Can Yara Shahidi Heal the Generation Gap?


“A watch will not lead you astray!” declares Yara Shahidi.

The 17-year-old has a new gig as a Fossil smartwatch ambassador, even though most teens check the time via phone—a rookie move, says the Black-ish star.

“When you go on your phone to check what time it is, you get so distracted. It happens to me every day. ‘Oh, I just wanted to see what time it is, but now I’m magically on a panda video.’ This is the easier way,” she says, “but it’s also a part of your personal style. It ends up becoming a part of who you are, and representing what you love.”

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We love Yara, so we interviewed her about her TV future, her history obsession, and why we shouldn’t rag on Generation Z… yet.

You launched your Fossil partnership with a discussion at The Wing. And you talked about how generations of women need to come together, instead of judging each other.

We do! Intergenerational support is crucial. I feel like generations give up on each other. If you’re Gen Z, you’re like, “Gen X is never gonna get it.” If you’re Gen X, you’re like, “Those Millennials are such idiots.”

What do you wish adult women knew about teen women right now?

One thing I hear a lot is that we’re self-centered and we can’t put down our phones. But we’ve been given these platforms to be self centered. And we’ve been put in these places where, for example, my [Instagram] post on James Baldwin got 10,000 likes. I posted a picture of my face on Instagram. It got 70,000 likes. When you’re aware, from a young age, of how something plays in public, it makes you a young entrepreneur, whether you like it or not. I call most teenagers ‘young entrepreneurs’ because from a young age we’re aware that our social media is building our brand. And if, when you’re 13, you’re concerned with building your brand, then “like” disparities matter. And you realize, “I can get all the likes I need and all the followers I need to have a big following, and then I get to do X Y Z.” That’s not by choice, that’s by life experience.

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Are you saying, don’t hate the player, hate the ‘gram?

Yeah, exactly! Don’t hate the player, hat the ‘gram! It’s this idea that we’re put into these systems in which, as a person, you need to figure out how to succeed in the system. And if succeeding means being “self centered” and taking selfies, to then be able to promote a t-shirt, or James Baldwin, or anything, then that’s what we’re gonna do because we’re living by the example set by others, and by what we’re seeing.

Is there an upside to being able to build your “brands” even younger?

Yeah, we’re in this great place where now, because young women are expressing how they feel and what they believe, platforms aren’t restricting themselves to what’s considered just “feminine” topics… And that’s becoming more a reflection of teenage girl nature, how broad the topics are… I mean, look at ELLE! Their political coverage is amazing. And if [teen women] can use [social media] to encourage those discussions, then we’re making a real difference.