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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • Arianne Obi

Gen Z are Preserving Visual Treasures

Updated: May 2

In an age where we consume everything and own nothing, digital natives are paying their respects to the past...

Credit: Pinterest

Looking back on images in our parents it's easy to think ‘what a time to be alive’. The hair was bigger, the smiles were brighter and the Kardashians hadn’t yet appropriated every culture under the sun. My Nana, a glorious Cornish woman who raised children in Lagos between the 60's and 80's, often sends me sepia-tinted photos of her and her friends back in the day that she finds in her archive (and by archive I mean a 20ish square foot room in her north London flat full of photo albums). There’s a certain enviable quality to these albums: looking at a time before ours through a dream-like lens and having physical dossiers of memories.

I've discussed the idea of ownership and growing up to my friends many a time - ultimately, we Gen Z lot have become a ‘buy everything and own nothing generation’. Our parents and grandparents, whilst being young enough to be out out every weekend, had houses, cars - heck - photo albums, and all we 20-somethings possess is an outdated iPhone, a pair of Sambas and a favourite mug to call our own. We don’t own homes, our dodgy landlord does. We don’t own phones, O2 does. Music? Spotify. Films? Netflix. In this age of no-ownership, what are the physical markers of us growing up? What are the relics we reminisce on and leave behind? 

For the time being, not all hope is lost. Gen Z are often considered to be debbie-downers but they do want to feel warm and fuzzy sometimes. In the past few years we’ve seen new-age nostalgia trends ebb and flow, from retro gaming to polaroids and vinyls. In the digiscape, the Instagram Archive emerges: digital accounts documenting the good, better, best, bad and ugly of a time that once was. Amongst people of colour, history and culture has always been rich and complex; treading the lines of hardship, liberation and self expression with either with flair or caution. In this way, digital platforms capturing history amongst the diaspora provide spaces to reflect on this history and inspire a new generation.

Credit: Tony Withers

For better or worse, we understand that we have a tendency to romanticise the past. We often view these moments with a rose tinted glow when they were otherwise perhaps stained with fear and adversity, but hopefully we’re self-aware enough to understand that two cultural phenomena can exist in tandem (The Beatles tearing up the music scene at the same time that the Biafran war was unfolding in Nigeria, and the Windrush generation flocking to the UK whilst black models like Naomi Sims and Donyale Luna made their mark in fashion magazines).

There’s a certain level of grit, determination and digging that goes into curating these visual narratives, and the documents we are presented with show that history always repeats itself. The Museum of Youth Culture seeks to preserve and celebrate youth culture heritage through a nationwide programme of exhibitions, events and projects, and a quick visit to their space makes evident that young people then aren't all that dissimilar from those now. Trends come and go, but we can always sense when mass culture has taken inspiration from history, particularly POC history. So many elements of popular culture, from common parlance, to music, high fashion and high street come from black spaces (why do you think 2021 was the year of the Nolly Babe, and streetwear has us in a chokehold?).

Credit : Museum of Youth Culture

With these industries having a complicated relationship with race and representation, archival accounts also allow us to challenge accepted standards of beauty and decentralising narratives around creation and expression. From vintage advertising, to rave culture and defunct fashion magazines, here are some of our favourite archival accounts.


Are you passionate about exploring the intricate worlds of beauty, sex, fashion, wellness, and culture? Do you belong to a marginalized community and have unique perspectives and stories to share? If so, Nightstand Service is eagerly seeking contributing writers like you! Get in touch:


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