Photos: GIRLS, An Honest Exploration Of Gen Z Femininity (NSFW)

"It all started with Livvy, who I found on Instagram one year ago. She was the first and original subject of this story." London-based Italian photographer Guen Fiore is talking about her most recent project, GIRLS: an honest exploration of Gen Z femininity and its infinite expressions. Featuring portraits of young women from different places, the series is a collaboration with stylist Rubina Vita Marchiori and reflects on what it means to navigate the world as an adolescent today. Refinery29 has spoken to the young people in the images too, and their words are shared throughout this piece. 
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Albertine “I grew up in the countryside, where girlhood was very conformist and limited and I felt bizarre, but now in Paris I feel more free. Because girlhood has less expectations here, we are freer to assume our own definition of it. I’ve met women who feel like me, and we are strong together. I’ve discovered a more supportive form of girlhood here.” Both Algerian and French, Albertine describes her identity as “messy” but says that art helps her process that: “I feel truly myself in it.”
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Albertine “Being a young woman today means feeling injustice very often, and having to fight against it,” Albertine says. “Once you realise that being a woman is hard, it's a life-changing way of thinking. Injustices against women are still present in metropoles, in the countryside and in foreign countries. I love that as Gen Z women we are kinder and more caring with each other. We have suffered so many oppressive forms of relationships that we wanna break it together. We are supportive of each other, especially about issues that other generations don’t understand – like feeling lost about futures.” In the future, Albertine wants to live closer to nature. “I want to be wiser, live slower, be more minimalistic and ecological too. And I wish that other people would also choose this path to grow on, because it is the most responsible.”
The first pictures Fiore took of 20-year-old Livvy are gorgeous. Peachy-haired and glowing as she poses around her room in cute outfits, she makes an arresting model. "What really intrigued me was her appearance, of course, but also the way she expresses herself, which seemed to me like a mysterious balance between sensuality and innocence. I had the chance to photograph her a few times in different environments and I began imagining a project around her," Fiore says. She reached out to Marchiori and the three worked together on a shoot. "After that, we were so excited about the session with Livvy we decided to continue with other girls," says Fiore. 
Advertisement
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Livvy
The duo found their models in a number of ways – through people they knew already, via modelling agencies and Instagram. Their process was simple and grounded in their shared desire for a personal, authentic and intimate approach. That’s why they chose to photograph each of the models in their own bedrooms where possible, and why Marchiori chose a way of styling that mixed the young women's favourite items from their own wardrobes with items she chose. "When I first proposed the project to Rubina, what was essential for me was that we had to keep it realistic, and faithful to who the girls actually are nowadays. I wanted to bring in as little manipulation as possible, while also leaving Rubina enough space to experiment and create," Fiore says. "Mostly we wanted to have fun with it and put our trust in the girls – let them introduce us to their worlds, and combine it with our own memories." 
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Livvy
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Livvy
Born in 1988, Fiore is a millennial, the generation which precedes Gen Z. Teenage life for her began in Pescara, Italy, before she moved to Rome to study engineering, where she discovered a love of photography. Before long she found herself daydreaming about taking pictures full time and, in 2018, she moved to London to become a photographer. She met Marchiori in 2019 and through collaborating on a couple of editorial projects the two struck up a friendship, professionally and personally. "That’s why when I envisioned this story, Rubina was the only person I wanted to collaborate with on a long-term-project," says Fiore. Not only does she admire Marchiori’s vision, she says, but "we are similar ages so we share the same experiences, which was a very important element for this story." 
Advertisement
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Adhieu
Fiore and Marchiori were both teens in the '00s so one of the first things they bonded over was an appreciation of Gen Z style and seeing the trends of their own adolescence making a comeback. "There’s a really nostalgic '00s moment happening right now," Fiore smiles. Aesthetics aside, what’s really struck them about this generation is the very different context in which they are growing up, compared with their own upbringings. Fiore says her coming-of-age experience was markedly more stifled than those of the girls she meets now. "I remember growing up in a society where there was no space for any different kind of beauty. You had to be tall, skinny, blonde, white and tan to be considered beautiful, and that still felt like a very important thing to aim for," she says. "I never realised how much this impacted me until recently, when I started working with such inspiring girls and began considering the idea of beauty without any kind of external filter or conditioning. I think that young women today have much more diversity to look at and although there is still a way to go, and still the same pressures, there is also a lot more to aim for than beauty now." 
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Molly “I went to an all girls boarding school when I was 11 which has left me with a distorted view of girlhood. We were all figuring out who we were while trying to fit in and be ‘normal’. There was quite a backward view of what a girl should be like and it wasn’t until I left that I realised it was up to myself to define girlhood. Now I’m able to be around the kind of people who can challenge my definitions and expand my views (which is the best I think!).” Molly used to feel self conscious about whether she looked ‘cool’, like any other young person, but as she got a little older she did the work and moved past that, and now style is the way she expresses herself. “I’m really proud to say now that I like the way I present myself and it doesn’t matter what other people think anymore,” she says. “I’m definitely influenced by films, especially certain characters, and I like carrying around elements of them. You can see the pieces of that influence in my clothes among stuff like my grandmother's jewellery and my dad’s old jeans.”
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Molly “What I love about being Gen Z is the feeling of community, and the empathy everyone has for each other,” Molly says. “It means supporting each other and being understanding, and since everyone is going through their own problems (especially women) I think it’s so important to be kind and reassuring. Tell your friends you love them and you’re proud of them!!” There is a deeply empathic thread running through everything Molly says, and it extends to her wishes for the future too. “On a wider scale there is so much I want for the future generations so that they don’t have to suffer from our mistakes. On a base level I think people need to be more compassionate and self sacrificing for others (myself included), because we’re all in this together.”
It’s not easy to pinpoint the beginning of a zeitgeist but if we think about the values that seem to unite the majority of Gen Z – progressive politics, intersectional feminism, climate activism, identity as a fluid and ever-shifting spectrum – it must, at least in part, have to do with how (or, more importantly, where) young people are growing up now. The internet was still very much a novelty for millennials in their teenage years but, for Gen Z, what happens online is as much a part of their lives as what happens offline. The internet has democratised and globalised the growing up experience, which is why social media has been so instrumental in what sets Gen Z apart. "On one hand, platforms such as Instagram have made self-awareness more accessible to and achievable by everyone," says Marchiori, "but on the other hand, they constantly expose people to shaming and judgements from those who, hiding behind a screen, throw comments without restraint." Out in the real world, women still face the same old sexist tropes too. For young people in fields like the creative industry, Marchiori says, these sorts of taboos are gradually losing meaning and relevance but at a wider societal level there is still a lot of work to do. As a generation, Gen Z is emphatically engaged in the fight. 
Advertisement
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Karwea
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Eliza “I express myself through my clothing,” says Eliza, “and I also love to express my identity through tattoos. I have eight – they don't all have meaning but they show my personality.” Based in southeast London, Eliza says girlhood in her area is having the freedom to do whatever you want and experiment in any way – “having no responsibilities and finding yourself before facing the real world,” she explains. And as a Gen Z woman, the internet has been integral to her coming-of-age experience. “I love having so much inspiration from across the world from social media.”
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Eliza “My dream has always been to work in fashion. I don't know what aspect yet so I'm experimenting in all areas to find my exact love,” says Eliza. On a societal level, she says, “I'm motivated to prevent even one girl from being mistreated by a man. I want men to be educated on how to act respectfully towards women and to stop taking advantage of girls. There needs to be more action to prevent this and a much safer space with young girls so that they do not continue to face what our generation has. That is the revolution and change I want!”
What Fiore and Marchiori have grown to admire most about Gen Z is the tireless, impassioned drive for self-expression and the right to hold their own spaces. "I think that apart from any exterior similarity, it’s impossible to deny how this generation of girls shows off a confidence, an emancipation and a desire for the freedom to express themselves that our generation just didn’t have, and that is so precious," says Fiore warmly. "The young people we’ve met are so much more aware of society than I ever was, and we really wanted to make this element a focus point." Marchiori agrees, saying that every girl has filled her with fresh inspiration – similar in ways, yet so unique in others. "What makes this generation stand out from previous ones is that these girls proudly and confidently embrace their uniqueness, and they are not afraid to be the most authentic version of themselves," she says. 
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Florence “I feel very lucky to have experienced many different forms of sisterhood. Having a wonderfully diverse and international group of friends, I have seen how sisterhood is affected culturally, and at the same time, the commonality in all connections is beautiful. I have been so inspired by the different forms of sisterhood I have shared with others.” Florence describes herself as a “passionate and spirited person”, ever-curious and interested in the world around her. “I identify as a lover…in many senses: as someone sensitive to life forces. I am very open minded and I love to learn,” she says warmly. “I think life should be celebrated every day, no matter the circumstance. So, I suppose, what I want for the future is to remind people of how sacred this world is!”
Photographed by Guen Fiore.
Florence When asked what she loves about being Gen Z, Florence says: ​​”To me, the association with women and fertility is particularly important in the current landscape. It is a time of planting new seeds after all! Being a woman, I feel part of a large network of magic; there is no other way to put it. For example, I will never stop being in total awe at childbirth. This is symbolic to me: as a collaborative process; giving and receiving; an equal relationship of universe and self. I think we have much to learn from creating and receiving - this equilibrium has been disturbed for too long. I feel it is finally coming to balance again.”
In 2020 the New York Post reported that Gen Z has become the world’s largest generation, constituting 32% of the global population. That’s around 2.47 billion of the 7.7 billion people on Earth. This makes Gen Z the biggest slice of the population to be listened to and learned from; most importantly, it leaves the coming decades in their hands. The young women here offer us a glimpse of Gen Z consciousness by inviting us into their worlds. Photographed as they are, beautiful and bold in their self-awareness, they speak about what's important to them: identity politics matter, rigid binaries don’t, and the future is something sacred.
Photography: Guen Fiore
Styling: Rubina Vita Marchiori
Makeup: Machiko Yano and Raffaele Romagnoli
Talent: Livvy, Albertine, Eliza at Anti-Agency, Molly at Anti-Agency, Anugraha at Anti-Agency, Florence, Vera at Anti-Agency, Catherine, Karwea, Adhieu at Neo Management, Jewel at Anti-Agency.

More from Books & Art

R29 Original Series

Advertisement