Eleven fifteen-year-olds ponder what beauty means to them...
No one can predict the future but it will be the next gen who shape it. From expressing their individuality to cultural appropriation and perceptions of beauty, only they know what it feels like to be a centennial navigating a world where your whole life is visually curated.
We commissioned 21-year-old photographer Ronan Mckenzie to capture a group of 15-year-olds - sans Snapchat filter - and found out what beauty means to them…
‘My friend puts highlighter on her nose because she thinks it looks big, and I keep seeing girls with white patches under their eyes because they’ve used powder to ‘bake’ their makeup. It’s so stupid. There’s so many ridiculous trends out there, like people contouring with knives and forks, just use a makeup brush, please!
I prefer Kendall Jenner’s style, she’s so pretty and way more natural than Kylie. I have all of them on Snapchat and me and my friends are always shocked by how much makeup Kylie wears and how young she is. But, to be honest, I still want lip fillers. All these Youtubers have lip fillers and it gets into your head. There’s Emily Canham, she’s 19 and a Youtuber, and she has her lips done and lives in a flat with her boyfriend. I love her.’
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‘I wouldn’t put myself in a particular group but I guess I fall into the Emo category because of my piercings. The first ever piercing I got was my tragus and I almost passed out. I thought I could handle it but obviously not! I go to this place in Stratford and my mum always comes with me. She’s really supportive of it because she knows one way or another I’m going to get it done anyway.
My sister has her septum and side of her nose pierced like me, so I’m sort of following in her footsteps.
Then there’s my secret undercut in my hair and my braces. I didn’t like them to begin with but now I have different colours and everyone’s always like, ‘Oh they’re so cool.’ I just see them as another accessory, like a bracelet for my teeth. When I get them off I’m gonna get a Smiley piercing – if I got it now I’d be terrified of it getting caught in my braces!’
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‘I only started contouring two weeks ago. My friend Abbey was doing it so I thought I’d try it because everyone else was. First I use my Nivea face cream, then I put my foundation on using a beauty blender, then I use the pointy bit of the sponge to put concealer under my eyes. I like using nude and brown eyeshadows so that’s next, then I do my mascara and finish with highlighter and contour.
I don’t wear makeup to school but my friends do, I think it makes them look prettier but if they do it badly, I tell them they look orange. I started wearing makeup because a girl told me I was ugly but now I’m like God made me a certain way and I’m happy with that.
When I see people with pumped up lips and faces I just think they’re fake.’
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‘If I’ve got a free lesson at school I’ll watch Youtube tutorials. I love doing my hair so I try different styles all the time. I saw Kim Kardashian’s boxer braids on Instagram and thought, ‘I want that, it looks really cool’ so I got my friend to do them for me. I love her and Selena Gomez – I always want my hair to be long and straight like hers.
I’ve got five sisters so whenever we see a new hairstyle on YouTube they’ll try it out on me first because my hair is so long. I used to go on Pinterest all the time but I kept getting told off for looking at makeup and hair in my art lessons instead of doing work.’
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‘I never feel like being a Hijabi is a problem, wearing a scarf should never be something that’s looked down upon or seen as a burden. For me, it feels weird to wear my hair down, wearing a Hijab is so much easier. There are a lot of misconceptions about it, but I wear whatever colour scarf I want – if I’m covered and feeling happy that’s all that matters.
I feel like being a teenager is a bit like being a sponge - you’re so easily influenced by social media, which is why I don’t have Instagram. Without it I can just focus on myself and my family, which is way more important to me.
I go on Youtube to find new makeup looks but I don’t just follow Hijabi vloggers. If you look at people that aren’t the same ethnicity as you, you can learn a lot more. Being on trend is boring for me - at the moment I’m really into Henna. When I was younger my grandma would do it for me with matchsticks, now I freestyle my own designs and try them out on my little cousin when she visits from Abu Dhabi.
I think trying out looks from different cultures and spreading that is really interesting, I’m not worried about cultural appropriation, if someone wants to try out a look we shouldn’t judge them for that.’
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‘I definitely buy a lot of makeup, I love the feel of it when it’s new and fresh. I even like just looking at it!
The last thing I saved up for was an Anastasia Beverly Hills highlight palette. I saw it on Instagram and saved a picture of it on my phone so every time I washed the dishes or hoovered, I’d look at it and be like ‘I want this, so I’ve gotta work hard for it.’ Then I’ll go on eBay to buy it because it’s got really good deals and makeup is so expensive. I did a big haul last week and spent £50, but I won’t buy anything without talking to my friends.
We’ve got a Whatsapp group called ‘Makeup’ and we’ll post pictures of what we like and talk about it. Yesterday we went straight after school to get our acrylics done but we decided who was getting what design on the group chat before. We always get a Coffin or Ballerina shape end which is really in right now and I can still play the piano with them on.’
‘Exams stress me out so I’m really into aromatherapy and oils that help relax me. Some people don’t think it works, but I really believe in it. Makeup isn’t so much my thing, I’m more into taking care of my skin. I’ve got so many products and a full on routine with hundreds of steps but I’m starting to think it might be better to just leave my skin alone.
I’m not worried about ageing, it’s gonna happen to everyone, but I do think taking care of yourself is important. When you’re older you have a different type of beauty which comes with a sort of wisdom, especially if you do things for the greater good. I think Giselle is amazing. Obviously she’s a beautiful model but she seems like a genuine and kind person and it’s that inner self that makes her even more beautiful rather than what’s on the outside.
I don’t even shave my armpits and neither do most of my friends. At the beginning I felt really self conscious but now I feel way more relaxed having one less burden to think about. Why should I have to go out and buy a razor as soon as a hair appears? It’s totally unfair.’
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‘I usually do black braids but I wanted to try red for the summer. They’re expressions so you stretch your hair so its long enough then plait in the extensions. My sister used to do it for me but it took ages so she made me learn how to do it myself. She still tells me if I’ve put too much makeup on though!
I like watching Youtubers with similar hair to me because I can relate to them more. I wouldn’t want to watch someone who doesn’t know how to deal with my type of hair. I think it’s nice when you see people who have made an effort and look beautiful, if you don’t try so much it just puts a downer on your day. Sometimes people who love themselves can come across as vain but when you accept yourself it’s nice to see because it shows confidence.
You’re beautiful and pretty, you should love yourself.’
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‘My mum’s Dominican and English and my dad’s Scottish, so people are always like ‘You don’t look mixed race’, and I’m like, ‘Oh god, not this conversation again.’ It’s ridiculous because my heritage is actually quite simple compared to some people. I met a girl the other day who’s German and Swedish and her mum is black. I read that in 2020 everyone’s going to have mixed heritage.
I definitely get my hair from my parents - my mum’s is super curly and my dad has a ginger beard. I think it’s my thing that most makes me different to everyone else, which I like. I think everyone secretly wants to be the same as everyone else and fit in but they also want to be different and have everyone copy them.
You kind of get brainwashed by Instagram – I became friends with a girl I met on there and in her pictures it didn’t look like she was wearing loads of makeup but in real life it was like woah. It can be really deceiving.’
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‘Makeup is like art to me. It’s a different way of expressing yourself and showing who you are. Whenever I paint a portrait I always make the person look like they’re wearing makeup so I can practice on the canvas instead of doing it badly on my face.
I got my eyebrows threaded for the first time them when I was 13 and it hurt a lot. It made me think, ‘Ok, this is what people have to go through to look pretty.’ Now I get them done every two weeks. I’ll organize to go with my friends, then after we’ll go and try on lipsticks and foundations. Buying makeup with your friends is like a free risk assessment!’
‘You can cover so many things with make-up, which is definitely a good thing. If a celebrity has nice make-up and their hair done, I think that’s beautiful. But natural beauty is good as well - sometimes when you wear loads of make-up you can’t see what you actually look like.
I’m still happy when I’m not wearing any make-up, which is just as well because I’d definitely get in trouble if I wore it to school. At the moment I’m trying to learn how to do my hair - it’s so curly and all I want is for it to be straight because it’s so much easier to work with. I’ve got glasses as well so I like to make my eyes stand out by wearing eyeliner and eyeshadow. Although I try not to wear them as much now because my friends keep saying I look better without them.’
What did beauty mean to you when you were 15? Let us know below, and pick up the October issue of InStyle now