Reflecting on tween girlhood at 20
A year into my twenties, I never thought I would utter the words, “I'm getting old”. However, this summer, I obtained an invaluable experience that led me to such a statement: spending a week with future young adults, Generation Alpha – or as I know them, my tween cousins.
Born in the 2010s, they entered a world ruled by the internet and social media. Attempting to explain the ancient concepts of DVDs or Bethany Mota's ‘Back to School’ YouTube videos to them felt futile, met only with bewildered looks. Instead, social media is King, occupying not only their screen time but encompassing their social interactions, style, and slang. That week spent with my cousins pushed me to reflect not only on my own tweenhood, but also on the experience of girlhood for the current generation of tweens, and social media’s profound influence on it.
The years entering secondary school are vital to any tween girl as they finally gain some autonomy over their personal style and so develop their social identity. One step closer to adulthood! For Gen Alpha tweenhood is a unique experience compared to past generations; the influence of TikTok is undeniable.
In describing her style, my cousin suggested that she is “preppy” but also enjoys the “cottage-core aesthetic”. When I was ten, I looked up to celebrity style icons for inspiration, but today’s girls need not reach that far, as the discovery of fashion is now available on a more peer-to-peer basis. Take, for instance, the rise of 'mini-influencers' like the tween brand ambassadors of Dear Hannah Prep, a tween fashion brand that runs a TikTok account with thousands of followers largely made up of other Gen Alpha girls.
Yet, when browsing through the infamous Brandy Melville I couldn’t help but notice a group of what seemed like 12-year-old girls scanning the same items I had picked out for myself. Has it become customary for a 12-year-old and a 21-year-old to be browsing the same clothing aisles? The pressure for tweens to emulate the trends of older age groups can be immense, especially when identity becomes fused with personal style, fuelled by the social media crazes which reach the Gen Z and Gen Alpha demographics simultaneously.
Beyond fashion, there is a new and more alarming fascination among tweens: skincare. The desire for clear and ‘youthful’ skin became popular among Gen Z in recent years, though many of us had entered our late teens by the time skincare routines entered the popular discourse. This apparently managed to reach the younger generation too. The allure of beauty products showcased by influencers has led some Gen Alphas down the path of adult beauty routines which, in fact, would do more harm than good to their skin. This trend in particular raises questions about the intersection of childhood and self-care in an era when online trends shape the actual behaviours of such young audiences.
But it's only natural for each generation to yearn for adulthood. Reflecting on my own tween years, I remember desperately wanting to imitate Millennial girls, their trends and aesthetics, which directly influenced my own consumption of media and thereafter, my consumption of goods. What at first seems shocking about these tween girls quickly becomes familiar and almost nostalgic for my own girlhood, desperate to claim the identity of someone older who has already found their place in society.
Amid the ever-evolving landscape of Gen Alpha's interests, it's no surprise that marketers are eager to tap into their consumer potential. When doing research on this article I encountered a concerning number of studies dedicated to marketing towards Gen Alpha. While this marketing enthusiasm is somewhat unsurprising to us, the very essence of Gen Alpha’s childhood and media consumption has been a constant target of advertisement. In an era of not-so-moderated sponsored content intertwined so seamlessly into social media, the margin between ad and content becomes harder to discern, especially for an audience of young and impressionable viewers.
However, Gen Alpha carries the promise of redefining what it means to grow up in the age of social media. This should perhaps push us, a generation slightly more experienced in manoeuvring the social media landscape, to be a positive influence on these tween girls in navigating their girlhood.
Illustration by Chengyi Xu