What? Yet another Old Person Rant about Millennials? Haven’t these kids been ridiculed enough? By now, we know all the stereotypes by heart: Millennials are fragile, coddled, lazy, entitled snowflakes who take nonstop Selfies and keep count of endless micro-aggressions.
I don't mean to pile on to this already much maligned generation. But I'm afraid I must. You see, I live in San Francisco -- a city swarming with Millennials -- so I am forced to constantly observe their habits. Like an anthropologist studying an exotic species, I can't help but notice how these delicate young creatures maneuver through their environment, as well as how that environment has adapted to cater to these creatures' rarefied tastes.
Recently, all of this intense observation lead to to an "Aha!" moment. "Aha!", I thought, "these Millennials not only apply a purity test to all things political and social, they apply a purity test to everything in their lives.”
Suddenly, all of my random observations made perfect sense; I was witnessing something I call “Millennial Purity”.
Oh, you already know about this? Ok, I guess I just have a keen sense of the obvious. But if you will indulge me for a moment, here are just a few examples of Millennial Purity that have caught my beady-eyed gaze...
We know Millennials are all about natural/organic/gluten-free/vegetarian/vegan/locally sourced/artisanal/farm-to-table. Living a healthy lifestyle is obviously important to them. As it should be. But with Millennials, healthy eating takes on a holier-than-thou quality, with a just a dash of self-righteousness thrown in for extra flavor. It's as if their oh-so-pure bodies (and souls) can't be tainted by any food that isn't 100% "clean" (you know, like all that unclean food favored by Boomers).
One of my earliest glimpses of Millennial Purity came in the form of the Panera commercials. Panera was one of the first companies to jump on the Millennial Purity bandwagon. In an effort to appeal to the Pure Generation, Panera totally revamped their menu and their image; now they only serve Clean Food. The Panera “Medical Students” spot is an insufferable homage to Millennial Purity. I don’t know what’s more annoying; the croaky, Hipster Baby voiceover or the entire premise. “Let’s get a sandwich…or something” reeks of Millennial righteousness. And the smug tagline: “Food as it Should Be” almost makes me choke on my Deep Fried Twinkies.
Not long after this campaign started running, I suddenly noticed new eateries cropping up around San Francisco with names like Proper Food, True Food Kitchen, Urban Remedy, Beloved Cafe and Vitality Bowls. That's when it finally dawned on me: Oh, now I get it: Clean Food is a thing. Of course, Millennials need something to wash all that Clean Food down with. Which brings me to...
How many juice bars does it take to quench a Millennial's thirst? In my neighborhood, the answer is: at least one per block. Seriously. A friend visiting from the East told me she'd never seen so many juice bars within a 5-block radius. I guess Millennials must be really thirsty!
These establishments have names like Thrive Cleanse, Fine and Rare, Native Juice Co. and Project Juice (slogan: “Drink Juice. Eat clean.”). One menu features “So Clean, Clean Juice”. Entering a cold-pressed juicery is like entering a Temple of Purity and Enlightenment; everything is white/minimal/clean. The favored decor for these emporiums is a spartan, brightly lit space with a refrigerated case containing a few bottles of juice, displayed as if they were holy, magical elixirs. That Kale/Cucumber/Cayenne juice you’re sipping isn't a mere beverage, it's the door to spiritual awakening.
I hate to harsh Millennials’ collective mellow, but I must point out that for every cold-pressed juice bar in my neighborhood, there’s a regular kind of bar where many Young Puritans binge drink on a regular basis. On the weekends, the scene resembles a drunken frat and sorority house free-for-all. But no worries. The easiest way to atone for a heavy night of drinking (and get the bitter taste of hypocrisy out of your mouth) is to simply hit the juice bar the next morning for a Cayenne/Aloe cleanse! And don’t forget, if you're going to imbibe, there’s always Craft Beer. Sure, it’s alcohol, but it’s artisanal.
While yoga is popular with all ages, Millennials are completely obsessed with yoga. In San Francisco, no self-respecting 20-something female would be caught without a yoga mat tucked under one arm, like an extra appendage, and a Lululemon totebag dangling from the other wrist.
One reason why Millennials love yoga is, Millennials are very stressed. As Millennial yoga instructor Morgan Casavant explains it: “We’re expected to go to college and make good grades. Then we work for free in some bullsh*t internship for ‘resume experience’. When we finally enter the workforce as real, salary-making adults, we’re barely making enough to cover rent and student loans. Thankfully yoga is there, reminding us to take a deep breath because everything is temporary. We will get through this.” (Warning: there are some very stressed and angry Millennials out there. You may not want to place your yoga mat too close to them).
Yoga also offers delicate Millennials a Safe Space. According to Morgan, "Yoga is a no-judgement zone all about self-expression and being true to who you are. Millennials have plenty of ways to express themselves with all the cute yoga accessories out there!" (in other words, yoga class is a great place to show off your toned, SoulCycle bod).
Of course, Millennials are also really into Mindfulness. Health and Wellness writer, Cory Keating, author of the Peaceful Dumpling blog, says, "Millennials desperately need Mindfulness more than any other generation...Millennials are stressed out and do not feel awake in their everyday life." She adds, "...Mindfulness encourages you to be open to experiences, yourself, and others from a nonjudgmental place, leading to greater interconnectivity. Mindful interaction can bring us closer, reduce conflict, and make life a little less stressful." Apparently, Millennial Mindfulness stops at the yoga studio door. How else do you explain all those really loud cell phone conversations on my bus ride to work every day? How mindful is that?
Millennials have an inflated sense of their own uniqueness. They are super special beings who are super particular about what they eat, drink, wear, and buy. So it stands to reason that is no longer acceptable to simply offer this crowd a lovely selection of shoes/handbags/whatever. Heavens no. Everything has to be carefully curated.
Take makeup, for instance. Millennials wouldn't dream of using any makeup. No, their beauty products need to be curated. Or, in some cases, pre-curated. Emily Weiss, Founder and CEO of the Millennial beauty lifestyle brand, Glossier, says, “Our range is small by design. It’s a tightly, pre-curated collection of the most relevant beauty products today.” (Ladies, when was the last time you asked, “Is my concealer relevant?”).
Then there's Birchbox. Just sign up for a subscription, and Birchbox will send you a monthly Curated Box containing a selection of 5 small beauty samples, packaged in a cute, highly Instagramable box. Oops, did I say “selection”? Sorry. It’s a collection.
There's no question the mattress industry could use some serious re-inventing (for reasons I've described in horrifying detail).
Enter Casper. Casper markets itself as the hip mattress for Millennials (I guess more Millennials are moving out of their parents houses and need mattresses). The mattresses have a clean, basic, utilitarian look. They sport simple, non-frou frou names like The Wave, The Casper, and The Essential -- names that appeal to Millennial Purity. But here's the kicker: Instead of being delivered by a grimy, old truck, you order your Casper mattress online and it arrives in a box. If you’re wondering how on earth they fit a full-size mattress in a box, well, they do. Their “Unboxing” commercial shows a barefooted, t-shirt wearing Millennial removing a full-size mattress from a surprisingly small box (it's kind of like like watching clowns emerge from a tiny car). The "Unboxing" commercial has just the slightest air of Millennial Superiority. Its unspoken message is: you tired, old people can keep your tired, old mattresses and grimy, old delivery trucks. A Casper mattress is simple, pure, clean, superior. Millennials are eating up the whole Casper gestalt; the mattresses are selling faster than avocado toast and Poké bowls.
Casper also has brick-and-mortar stores. Their pop-up store in San Francisco's Marina District is a model of Instagrammy Preciousness. According to one article, the store was "inspired by the feeling of waking up well-rested and refreshed — complete with the smell of fresh coffee and birds chirping." The store features "nap-pods" designed to look like life-size birdhouses, atop an Astro-turf floor. No, I'm not making this up.
I can't help but wonder: Can Millennials sustain this level of purity? Or is it something they will outgrow when they outgrow their Lululemon yoga pants?
I don't know. I just know I find these Young Puritans endlessly fascinating. I'll continue to monitor their strange, exotic habits. When I do, I'll bring you more of my carefully curated observations.