Keke Palmer, Ariel Winter, Jordyn Woods, and Skai Jackson are part of a new generation of screen and social stars who refuse stay silent.
There are words we often attach to rising stars who happen to be women who happen to be beautiful: ingénues, It girls. They're enchanting, they're buzzed about, but do we really ever know who they are?
Well, there's a new class of stars who want us to know exactly who they are, whether their studios or agents or managers like it or not—and they use their significant social media influence to control their own narratives. We tapped four emerging talents—actor and troll warrior Ariel Winter, quadruple (quintuple?) threat and slang creator Keke Palmer, Disney-star-turned-clapback-queen Skai Jackson, and bodi-posi model Jordyn Woods, all shot by fellow wunderkind, 22-year-old photographer Olivia Bee—to sound off on what matters to them.[chapter navtitle='Ariel' sidetitle='Ariel' socialdek='']
Ariel Winter doesn't give a fuck. I know this because she tells me, verbatim, over the phone: "I really don't give a fuck."
And she could give many. The 18-year-old Modern Family star, who has played the brainy Alex Dunphy for seven years now, has become a tabloid fixture. Not because she's doing anything scandalous: no partying, no DUIs, no diva-like behavior. Winter is merely being herself—which to some appears to be the most offensive thing of all. Over the past year, tabloids have reported on Winter's hair cut, the people she's dating, and, especially, her body and weight. You name a topic, Winter has been critiqued for it.
But it's not just the media, it's also within the comments of her social media (she has 2.7 million Instagram followers). And she refuses to back down to the hate. "I don't care what people say about me; I don't care how people feel about the choices I make," she says. "I hope everybody is supportive and likes the things I do and say, but I'm not concerned about it. That's the way I feel like everybody should be."
This is just run-of-the-mill fodder for any actress who has grown up in the spotlight. Puberty can seriously change a girl's body, but most of us get to go through it within the privacy of our own homes, not on network TV. "When I was 11 years old, I was completely flat everywhere. I had always wanted boobs and a butt. I wished for it and I wished for it. People criticized me for being super thin and flat. Then, when overnight I got boobs and a butt, I suddenly became this curvy person, and I got criticized for that. People have to learn to stop caring because you aren't going to win."
Winter has taken her body positivity message and DGAF attitude and turned them into a mission. She recently teamed with Dove for their #SpeakBeautiful campaign, a project meant to try to change the way we speak to each other online. "We need to challenge and change the way we talk about each other online, and understand it has a huge impact on girls' confidence," she writes in an Instagram. "Let's transform social media into a place where girls feel supported and empowered. Isn't it time we stopped this negativity?"
She also has some practical advice for living your best life on the Internet. First of all, you "need to understand, the people that write negative comments on other people's pages are people that must have something going on in their lives that's not great for them. There must be something going on for them to be attempting to hurt somebody [else]." She suggests that people should "reply to a negative comment with something positive," suggesting: "I don't appreciate that comment, but I hope things go better for you. Maybe you'll consider this next time." When her Instagram comments turned into a hateful mess after she posted a photo posing with her nieces, Winter responded with another Instagram—a picture of a girl's skirt marked up the thigh with markers—from "proper" to "slut." She captioned the photo: "The height of a girl's skirt or whatever she is wearing for that matter, does not imply what she is asking for...You are not asking for anything because of what you are wearing—you are expressing yourself and don't you ever think you deserve the negativity as the consequence to what you are wearing ... Celebrate you and don't let anyone's comments allow you to think less of yourself. Us girls have to stick together!!!!!!"
But ultimately, she knows that you can't always win. "At the end of the day, you're not going to please anybody, and the only person you should be concerned with pleasing is yourself." And that "don't give a fuck attitude"? She suggests you check it out: "I've spent a lot of time developing a good relationship with myself, where I feel confident in the things I do and the things I say and the choices I make. I really don't give a fuck. I do what I want, I say what I want. It's pretty great."[chapter navtitle='Keke' sidetitle='Keke' socialdek='']
Keke Palmer's resume is overwhelming, even for a famous person. She acts, sings, dances, directs, produces. She was in Cinderella on Broadway; she was Marty Maraschino in FOX's production of Grease Live!; she's Zayday Williams on Scream Queens; she just released a five track visual EP called Lauren; she's beloved on Snapchat–even coining her own catchphrase, a catchy joke set-up she calls 'The Gag." She knows it's a lot of stuff to digest; she likes it that way.
"Will Smith, right?" Palmer explains. "When he first became an actor, it was like, 'Who's this rapper?' You thought his career was over, but he decided he wanted to be an actor. You watch enough goddamn Fresh Prince episodes, [and] you're like, 'This dude is an actor,' because he is. It's the getting over the things people are going to say to you [by] just doing you and sticking true to it."
But the more things she does, the more confused people tend to be. Haters tell her to stay in her lane, to tone it down ("Anytime I hear her talk I just wanna say ... 'Bring it down a NOTCH!' writes a "fan" on a message board). How do you respond to that type of criticism? Not that what you're doing is bad, necessarily, but that you're doing too much of it? "Consistency," Palmer says. "It plays a huge part." "People don't understand that this is something that I'm really trying to do, so I'll just keep putting it in your face nonstop," she continues. She's talking so fast that it's hard to believe she can still make perfect sense, but she is. "Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit," she says, quoting Aristotle. Her translation? "I want to work at it every, every, every, every, every single day."
She's not in the running, but at this point, I'm ready to vote her into office. And politics have been on her mind following the presidential election. "Now that [Donald Trump] is our president, I feel that we have a responsibility to show him the truth," she says. "It's up to us to come together on our individual, cultural oppression and make our voices heard because if we do not, we will be doing not only a disservice to ourselves but also to 'our president.'" Another signature Palmer stream underway, she goes on, "I will not live in the world where I allow ignorance to win.…We have to teach differences, coexistence, and acceptance if we want ignorance to cease and we have to be persistent and stern and patient, even to those who've upset us the most."
Her sense of devotion, dedication, and drive may come from her super long career in the "business"–even though Palmer's just 23 years old. She starred in 2006's Akeelah and the Bee when she was just 13 years old, then as True Jackson on Disney's True Jackson, VP a few years later. You could say she didn't have a normal childhood, and she'd agree.
"Now as I get older, I wish that I went to high school just for social dynamics. High school teaches you [that] everybody's not perfect, like in the movies. You're going to have to forgive. You can't condemn everybody for doing you wrong," she says. She's getting there, though: "Slowly, but surely. I'm going to high school late."
She didn't deal with the haters in high school, and she certainly doesn't deal with them now. Careful to say that while she does often "read the comments," she doesn't let them bother her. In fact, her platform of choice is Snapchat–partially because there is no talkback. "Snapchat is made for a personal look," Palmer says. "It's more of a personal diary. If you want to do it, you do it, and then people watch it at their will. They don't get to say nothing about it." Palmer's Snapchat is really good, actually, showcasing the fast-talking overachiever at her realest and wackiest. "The Gag," Palmer's catchphrase, is "the coup, it's the catch, it's the one thing," she explained on Late Night With Seth Meyers.
Confused? Here's a good one, from Palmer's Instagram:
"They try to tell me I was just a singer. They try to tell me I was just a dancer. They try to tell me I was just an actress. But the gag is, I'm an entertainer."[chapter navtitle='Skai' sidetitle='Skai' socialdek='']
"I've gotten approached like, 'Oh, you're the girl that's on Twitter" or "You're the girl who was in the meme." It's funny that sometimes people don't really know me from my TV shows," says Skai Jackson, a 14-year-old whose work you might not be familiar with if you happen to be over the age of 14. But we're shooting at a high school today, and Skai is perhaps the most well-known of us all. She's immediately spotted by two tweens and they freak out, making their way over to say hi (and take a selfie). They know Skai from her role as Zuri Ross on Disney's Jessie or its spin-off, Bunk'd. Or maybe one of the other reasons why she's one of TIME magazine's 30 Most Influential Teens of 2016. But probably the Disney shows.
But if that doesn't ring a bell to you, what Skai is referring to are just a sample of her very viral year–first, when a photo taken of her right before a TV appearance turned into a rapidly regenerating meme, in which Skai plays stand-in for that thing where someone gets real petty.
For example, "So you can tweet but can't reply to my messages????" someone tweeted alongside the photo, in which Skai sits poised, peering all-knowingly up at the camera. Her face says: I know what game you're playing.
Then, just a few months later, after she tweeted that Azealia Banks "need[ed] to simmer down a little," the rapper shot back: "...and you need to grow some hips and start ur menses. stay in a child's place." After a heated back-and-forth, Skai wrote: "I had a career before Disney and I'm sure I will after! ... You give black woman a bad name. I'll be praying for you." And, you guessed it, the Internet went nuts. (She turns to prayer post-election too, noting "Trump doesn't define my destiny, only I do and the Lord above.")
"I definitely pick and choose what I put out and what I want people to know," Skai says when I ask about what it's like to live her life very much in the public eye. "I do see a lot of negativity, I mean, not everyone is going to agree with what I do at the end of the day." As far as tips for blocking out the haters, she recommends literally hitting that block button. "I would say if you're getting hate on social media, just don't reply," which is funny considering that replying is what gave Skai her Clapback Queen title in the first place.
But it was nothing new for the teen, who frequently tweets her mind. ("I don't need a squad to be relevant," she tweeted in September, shooting a little side-eye at perhaps one Taylor Swift.) "I think it was me just doing my thing and expressing myself. And saying what's right and what's wrong," she says, adding: "I didn't think that people would congratulate me on what I did. But it was just me being myself." But it's not the first (nor the last) time Skai's social media will resonate with her fans. She's their age, after all, and everyone knows that teenagers are the best at the Internet.[chapter navtitle='Jordyn' sidetitle='Jordyn' socialdek='']
Let's just get it out of the way. Jordyn Woods is Kylie Jenner's BFF. She's also BFFs with Jaden and Willow Smith and a slew of other cool kids you've likely heard of. But that just means she's got good taste. These are just a few of the things that got the 19-year-old attention from an agent on Instagram and who subsequently signed her to Wilhelmina Curve–the modeling agency's division for plus-size models. "I love things that just flow, and it kind of happened naturally," she says, convincingly. She wasn't planning on being a model necessarily. She was just happy being a normal teenager, hanging out with her friends and taking selfies on Instagram. But they weren't just normal selfies; they were the kind of selfies that get you signed to a modeling agency. The kind of selfies that get you over two million followers.
Jordyn's a good friend, too. She's lent her lips to Kylie's Lip Kit, her curves to Khloé's new line of jeans, Good American. But now she's doing her own thing, modeling for ASOS Curve and launching her own plus-sized line of clothes for Boohoo–which ranges from size 4 to 20. Jordyn's preaching body positivity, something she admits didn't come easy to her: "Self-love really helped me become more confident. You're like, 'Okay, I can't change who I am. I'm given this body for a reason.'" In fact, you could just see her providing the mantras for a line of inspirational T-shirts: "If you don't love yourself, no one else will," she adds. "Own who you are and your confidence is the best thing you could wear."
But confidence isn't always easy to find in stores, and that's why Jordyn went out and created her own line. "You'll look at a lot of plus size clothing, and the material is like the cheapest. It's stretchy, with ugly patterns. Why can't it just be basic?" she says, repeating truths already known by any woman who wears anything over a size 12. She tells a story about how she would show up to shoots and, while she knew the brand's plus-size clothing normally looked one way, she'd receive nicer, better-made pieces to model: "It's not a great feeling, knowing that they're like, 'Okay, we have to pick our best things for Jordyn, because we're not going to put her in [that clothing].' Actually, they shouldn't put anyone in it."
Because it wasn't that long ago that she was in their shoes, the girls who still can't shop at stores like Forever 21 or Brandy Melville. When she was their age, she felt the same way: "Growing up I dressed like a tomboy because it was the easiest thing to do. I could never go to the mall and find anything that fit me. Yeah, I wanted to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch, but I would go in there and find maybe one T-shirt."
And since she's just 19, it's only been a few years since she was buying too-small T-shirts at Abercrombie. Now she's already helping to develop her own clothes, clothes that make her (and girls like her) feel good about what they wear. What about five years from now? What's next? "Who knows?" Jordyn answers. "I could have an empire, rule the world. I can't see myself going down from here, you know?"[chapter navtitle='Gallery' sidetitle='Gallery' socialdek='Video'][gallery id='29178' type='slideshow']
Ariel Winter: Tommy Hilfiger Collection Swimsuit, see usa.tommy.com for details, Sies Marjan Shearling Coat, Barneys New York Beverly Hills, call 310.276.4400 for details, Paul Andrew Boots, see paulandrew.com for details, Jennifer Fisher XL Smooth Circle Earrings, $215; ylang23.com; Balenciaga Blouse, Barneys New York Beverly Hills, call 310.276.4400 for details, Moschino Embellished Shorts and Belt, see moschino.com for details, Paul Andrew Shoes, see /paulandrew.com for details, Jennifer Fisher XL Smooth Circle Earrings, $215; ylang23.com; Rosetta Getty Sweater, see rosettagetty.com for details, Moschino Shorts, see moschino.com for details, Paul Andrew Shoes, see paulandrew.com, Jennifer Fisher XL Smooth Circle Earrings, $215; ylang23.com
Keke Palmer: Tome Jacket, see tomenyc.com for details, Saint Laurent Shirt, Barneys New York Beverly Hills, call 310.276.4400 for details, Off-White Jeans, $350, Barneys New York Beverly Hills, call 310.276.4400 for details, Paul Andrew Shoes, Barneys New York Beverly Hills, call 310.276.4400 for details; Masha Ma Suit, see masha-ma.com for more details, Jennifer Fisher XL Smooth Circle Earrings, $215; ylang23.com, Jennifer Fisher Large Orb Ring, $265; jenniferfisherjewelry.com, Jennifer Fisher Small Orb Ring, $225; jenniferfisherjewelry.com, Nike Air Force 1, $90; store.nike.com; Louis Vuitton Sweater, Pants, and Earrings see louisvuitton.com/ for details, Nike Air Force 1, $90; store.nike.com
Skai Jackson: Moschino Silk Bustier Train and Tank Top, see moschino.com, Vintage Jeans, What Goes Around Comes Around, Beverly Hills, call 310-858-0250 for details, Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Sparkle Side Zip High Top, store.nike.com; Michael Kors Collection French Cuff Cotton-Poplin Shirt, $247.50; michaelkors.com, Carven Sequin Top and Skirt, see carven.com, American Apparel Stripe Knee High Sock, $10; store.americanapparel.net , Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Sparkle Side Zip High Top, $40; store.nike.com; Michael Kors Collection Polka Dot Silk Georgette Shirtdress, $1, 795; michaelkors.com
Jordyn Woods: Lacoste Coat, see lacoste.com for details, Vintage David Bowie T-shirt and Levis, What Goes Around Comes Around, Beverly Hills, call 310-858-0250 for details, Alexander Wang Shoes, see alexanderwang.com for details; Coach 1941Varsity Jacket, $995; similar coach.com, Vintage Madonna T-Shirt, What Goes Around Comes Around, Beverly Hills, call 310-858-0250 for details, Good American Jeans Good Legs, $179; goodamerican.com, B-Low the Belt Bet Villian Leather Belt, $145; shop.nordstrom.com; Vetements Tech-Twill Oversized Bomber Jacket, $2,625, Barneys New York Beverly Hills, Vintage Levis T-Shirt, What Goes Around Comes Around, Beverly Hills, call 310-858-0250 for details