled are surfacing among some Gen Zers and millennials, who are now rediscovering the interests and tendencies they had as kids and preteens as a way of “healing their inner child.” 

I myself have mined the depths of my childhood for long-lost passions or personality traits that I’ve neglected or suppressed in the last 10 years. I went back to my need to craft, to fiddle with thread and make new things, and I’ve worked on feeding the part of me that craves fun and connection like a little kid. 

Increasingly, my peers and I are realizing the value in being carefree, in setting our own priorities and finding peace with who we are, sans external standards and expectations. We’re learning that self-care doesn’t just mean putting on a hyaluronic face mask, running a Gua sha over your cheekbones or cooling your face with skincare popsicle globes. 

Routinely taking care of your skin creates stability and order, which is valuable and can be hard to come by, but it’s the nourishing and fulfilling activities — or mindless fun — you take part in as a kid (or an adult) that really care for your heart, body and mind. 

Growing up under the digital microscope with internalized beauty norms setting in at the ripe age of 8 or 10 is stripping Gen Alpha of that unburdened childhood 20- and 30-year-olds are trying to recover. Let’s hope that when it comes Gen Alpha’s turn to trace back their steps and reclaim what they’ve lost over a tumultuous adolescence, they’ll have something to find.

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