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By Harriet Wells, Junior Strategist Cos(metic) Play: What Social Media Makeup Challenges Reveal About Gen Z

Makeup brushes

A surrealist escape. A trip down memory lane. A therapeutic process.

No, I’m not talking about a visit to the museum. Rather, these are the objectives achieved by Gen Z’s latest cosmetic trends.

Indeed, today’s kids, teens, and 20-somethings approach beauty as a form of play, self-expression and stress relief. We’re seeing it play out in three popular social media makeup challenges. Here we explain the challenges and what each reveals about Gen Z.

The Bratz Makeup Challenge

Eponymous with the early 00s dolls it’s modeled after, the Bratz Challenge encourages excess to create surreal looks. Heavily shadowed almond-shaped eyes and lucious glossy lips simultaneously mimic and mock contemporary beauty looks. As makeup artist Martin Cantos told Dazed Digital, “They don’t look like real people, and they’re not supposed to.”

The challenge has gained traction by tapping into the pop culture trends of Gen Z’s childhood. And though the original Bratz dolls were female (male dolls later made it into the mix), the makeup challenge bends gender. The looks – created by girls and guys alike – veer into drag.

What it tells us: Surreal and abstract looks temporarily suspend reality. For creators, it forces continual creative thinking. Consumers, meanwhile, are stopped in their tracks. It makes them question their senses. For Gen Z, the opportunity to relish in the unknown is a welcome alternative to the cold, hard facts of reality. The Bratz Challenge gives Gen Z the opportunity to do this – to transform and perform a different identity – and to enjoy the grey area that such surrealist looks bring.

The Kids Makeup Challenge

Nope – the Kids Makeup Challenge isn’t about looking like a child. Rather, it requires the creation of a complete look using only kids makeup. The colorful palettes in pink plastic cases feel regressive and playful. But don’t be mistaken, this challenge requires serious skill and technique.

What it tells us: Play has no age limit and Gen Z knows it. In fact, the Kids Makeup Challenge is an exploratory play pattern in and of itself. Here we see makeup being used to express shifting identities as Gen Zs mature from childhood to adulthood. The challenge creates space to revisit earlier days when imagination was encouraged. Further, it’s a reminder that looks as well as personas can be reinvented by applying a bit of artistry.

The A-Z Makeup Challenge

Both putting on and watching others put on makeup can be hypnotic and therapeutic. And the A-Z Challenge takes the process to another level. The goal is to apply cosmetic products in alphabetical order.

It requires advanced thinking and slow, detailed technique mastery. It’s open-ended, process-driven, and designed to generate LOLs. As you can imagine, the makeup doesn’t always look great, but watching the process is tons of fun.

What it tells us: When it comes to makeup looks, Gen Z values process over output. They enjoy the journey as much if not more than the destination. And they see the process as integral to self-care and stress relief. The A-Z challenge also feels rebellious. Instead of being used to create a certain look, the makeup represents exploration and possibility.

Take Away

Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline. Either way, one thing is certain: Gen Z is not buying makeup to meet unrealistic beauty standards. They care about play and process more than their predecessors, and they are brilliant at creating art in human form.