Lauren Greenfield's Generation Wealth

CW: body image, eating disorders

Lauren Greenfield is a documentary photographer and filmmaker. She’s perhaps best known for directing the viral Like a Girl ad campaign, as well as the award-winning 2012 film, The Queen of Versailles, which followed real estate magnates the Siegel Family through the Great Recession of 2008.

Greenfield’s latest project, Generation Wealth, is a multi-platform examination of America’s obsession with money. First, it was a book, consisting of nearly two decades worth of her photographs.

Part two is an exhibit, which premiered in Los Angeles last spring and is currently running at New York City’s International Center of Photography through January 7, 2018.

Finally, the Generation Wealth documentary film is set to premiere on the opening night of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

In a recent interview with Articulate, Lauren Greenfield opened up about the unique challenges faced by girls in the 21st century, as well as how the pursuit of riches affects all of us, regardless of gender, race, or societal position.

For the past 25 years, Lauren Greenfield has been documenting what we value. Her exhibition and gold satin-covered book, Generation Wealth, saw her comb through half a million photos to reorganize all her past ideas into one cohesive new work. A major theme of Greenfield's catalog: the challenges of being a girl in the 21st century.

Lauren Greenfield: I mean, I think that this work is pretty strongly feminist, because there is a lot that's about the commodification of human beings, and that really takes place in the case study that is the girl or the woman. And one of the things that I tracked really obsessively in this work is the way girls learn at an early age that their value comes from their body, that they have currency because of their body, or because of their beauty, or because of their sexuality. And when you learn that when you're a little girl, it only makes sense that, as you grow up, you leverage that value, or you sell that value. And so the really hard stories in this about both not measuring up to that, and what happens when you don't, whether it's eating disorders, or fat camp, or spending all your money to be that perfect person.

Greenfield: But they're also really hard stories about leveraging or selling your body literally. And so there's this section called "Sexual Capital," where we see college-educated girls making the decision to become prostitutes, because, if all we care about is money and lifestyle, that becomes a logical choice. And I want to be really clear that I'm not judging those girls, 'cause I actually think that they're making a rational choice, given the values of the culture.

Greenfield: The other thing is that this work is really about how we're affected by capitalism, and capitalism loves insecurity. And so girls and their bodies have been a great way to sell things, 'cause if you tell people they're not good enough, they're gonna buy this or that. But boys also have insecurities, and I think what you see in this work is that capitalism is completely not sexist and colorblind, that anywhere there is a possibility of selling things, it will go. And so I think girls are really just a case study, and what you see in this work is that everybody basically wants to be other than they are. And that's kind of the trap that we all fall into.