Last year was undoubtedly the year of the girl. From girl dinner to the baby girlification of fictional television heirs and even the inimitable girl math trend across social media, it seemed we culturally yearned for a time before the daunting realities that accompany adulthood. We even had the Barbie movie offer a much-needed representation of the personal, cultural and structural complexities of womanhood. For once, the shared experience of women of all ages was not only recognized but appreciated.

This has made a recent trend on TikTok all the more surprising as Gen Alphas have become public enemy number one online. Their crime? Depleting Sephora’s nationwide Drunk Elephant stock, including creams and serums with polypeptides, retinoids and other anti-aging ingredients that 9-to-15-year-olds admittedly don’t need.

The #kidsatsephora hashtag has nearly 317 million views on TikTok. These videos consist primarily of women talking down on these girls, and some even include clips of the kids, which is a separate consequence of our burgeoning surveillance state in itself. Societal contempt for younger generations is nothing new, though. 

From boomers chastising millennials for overindulging in avocado toast instead of buying a house to millennials criticizing Gen-Z’s cultural sensitivity and lack of media awareness and now Gen Z dubbing Gen Alpha as functionally illiterate, it’s consistent othering we can’t escape.

None of this is to endorse exploitative beauty consumerism amongst elementary-aged girls. It’s just fascinating how quickly we slip into this routine of pointing the finger at young girls for responding in kind to the mounting, inescapable pressures of unachievable beauty standards.

These young girls did not create this society in which the appearance of youth and conventional attractiveness are treated as social capital. Beyond that, wanting to mimic the cosmetic efforts of those older than you is a ritualistic practice most of us can remember. From stealing your older sister’s M.A.C. Ruby Woo lipstick to dipping into your mom’s concealer before the middle school dance, this curiosity has always been there.

Now, it is just magnified on our TikTok feeds and undoubtedly exacerbated by financial pressures that come in tandem with the quest toward It Girl status, but again, that blame should be shifted to the ramifications of late-stage capitalism more than unruly tweens. 

2024 has barely started, and yet I am already floored by our deviation from the pro-girl stances we boasted mere months ago. How quick we are to abandon our sisterhood when the members of our pack are “bratty” or “spoiled. How quickly we forget the external powers coercing their desires for retinoids and anti-wrinkle creams at 12. How easy it is to chastise them and their vanity rather than address the root cause, which would likely require us to hold a mirror up to our own self-conceit.

This phenomenon is as fascinating as it is tiresome, but if we hope to have any sustaining impact on generations to come, our rapport with upcoming generations is in need of a major makeover.