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Gen Z Believes Wokeism Is Only For Ugly People—Are They Right?

Gen Z Believes Wokeism Is Only For Ugly People—Are They Right?
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“Honestly, mom, kids my age all think that woke is only for ugly people,” is allegedly what the 16-year-old son of Twitter user @WeAllNeedJesus1 said when she teased him she wouldn’t pay thousands of dollars for him to go to college and come home “woke.” The tweet went relatively viral for cluing internet users into the potential inner workings of the Gen Z brain: Is wokeness part and parcel of the youth experience, or is it actually quite passé and looked down upon like any other out-of-fashion trend? 

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No one really seems to know what “woke” means anymore. People in progressive circles have tried to reclaim it as part of the black vernacular English lexicon, initially meaning someone who is aware of social or political injustices. People in conservative circles use it pejoratively and – well, liberally – to mean anything that shifts the Overton window toward authoritative political correctness and identity politics. 

But textbook definition notwithstanding, we all kind of know what “woke” looks like. And if the rumors are indeed true – wokeness is only for “ugly people.” Could this even be possible? Can a particular social movement or political identity be uglier than another? Let’s do a little style analysis on “woke” and determine if Gen Z will render this presumed fad obsolete.

Hey, Siri, What Does Woke Look Like?

When you hear the word “woke,” what images begin populating in your brain? You might conjure up visual generalizations based on people within any “woke” movement who then became viral memes, like Trigglypuff

Perhaps he or she has vividly – and unnaturally – colorful hair dyed pink, purple, green, blue, or red, which is cut or buzzed into edgy styles like microbangs, undercuts, or pixie cuts. Perhaps he or she is either shockingly skinny, with barely visible musculature that points to a diet deficient in animal-based nutrition, or he or she is totally out of shape, with a BMI ranging from obese to morbidly obese that points to a lethargic lifestyle and hedonistic tendencies. 

Perhaps he or she dresses in alternative fashions that your average Joe or Jane wouldn’t be caught dead wearing unless it were Halloween. Perhaps he or she isn’t easily designated by the naked eye as “man” or “woman,” and they get off on the fact that they can confuse the masses into their delusions that they can “transition” from one sex to the opposite.

Perhaps he or she cares about having preferred pronouns in their bio to such an extreme that they even wear a badge so strangers don’t – gasp – misgender them. Perhaps he or she has an air of angst and gloom that follows them like a shadow – their internal victim mentality presenting externally and signaling to onlookers that you better be on your best behavior around them, lest you get accused of “hate crimes,” such as racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, or homophobia and transphobia.

These presumptions – while oddly specific but frankly applicable to many everyday “woke” person – are really more along the lines of a caricature for what people call Social Justice Warriors, or SJWs. I draw this distinction because that progressive persona not only has a look, but an attached set of guiding principles with which they govern their ideological thought patterns and voting behavior.

Like Them or Not, Alternative Aesthetics Are Here To Stay

Some people figured it was just a fad – just a bunch of Comic Con or Anime Expo regulars whom you’d only witness emerging into the outside world every now and then. But it wasn’t just a fad. As their uber-progressive principles made their way into the mainstream, their aesthetics did too.

When former two-term U.S. President Barack Obama first took office, same-sex marriage was still somewhat taboo. In fact, the president himself didn’t originally support it. But just two presidents later and our government barely even knows what a woman is. 

Pride has its own month. Federal agencies, state governments, globalist mega-corporations, educational institutions, and small businesses alike that used to recognize meritocracy now insist on the Marxist doctrines of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) policies, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) scores, and CEI (Corporate Equality Index).

Socially conservative Democrats used to exist, but now they’ve been demonized by some loud, far-left voices within their party. Either get in lock-step and conform, or get out of the party. A party that once housed a more diverse range of ideologies – and frankly, aesthetics – dons a more cohesive uniform today. “Woke” thought went mainstream, and now “woke” looks are more widely adopted and accepted.

Growing up in Orange County, California, about 40 or so minutes away from Disneyland, meant that regular trips were more realistic for me than most other American kids. I had an annual pass for a good portion of my childhood and got my first job in high school in part to pay for that luxury on my own. 

The theme park – crafted very carefully by Walt Disney with a curated image in mind for his “cast members,” or employees – used to be discernible from any other theme park. Cast members were expected to wear their hair in approved, mature styles and natural colors, not have visible tattoos or piercings, and – no matter their race or age – generally uphold that wholesome “Disney look.” 

Though I don’t frequent Disneyland anymore, I return to those childhood experiences every now and then and am always bewildered by how lazy the park’s standards have become. Many cast members now look more like genderless, colorful, amorphous blobs than upstanding men and women who honor Walt’s legacy and, I don’t know, look like clean, friendly, approachable human beings. 

I bet you many of the current cast members are perfectly pleasant people to talk to, but nothing about their demeanor signals health, happiness, joie de vivre, or even success. They’re quintessential Disney adults, and it’s just sad that you can reasonably assume a lot about their political party preference, their outlook on life, and the things that keep them up at night based on their appearance alone.

Again, it wasn’t always this way. And to an extent, these are still some sweeping generalizations. But because “woke” is mainstream, the associated aesthetics are now more mainstream too. 

I wasn’t alive before 1998, but based on old film or television, fashion history, and anecdotal evidence from many Boomers and even older adults in my life, I know that it wasn’t always so easy to tell which side of the aisle someone voted by their looks alone. Even Gen Y could probably attest to this.

As a whole, people dress more casually even in “business” and “formal” settings, purchase more self-care and makeup products yet somehow look less hygienic and put-together than ever before, and are liberal with their body image standards. 

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No, people shouldn’t feel shame for wearing athleisure in public – I mean, I love comfy clothes like leggings, sweatshirts, and tennis shoes just as much as the next person – but from observation alone, it seems like people don’t bother to dress in an even remotely “presentable” manner. There’s an overwhelming disregard for color theory, proper fit, flattering cuts – you name it. It’s not impossible to look polished while dressing comfortably.

But while there are many people who aren’t bothering to tidy their physical appearance, there’s also a segment of our population that is keen on maintaining good looks – and those people do tend to lean conservative or vote Republican.

Some Generalizations Exist for a Reason…or So “the Science” Says

Back in 2018, two research articles made national headlines for asserting that political conservatives hold beauty advantages over liberals. 

People have tried to extrapolate why this is, asserting that because Republicans oppose redistribution of wealth and high taxes, they keep more of their income and richer people tend to be more attractive. Others think it’s because conservatives haven’t “faced the challenges of other citizens” and have had easier experiences in life. These extrapolated correlations can hardly apply to all conservatives and don’t prove causation. 

What’s more likely going on is, generally speaking, people find that conventionally masculine men and conventionally feminine women are more attractive than those who go against the grain. Conservatives, who are less likely to alter their appearance (or if they do, do so in less subversive ways), are therefore perceived as more attractive since they fit the norm. 

In America, elected Republican women have been found by researchers to have more feminine facial features than elected Democrat women. Men who have higher upper-body strength, meaning a more stereotypically masculine physique, have been found by researchers to be less likely to support higher taxes.

According to recent studies, even machine-learning software – which is allegedly supposed to generate decisions based on patterns that real humans make – rate conservative women as more attractive and happier than liberal women. I find this particularly funny when taking into consideration that products like ChatGPT actually tend to lean liberal with their own learned biases.

Furthermore, liberal women report being significantly less satisfied with their mental health and significantly less happy with their lives than conservative women. Poor mental health and emotional outlook can indeed have striking effects on our physical appearance; headaches, bad sleep, body aches, fatigue, low sex drive, weight fluctuations, substance abuse, and feelings of emptiness can all contribute to someone lacking drive or ability to take care of their figure, face, and fashion. 

Some researchers believe that hormonally stressed women are perceived as less attractive than women with low cortisol levels, who look healthier and more fertile. And on that train of thought, there’s a strange correlation between women at their peak fertility levels (a.k.a. the ovulatory phase) being more inclined to vote for Trump. Conservatives are more likely to be married and have more babies than liberal women, and fertility is a major marker for perceived attractiveness.

All this to say, it makes sense why people would come to the conclusion that ideologically woke people are “uglier.” Sure, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but beauty is not completely subjective. And beyond that, there’s really nothing wrong with wanting to look like the best representation of yourself since we’re biologically driven to be desirable and get “picked.”

So will Gen Z – apparently growing jaded by the oversaturation of “woke” in every element of their lives – contribute to the demise of wokeism? In some instances, it seems like political correctness is falling flat. Comedian Shane Gillis was recently brought back to host the legacy late-night comedy television show Saturday Night Live despite being fired in September 2019 “amid backlash over racist and transphobic jokes.” His recent host appearance was met with mixed reviews based on “risqué monologue jokes, some of which traded on stereotypes about women, gay people and people with Down Syndrome.”

While this host appearance was certainly not a nail in the coffin for cancel culture, it does point to the potential for our culture to re-correct its wildly woke overcorrection. Despite 30% of Gen Z adults identifying as LGBTQ, youth support for same-sex marriage has puzzlingly declined, according to a recent survey, which shows a slight decrease in support across all age brackets.

Another recent survey gave further insights into the notion that younger “zoomers” will begin to lean more conservative. Over half of Gen Z won’t affiliate with either major political party, but they’re still the least likely group to identify as Republican. Gen Z teens are more moderate than their liberal Gen Z counterparts.

Closing Thoughts

No matter how teens and young adults are beginning to trend in terms of wokeness, there’s no denying that this generation was raised on and indoctrinated by woke principles. In fact, Gen Z might even see through performative, corporate wokeness – and still demand ideologically progressive outcomes. 

The ideology is all-encompassing – from grade school to higher education to the workplace to government agencies to the media to private industry or consumer goods and more. 

Perhaps the pendulum has swung a little too far in one direction, and many in Gen Z have grown dissatisfied with that particular “woke” aesthetic. But that doesn’t change how identity politics have become building blocks of each young person’s cognitive development. 

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