Celebrities Under 26 Years Old Who Are Trailblazing a New Beauty Standard
A lot has happened since Instagram first launched in 2011, in large part thanks to the legacy left by millennial culture. Avocado toast, millennial pink, flat lays, and golden-hour selfies — coordinated in an almost too perfect grid of color schemes — became the classic, cookie-cutter content that monopolized people's feeds.
Then almost out of rebellion came the epidemic of the finsta: a separate "fake" Instagram account devoted to people's realest and rawest content. Though what was initially a safe haven from the restricted, overly curated Instagram aesthetic became the very foundation for an entirely new "brand" itself — one stressing unapologetic transparency and unconditional self-love, pioneered by the initial surge of generation Z.
Now more than ever, Gen Z-ers are showcasing their unedited and natural selves on their main feeds, trailblazing a radical new standard for beauty that pushes to celebrate — rather than conceal — flaws and differences. Countless celebrities and influencers are catalyzing this shift, either by openly addressing toxic, outdated representations of beauty, getting vulnerable and "human" about their own mistakes and struggles, or drastically straying from the glossy Instagram aesthetic that many have described as "suffocating."
Here's to a new generation of pioneers on the Internet, and to 16 of these inspiring Gen Z-ers setting an example of what it means to keep it real.
Willow Smith has been embracing every aspect of her natural beauty for years – body hair included. On an episode of Red Table Talk with her mother, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and grandmother, Adrienne Banfield-Jones, she shared why she's more comfortable not shaving.
"I mean I didn't really make the decision not to shave, I just kind of didn't shave," she said. "It takes too much time. I just want to get in the shower and get out of the shower."
She added later, "I'm going to be like my ancestors and just do what I need to do."
Lourdes Leon has been challenging traditional "beauty standards" for years (and so has her mom, Madonna, for that matter). The 24-year-old model is constantly normalizing body hair, whether she's on the red carpet or in a photo with her mom.
Barbie Ferreira champions positivity and acceptance in the beauty space, whether it has to do with acne, self-confidence, or body image. In an interview with POPSUGAR, she shared advice for mastering her level of self-acceptance: "Make sure that you are surrounding yourself with people who you can relate to. Not on Instagram or in ads or whatever it is that makes you feel bad about yourself. If you're following someone on social media that makes you feel bad about yourself, unfollow them. Be sure that the things around you make you feel good, surround yourself with positivity, create a space of safety and acceptance, and own your light in that way."
The Euphoria star often posts unfiltered Instagram selfies and isn't afraid to show her bare skin amid a breakout — she even had her acne enhanced on the HBO series. "For the first few episodes, I was breaking out — I usually break out on my cheek in a very specific area — but nobody did anything specifically to get rid of pimples," Ferreira said. "We were like, 'We're playing teenagers, teenagers break out, what's the big deal?'"
Euphoria's Hunter Schafer loves to use makeup to express herself, not hide or conceal anything. During a Zoom session with Shiseido in 2021 to celebrate her role as its newest global ambassador, she explained her relationship with makeup more in depth.
"I've had quite a journey with makeup in that it was something [I did] out of necessity at first and really feeling like I needed to play into looking a certain way or something," Schafer said. "And then as I've gotten more comfortable with it, it's become something more in line with an artistic expression over the years, which is really how I like to work with it now."
Leg hair, acne — Marsai Martin isn't afraid to be real with her 2.8 million followers on Instagram, and they love her for it. In 2019, Martin "welcomed" a new pimple to her forehead by zooming in on it in a very relatable video on her Stories. Then, in 2020, she took to her feed to post a PSA in the form of an image carousel and captioned it "Normalize girls having hairy legs."
In February of 2020, Rowan Blanchard proudly challenged beauty norms in a photo shoot for Cultured Mag. "It's felt at times hard to navigate having to be visible during what feels like such formative and private years of my life, and this shoot felt like a wonderful celebration of the autonomy I feel in at least in my body now," Blanchard captioned a photo of the cover on Instagram.
A large part of Emma Chamberlain's draw for her fan base is how little she cares for traditional "beauty standards" and social norms. In an interview with POPSUGAR, Chamberlain said, "I've always been really open about acne, and period problems, and my mental health, and all of that." Whether it's opening up about her skin journey on Accutane or sharing a selfie on Instagram post-cry, she's incredibly authentic.
"It's actually good to shed light on it, because as a kid, you'd see celebrities that you look up to and you'd be like, 'God, they have such perfect skin. How is that possible?'" Chamberlain said. "You don't realize that so many celebrities have been on Accutane." She wants to make good skin feel "attainable" for everyone because, growing up, it didn't feel that way for her: "[I'm] sharing the truth, like, yes, I went on a medication for seven months to get the skin that I have. I was not born with this."
Yara Shahidi loves to mix funny, "real" moments in with her many glam shots on Instagram. For example, before the 2020 Emmy Awards, she posted a video of her bleaching her upper-lip hair. Then, later that night, she showed off her final look in full hair and makeup.
In a partnership with Calvin Klein, Eilish served as the face of its #SpeakYourTruth campaign, a radical stray from its exclusive representation of slim, fit figures in an effort to cater to body types of all shapes and sizes. In the ad, she talks about deliberately hiding her body in baggy clothing to prevent unsolicited commentary and judgment surrounding her figure, a powerful implicit statement against society's easy willingness to scrutinize, label, and categorize the appearances of others. "Nobody can have an opinion because they haven't seen what's underneath. . . . because they don't know," Eilish said.
Dua Lipa is all about authenticity over a "carefully crafted persona" when it comes to her music and fan base on stage, telling Vogue, "I sweat quite a lot, but if the makeup runs, the makeup runs! I don't want anything to be perfect."
Things are no different for her in waking life. As the face of Yves Saint Laurent Beauté's fragrance, Lipa was ultimately chosen "because she embodies today's liberated, no-compromise, write-your-own-rules YSL woman," according to YSL. With that same bold and fearless transparency, Lipa posted a photo of her makeup-free skin post-facial, which she unapologetically captioned, "My skin is all spotty post facial and now on the drive home I realized I should just be OK with the changes in my skin. So here it is!"
Dua Lipa has also been outspoken against the longstanding boundaries dictating women's appearances on a grander scale. "Everyone is allowed to wear whatever the f*ck they want and it's so important that they do," she told Refinery29 when discussing her fashion choices on tour. "This is the way we move forward in the world. We have to break the norms. . . . Because what is normal, anyway?"
Descendants actress Dove Cameron — who unapologetically claims to have a crush on herself — has come a long way in defining for both herself and others what it means to be healthy, transparent, and self-loving.
As a former Disney Channel star, Dove Cameron said she felt held to an impossible standard of being a squeaky-clean role model for younger girls. At 17, this looked like a picture-perfect, doll-like figure weighing close to 100 pounds. Upon deeper reflection of her own inner values, however, she realized the far greater importance of being a role model for herself — which meant being refreshingly honest and real with herself and others, rather than struggling to appear always-perfect for everyone else. "When I'm a mother, the person that I want my daughter to look up to is somebody who is so utterly human, so imperfect, so honest, and so bare and present to the human qualities of themselves that nothing can touch them," she said. "I don't want somebody to be perfect and never mess up."
In both big ways and small, she's lived up to this — from posting selfies of her crooked teeth and tweeting proudly the qualities she loves most about herself, to opening up about her eating disorder and shedding light on unhealthy body types glorified in the media. "I became a good role model the day that I didn't try to be a role model for young girls," Cameron said. "What's important is the freedom and the quality of my life. As long as my life is happy and healthy, so is my worldview."
Zendaya has been quick to slam Hollywood's mainstream beauty standards, for both its lofty physical ideals and white-dominated representation.
After seeing a Photoshopped image of herself featured on Modeliste magazine, Zendaya took to Instagram to post a side-by-side comparison with the original photo and voice her concerns. "These are the things that make women self-conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have. Anyone who knows who I am knows I stand for honest and pure self-love," Zendaya wrote in her Instagram caption.
Recognizing her own mixed heritage, she highlights the amount of progress still required to reach full inclusivity within the industry. "As a light-skinned Black woman, that's important I'm using my privilege and my platform to show you how much beauty there is within the African-American community," Zendaya said in her 2018 BeautyCon speech. "I am Hollywood's — I guess you could say — acceptable version of a Black girl . . . And that has to change. We're vastly too beautiful and too interesting for me to just be the only representation of that."
Model and actress Paris Jackson is the queen of the minimalist, au naturel lifestyle. From her vegan diet to her Bohemian style, Jackson conveys what it means to live and breathe raw authenticity and individualism.
In small, deliberate ways, she's expressed evident defiance against the norms of appearance-related maintenance, exposing her unshaven armpits at high-brow events like the 2017 New York Fashion Week and MTV VMAs, as well as displaying her leg hair in an Instagram post, which she dryly captioned: "if you're not competing with your brother over who can grow longer leg hair wyd."
She's also been outspoken about society's unhealthy pursuit of the narrow, nonexistent version of perfection. "The idea that we all have to fit one idea of beauty is outrageous and ridiculous because 'perfection' is just an opinion," Jackson told Refinery29. Always striving to forge her own path, she instead advocates for self-acceptance. "I still have countless insecurities and fears, like everyone else I know. I want to change this fashion-beauty stigma so it's not as difficult for people around the world to feel beautiful just the way they are."
Chloë Grace Moretz
As a former child actress, Chloë Grace Moretz grew up in an industry chasing a digitally altered version of herself that wasn't real, feeling increasingly obligated to hide her face behind a mask of heavy makeup. "A lot of my ideals of feminine beauty came from everything I saw in magazines and things that I learned on set and photo shoots," she told POPSUGAR.
Moved by women who appeared so effortlessly comfortable in their own skin in public, Moretz partnered with Sk-II on the #BareSkinProject, where she publicly debuted her makeup-free face in an effort to inspire others to embrace their raw beauty and radiate the same inner-confidence.
"The more I stopped hiding behind the figment of what I thought people wanted to see as Chloë Moretz and started just being myself was when I started becoming OK with all the different comments, be it negative or positive," she said. "When you become confident in who you are, you become confident with what you look like when you wake up in the morning. Then people's comments don't really affect you the way that they used to, because you're not falsifying who you are."
Riverdale star Lili Reinhart has been incredibly candid about topics related to mental health and body image, whether in posting unedited photos of herself, getting real about her acne on Instagram, or in outwardly voicing her opinions about the toxicity of unattainable beauty standards perpetuated on social media.
In her 2018 Glamour Women of the Year speech, Reinhart opened up about her self-inflicted pressures to live up to a certain standard, which were only exasperated by an even less healthy, less realistic set of standards imposed on her by the media. "I didn't think anything was wrong with my body until I was in an industry that rewards and praises people for having a smaller waist than I will ever have," Reinhart said. "It felt unfair to think that I would never have an industry-perfect body, just because I wasn't genetically built a certain way."
Where virtually any physical part of someone can now be faked, fixed, or removed, Reinhart preaches that one's priceless individuality, rather than excessive alteration, should be emphasized in beauty — and she strives to help change this narrative. "Remind yourself that this perfect world you see online or in magazines . . . in movies and television . . . are presented to you through many different filters," she said. "Do not set impossible goals of meeting those fake standards. It's unrealistic to think that your body or my body will ever look like anyone else's. That's not the way it's supposed to be. We are all imperfectly beautiful."
Amandla Stenberg has lived out the motto of free self-expression and transparency in their acting, as well as with themselves. Their role as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give was deemed by The New York Times a passing "self portaiture." They've been transparent throughout their self-discovery process, having come out initially as bisexual and later as gay. They post humorous, candid photos of themselves to their 2 million followers on Instagram — satirically @amandlasponsored — in addition to advocating for #BlackLivesMatter and criminal justice. And they've called out the tokenization and appropriation of Black culture, all while learning to fully and openly embrace their own Black heritage.
Stenberg first faced explicit racism from sprouted controversy over their character Rue's skin color in The Hunger Games, impelling them to fully confront and rewire negative perceptions about Black features so ingrained by society. "I think that as a Black girl you grow up internalizing all these messages that you say you shouldn't accept your hair or your skin tone or your natural features, that you shouldn't have a voice or that you aren't smart," they told Solange Knowles in a Teen Vogue interview. "I feel like the only way to fight that is to just be yourself on the most genuine level and to connect with other Black girls who are awakening and realizing that they've been trying to conform." Stenberg's own awakening came from rocking their natural hair to sporting unshaven armpits on the red carpet.
In an effort to spread this liberation, they codirected a three-part video series with Teen Vogue for Twitter and Instagram to empower Black beauty and sprinkle "#BlackGirlMagic in every crevice of the universe." They've thanked the changing social media climate for increasingly encouraging individual expression: "In the past, you could look only to movies or TV or music or celebrities in order to feel like you had representation," they said. "Now, you can go on Instagram and you can see a girl who looks like you who is killing the game and expressing herself. Just being able to see that is so affirming."