I Tried to Live Out All the Stereotypes People Have About Millennials
What lies at the heart of millennial existence? I attempted to find out.
All photos by Regina Lemaire-Costa
As someone born in the middle to tail-end of the millennial generation, I'm well-versed in all the cliches about my kind: We're lazy, we're idiots, we're killing the napkin industry—and those are just a few of the top autocomplete results when you type "millennials are..." into Google.
But millennials, apparently, are also saving public libraries. We're keeping more money for our retirement. We're buying houses so our pets can have a nice garden to run around in. So which is it? We can't be killing the beer industry while we cuddle our French bulldog and invest in our pensions at the same time—lazy people are bad at multi-tasking, remember?
That hasn't stopped brand agencies, trend forecasters, and anyone who wants to get in on the act from making a living out of generalizing about millennials. It's clear that someone needs to step up to provide some much-needed clarity. What does it mean to be a millennial today? What encapsulates the heart of millennial existence? I needed to find out—by living the most stereotypical millennial life on record.
"By the looks of it, Millennial women are not shy about experimenting, from face contouring to microblading, they've tried it all." — Influenster
My family didn't survive the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong just so their granddaughter could let a tiny sharp blade anywhere near her face, sorry. Thankfully, according to Influenster's beauty poll of 5,000 shoppers, the number one beauty trend among millennial women is face contouring.
Confession: I have contoured before, so I have to do something extra millennial to take this to the next level. Like watch a YouTube tutorial.
I've never watched a beauty tutorial in full, so I just randomly click around until I find "How to Contour for Beginners" by an Australian vlogger called Tina Yong, who has 1.7 million subscribers.
Yong has the smooth, poreless skin I associate with beauty vloggers and the unblinking gaze of someone silently begging for a Cover Girl sponsorship. "If you guys are new to contouring or haven't quite mastered it yet, keep watching," Yong urges in front of what appears to be a glittering shower curtain.
I generally find that contouring can be broken up into three different phases: the first is the "what the fuck am I doing?" stage, the second is the "I guess this is fine" stage, and the third is "I've definitely fucked up here, but I can't be bothered to wipe this off."
As you can see from the subsequent pictures, I made it all the way to stage three and now look orange. Seeing as I'm a lazy millennial, I definitely can't be bothered to start again.
"The much reposted and reblogged 'Millennial pink' is the poster child of this pink power wave. Which also seamlessly crosses over with one of Pantone's colours of the year, Rose Quartz. This rosey hue not only encompasses the growing gender neutral message but also builds on the hugely popular mid-century minimalist Scandi trend." — WGSN
I have no idea what a color has to do with gender identity or mid-century Scandinavian furniture trends, but I personally find millennial pink to be a very flattering shade. Sadly, millennials are no longer allowed to simply "like" colors, because trend forecasting agencies would go out of business if they couldn't wring at least a day rate's worth of consulting fees out of a new "trend insight."
Lauren, my 23-year-old colleague and official millennial consultant on this project (she was born in the 90s, which almost makes me feel a little sick), has another reason for the rise of millennial pink: "I guess because we've all been babied by society, so we just revert to the colors of our childhood," she says. "Or something."
My friends own enough items of pink clothing for me to cobble together a mostly millennial pink outfit. I accessorize this with a pink New Balance bum bag, a peach emoji lapel pin, and a pink baseball cap with a French bulldog on it. ("That's probably the most millennial dog," Lauren informs me reliably. "More than a pug.")
I think I look OK, sort of. If anyone asks, I think, I'll just say I'm cosplaying as the human embodiment of the peach from James and the Giant Peach. When I leave the house for work, I immediately notice several people looking at me on my commute. Three boys hanging out of a beat-up car mutter "baby" as I walk past, though they sound slightly pained while doing it. I mean, "millennials are babies" does bring up 10 million hits on Google, so I guess it was accurate.
Luckily, Lauren feels differently once she sees me in the office. "I think that you look like I'd wanna hang out with you because you look really trendy," she says. I ask her if she's being sarcastic. "No! I feel like the colors are very on trend and millennial."
"When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each." – Tim Gurner
Tim Gurner is the property developer better known for going on Australian TV and lambasting millennials for spending money on avocados and coffees instead of saving up to buy a house, invest in stocks, ruin the environment, cheat on their spouses, and all the other things baby boomers are known for.
Joke's on you, Tim Gurner, because I bought four avocados for £3.80 from the Waitrose near work! It may be the most overpriced food retailer in the UK—barring Harrods, which is so posh that there is literally a gold statue of Princess Diana in its basement—but like a true millennial I was attracted to it by the empty promises of capitalism. (Read: the Waitrose label of "perfectly ripe, ready to eat, rich and creamy" avocados.)
I've been eating smashed avocado for almost a week and it's been playing havoc with my digestion and my wallet. At first, I enjoyed it. Now, I detest it. You know how avocados have that unplaceable taste of creamy vagueness? I've placed it: It tastes like grassy tofu.
"You need to eat avocados from somewhere with a lot of sun," explains Regina, my Brazilian-French photographer. She's right. Hass avocados shipped in some temperature controlled pallet via a patch of deforested Mexican farmland don't taste good. Especially if you've eaten an avocado almost every day for the last week.
"Love them or hate them, so-called fidget spinners are hitting a critical mass in pop culture — the millennial's yo-yo." – Nerdist
At first, it looked like my quest to buy the millennial plaything du jour would end in failure. Lauren told me that corner stores and discount shops would sell them, but a visit to four different places ends in failure.
"It's all sold out," one middle-aged shopkeeper says. "I have one that's broken, if you want," he adds, producing it from behind the counter.
I refuse to be fobbed off by the lies of another baby boomer, but unfortunately I am also getting desperate. I hand over £1.50 and head back to the office with my sad, faulty fidget spinner. Just like the economy that millennials inherited, it's a broken shell of itself that will never recover. It also doesn't spin very well.
Then someone tells me that my coworker Alex has a fidget spinner that he keeps on his desk. "When the first wave of fidget-mania hit I was as skeptical as everyone else," Alex tells me. "What do they actually do? Who are they really for? How fast can they go? But once I felt the heft of my new gadget whirring in my hand and experienced the exhilarating gust whipping across my palm I got it."
I borrow it and spin it successfully, and you know what? I get it. A fidget spinner makes an ASMR-type noise, it has a pleasing heft to it, and it spins really fucking fast. When you're staring down the barrel of thousands of pounds of student debt and rising ocean sea levels, maybe you just need the simpler things in life.
So I've contoured, worn pink, eaten avocados, spun a fidget, and yet I still feel like I'm no nearer to understanding the millennial experience. Like a millennial entering a dead-end job with no career prospects, I wake up after my experiment feeling listless and unfulfilled.
That's when I spot it: a unicorn toast pop-up.
"Created by the nation's bakers, the Toast or Hands Café has been designed to remind hungry young Londoners that life is #BetterWithBread," its press release tells me. "For one day only, this single ingredient café will be giving out free unicorn toast (an on trend creation using natural food colouring and cream cheese), to celebrate how the much loved sliced loaf is also a nutritional powerhouse."
There is nothing—NOTHING—more millennial than a pop-up that attempts to sell millennials back on the idea of carbs by way of unicorn toast. This is the most millennial thing ever. I am in paroxysms of joy as I line up to get my free glittery, rainbow-colored bread. Finally, this is it: the gateway to the millennial experience. It's going to taste like the culmination of all my efforts.