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Social Media and the Beauty Industry: Why “Sephora Kids” Are Not to Blame

Has the tween vanished? Are girls growing up too fast? What happened to the quintessential adolescence?

Recently, these questions have dominated comment sections as people debate, what they view as, the disappearance of childhood as we know it. A year ago, if someone had asked me to describe a 10-year-old girl, images of Rainbow Loom bracelets, the Disney Channel, and gossip circles in the grass would flood my mind. But over the past few months, this view has been replaced with TikTok, Stanley Cups, and overpriced skincare.

Anyone who has scrolled through TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter in the past month has likely witnessed the phenomenon of “Sephora kids.” Horror stories of these Gen Alpha tweens making bratty demands, stealing, mistreating employees, and racking up absurdly high bills have circulated on social media with Gen Z story times and viral comedic recreations. It makes sense that when we see a video of an underpaid service worker sharing that an eight-year-old girl called them “ugly,” “old,” and “poor” we jump on this viral hate train. We sit behind our screens and comment “They need to go outside” and “What happened to kids being kids?,” but this way of thinking obscures the more important question—that is, who is to blame for Sephora kids? 

Image Credit: Drunk Elephant

The most popular answer places the blame on their millennial parents who swipe the card and allow this behavior to go unchecked. But, I find this answer surface-level. While parents are responsible for their children’s appalling manners in stores, we should ask: Why do 10-year-old girls feel the need to buy retinol face cream in the first place? Why are they learning to do a full face of makeup for school? When I reflect on the issue, the blame falls back on the culture formed by beauty companies and overexposure to social media. 

Obsessions with aging, beauty trends, and fast-forward fashion are not new, but the explosion of social media and celebrity worship online has opened the door for children to get caught up in these trends at consistently younger ages. Instead of blaming these girls for “growing up too fast,” we need to question the culture that has made them do so. These ideas did not just pop into tween girls’ heads one day—society put them there.

Beauty companies have changed their advertising to target young girls and make them self-conscious about their appearance before they even reach middle school. Beauty brands have successfully used influencer marketing to promote their products on apps like Instagram and TikTok.  Many of these influencers have young followers and are pushing products on young girls who don’t need them. When these girls scroll on social media, they receive a feed full of influencers turned role models promoting anti-aging and skincare products claiming, “Now you can look like me.” These Sephora kids have the whole world at their fingertips, and what they see is influencing the way they grow up. With the glamorization of social media and influencers, it’s no surprise that for some girls so-called “normal” childhood activities have become secondary to focusing on their appearance.. 

Image Credit: Getty Images

People on social media question why these girls no longer flock to Claire’s or buy the newest clothing from Justice, and the answer is that most of the popular “tween” brands have shut down or moved online due to bankruptcy and a decrease in revenue. The combination of social media pushing more mature clothing and styles for young girls and Covid hitting many businesses hard has left Gen-Alpha with a lack of “age-appropriate” stores to shop. Stores like Sephora and Ulta have become hang-out spots for tweens because of their lack of other options. They can’t realistically venture into clothing stores made for adult women but are past the age of children’s toy stores. At Sephora, they can hang out, buy makeup, and actually use the products they purchase. So, harassing these girls for not spending their time at the stores older generations of girls loved as tweens is not only ignorant but impossible. The solution is to create more spaces and shops targeted towards that age category while taking into account the differences in styles and trends. The push to promote certain products or clothes has shown no signs of stopping, so companies need to find an in-between of creating products young girls will want to purchase, while not promoting skincare, clothes, and makeup that is too much for their age range.  

No solution will entirely solve the problem of Sephora kids. We can ask parents to teach their daughters to love themselves and be polite in public spaces, but without a shift in what they see online or in stores, this phenomenon isn’t going to disappear. While we will eventually move past the initial hate for Sephora kids, the underlying epidemic of self-confidence issues and the toxic beauty industry will only grow as social media continues to skyrocket in popularity. I only write this to remind others that instead of bashing 10-year-old girls for following trends they’re force-fed on social media, we should encourage them and the internet to change the way we promote beauty trends. If not, the tween girl might fade into oblivion. 


Kelsey Perriello is an undeclared freshman in the College.


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