We’ve all been told that millennials and Gen-Zers are completely different. Millennials, roughly born between 1981 and 1996, and Gen-Zers, obviously born after that, are constantly analyzed for their apparent differences because of factors like technology, social media and world events. And as someone who was born very close to that millennial cut off, I often wonder where I actually stand on the generational scale.
There’s an unspoken rule for older generations to hate on those who come after them (I’m looking at you, boomers), but as much as I want to shit on Gen-Z, I’m not sure that the two-year age gap separating us can account for much.
I mean, there are tiny differences like how they catch on to new technology a bit faster, look about 10 times better than I did in high school and seemingly all have more Instagram followers than the rest of the world—but, are they inherently cooler or smarter than us? Will their understanding of social media and smartphones make them better or worse off than millennials; i.e., their poor, house-less and deeply-fucked elders? I decided to look into it by immersing myself in Gen-Z culture—and of course, that meant Instagram. Enter: thread accounts.
Essentially, thread accounts are the lovechild of Ask Reddit and Tumblr. Living on Instagram (and originating from Twitter), it’s where teens provide advice on run-of-the-mill topics, like how to lose weight, things to talk about on a date, or what it’s like to lose your virginity. They’re called thread accounts because the posts are screenshots of Twitter threads that teens have written themselves.
This mimics the commentaries once found in the J-14s and Tiger Beats of older generations, but without the credible sources, fact-checking, and often spell-checking at times...so not exactly foolproof.
But because I’m mildly obsessed with the niche cavities of social media, and because part of me still wishes I could’ve been cool in high school, I decided that I’m going to follow as many Instagram threads in a week that I can.
As I troll through multiple thread accounts before I start the week, I notice that—amid the countless skinny models and curated pics—a few topics are recurring: self care, relationships, and how to look good on Instagram. Simple.
I pick a bunch of threads that seem doable and get on it.
First off is the October Confidence Challenge—a list of daily mantras curated by a user called @selfcaresis. So the next morning, I wake up, look in the mirror and say, “I love my personality.” It feels good, I feel good.
I’m also going to try smelling “like a snacc” all day. Now listen, while I usually try to look like a snacc at all times, smelling like one is a whole other ball game. Tips in this thread include showering every day (nice), using vaseline to make perfume last longer and applying lotion and a bunch of hair products all at once. It also mentions that vanilla makes you more attractive to others, so I load up on vanilla body butter along with everything else in excess, and by 8 AM I’m successfully smelling like a baby prostitute.
At work, I smell myself every hour, unsure if the scent has stayed. Later in the day I ask a colleague if I smell any differently than usual. She leans in to sniff me and offers a nonchalant shrug, “Yeah,” she says. I’m mildly shocked that she thinks so at all, so I’ll take that as a success. Perhaps these threads are onto something?
During the week, I DM a few thread accounts to figure out who’s actually behind these posts.
I end up chatting with Emi*, a 14-year-old girl from Sweden, who runs an account with over 1,800 followers. She started a personal account when she was 10 or 11, but when thread accounts began getting popular this summer, she jumped on the bandwagon. Now she spends two to three hours running the account on school days and up to five hours a day on weekends.
“Most of my ideas I just come up with myself—I just think of things I would like to read myself,” she says. “If I do a thread based on facts, I just search for the information and then I look at different sites so I know that the information is correct.”
Another teen who spoke with me said that she runs her account with nearly 1,300 followers “almost like a business.” She spends hours on gaining followers through follow-for-follow (fff) and story-for-story (sfs) tactics. When I asked her how she sources her information though, she blocks me.
A little concerning, but not overall surprising since blocking and ghosting has become the new “no” across their generation and mine. It reminds me, though, to take the advice in these thread accounts with a grain of salt. While they may not be posting anything explicitly inaccurate, I can assure you that it’s not all effective. Case in point: my next task.
I go into this one excited, because it involves the ultimate token of #selfcare: face masks. Almost every thread account I come across has recipes for DIY face mask threads, so I choose one that is meant to minimize pores and also throw in an avocado hair mask.
In total I use three perfectly edible eggs, a few tablespoons of honey and coconut oil, and a whole avocado. Since the recipes lack a lot of detail and include measurements like “a lil squeeze,” I mostly wing it. I gag multiple times throughout the process of slathering avocado paste into my hair and egg whites onto my face.
The masks are messy and gross, and as far as I’m concerned, have no effect. Though as I stand in the shower watching avocado bits fall to my feet, I begin to deeply question all of my life choices that have led me here.
To complement my “wellness” routine, I make an Instagram-ready yogurt cup for breakfast the next morning, hoping it will make up for the failures of last night. To spare you the banal details, I will tell you that my finished product doesn’t end up half as Instagrammable as the one in the picture but it’s actually the best breakfast I’ve had all week. Expensive and time-consuming, but tastes like sweet berries and the illusion of having my life together.
At this point in the week, I’m convinced that maybe having this much access to the internet at a young age really isn’t as great as I thought. Having to keep up with Instagram, an inherently false reality in itself, would be hell for someone like me when I was a teen. Even now as I look in the mirror and tell myself “I am amazing,” for the fourth time today, I only feel worn out and over it.
But as I come to the final days of my experiment, it’s time to involve my friends and family.
One of the threads I came across earlier in the week provides 69 topics to start conversations with and it’s either the script to the worst date of my life, or the most useful catalog for socially awkward folk.
So that morning I choose a handful of conversation starters and text them to some friends and my mom without context or prior exchange. Everyone replies pretty seamlessly and, plot twist, we all start having enjoyable conversations even after I explain the reason I asked to begin with. I’m actually liking this task.
Later that evening I meet some friends at their house for drinks before a show. In my Uber there, I list off some conversation starters that I plan to bring up.
Halfway through a glass of wine, I casually ask my friend where he’d get plastic surgery if he could. He says his hair, so he never goes bald, or his jawline. Another friend joins in, prodding another surgery-related question.
I chuckle to myself then because I really just started a conversation based on a teenager’s Instagram account and it’s hilarious. I wonder if this is a sign that my real life conversation skills can use some work, but I get too drunk after that and forget to address any other questions.
The last day of the week is the grand finale where I get to document how great I think I am like how all teens do it: a photoshoot for Instagram. This whole week, I’ve been reading threads about how to pose, what to wear in autumn, and how to do a photoshoot. So after studying these threads, I get a photographer friend to take photos of me around my apartment.
I follow advice on how to show off my curves: turn your butt towards the camera and look back over shoulder; how to look taller: take the shot from a lower angle; and how to pose: play with your cardigan in the same ridiculous way that Gigi Hadid does in random fall photoshoot.
After I see the photos, I think I look foolish and never want to make those poses ever again—but ultimately, I got the results I wanted, despite not actually posting them to Instagram ‘cause #offbrand.
Looking back on this week, I come to the seemingly opposing conclusions that Gen-Z is both obsessed with appearances and way more put together than humanly possible. It’s tiring and unrealistic, but it didn’t exactly stray far from the corny-ass advice I sought when I was a teenager. For now I’ll just make fun of Gen-Zers for the fact that they’re putting avocado in their hair and not on their toast.
Follow Ebony-Renee Baker on Twitter.
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