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This week in TikTok: Gen Z is not coming for your skinny jeans

On millennials, middle parts, and fake generational warfare.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Over the past year or so, and mostly because of TikTok, a portrait has emerged of the stereotypical millennial: They use the crying laughing emoji earnestly even though it’s cringe. They’re fond of the word “doggo.” They’re weirdly obsessed with Disney and Harry Potter and also wine. But most of all, more than any of those things, they wear side parts and skinny jeans.

It’s a portrait that’s been around for a while, and for the most part the general response from millennials has been, “You are correct,” specifically last summer when a tweet of anti-millennial TikTok comments went viral and included sentences like, “They’re worried about their harry potter house but they live in a 1 bedroom apartment … y’all worried about the wrong houses,” which still makes me laugh.

But after an article in the Walrus reignited the conversation last week, millennials this time seemed to take things personally, mainly by fretting over the fact that their side parts and skinny jeans were being deemed hopelessly uncool.

Most of the tweets I’m talking about are lighthearted and obviously meant as jokes: “parted my hair down the middle due to my recent understanding that this is a gen z trait and had the horrible realization that it just makes me look like rick from degrassi,” tweeted writer Maya Kosoff. “every time i hear about something gen z judges us on, i resent it for roughly half a second before remembering that for years we thought calf-length leggings worn under a distressed denim mini was the pinnacle of cool,” added author Anne T. Donahue.

And then my sister sent me this from a mom influencer account she follows:

In case you can’t read it, the text says: “Hey Gen Z. I’ve faced infertility, PPD and suicidal thoughts, had my abdomen sliced open during childbirth & peed in a diaper. I pay a mortgage, work and school my kid in a pandemic. It’s cute that you think I have time or f*cks to give about what you think of my hair and jeans.”

Here’s the thing about this tweet, which I’m sure was written by an understandably exhausted person dealing with serious stress, as many of us are during this very awful period in time: No one is attacking you, and it’s not that deep.

First of all, this is sort of what kids do. It’s fun to tease older people when you’re young, because pretty much your only power over them is cultural, and people hate feeling old and uncool. Second, it isn’t as though all of Gen Z is anti all millennials; they’re the people who stan millennial celebrities the hardest, and it’s not like generations are physically walled off from maintaining relationships with one another. Third, if you don’t want to make sweeping judgments about an entire group of people, it’s not like it’s just Gen-Z that’s making fun of millennials. Every generation has its embarrassing stereotype, and this happens to be ours. It could be so much worse!

But I think the best case for not giving a shit about the stuff teenagers say about adults is that once you accept the fact that your generation is not the shiny new toy anymore, it’s actually extremely refreshing. Online makes all of us feel old all the time, so instead of trying more desperately to remain relevant, I invite us all to just lean into it. I, for one, desperately desire to travel back in time to 2012, when terms like “doggo” didn’t make me throw up in my mouth and when being a Gryffindor was unproblematic because J.K. Rowling wasn’t full mask-off yet. And there’s no reason to be protective over hair parts or jeans because fashion is agnostic to a person’s age. We associate trends with whoever’s in their teenage years at the time they’re popular, but not necessarily because teenagers invented them.

There’s another option, too. It’s arguably unethical to tease minors, but if you really want a good comeback in the unlikely scenario a teen approaches you and makes fun of your skinny jeans, there are literally so many mean things you can say about Gen Z: that their biggest goal in life is to do a little dance that goes viral, that they invented eating Tide Pods, or that they claim they’re starting revolutions against capitalism and then buy whatever Amazon product is popular on TikTok that week.

See? It’s mean and rude but it’s also okay because generational generalizations aren’t targeting any one person and likely aren’t even true for most. Part your hair whatever way looks good on your head; ditto with jeans and your butt. I promise, there’s nothing more cringe than doing whatever the teens tell you.

TikTok in the news

  • That plan to sell TikTok’s American operations to Oracle and Walmart has been put on hold indefinitely, WSJ reports. Even better news for TikTok: The Biden administration has backed off of Trump’s attack on Chinese-owned apps.
  • Black creators say TikTok hasn’t followed through on its promise to do better at removing racial bias from its moderation and censorship policies.
  • Influencers will soon be able to get into the very lucrative affiliate marketing game on TikTok, which is briefing advertisers of a bunch of new shopping features, reports FT. Instagram found shaking!
  • Influencers can now join SAG-AFTRA. This means for now that influencers will be eligible for the union’s health insurance, collective bargaining power, and other benefits, and it’s one step closer to a world in which the notoriously unregulated influencer market has some kind of standardized pay.
  • TikTok collab house managers continue to be (allegedly) terrible.

One Last Thing

Please discuss this TikToker’s theory that all white people’s faces exist on a spectrum between Snapchat Bitmoji and the Whos from Whoville.