Welcome to Byrdie's new series, Next Gen, where we profile Gen Z celebrities, influencers, and entrepreneurs. As a collective, members of Gen Z are dynamic trendsetters and culture shifters. And when it comes to beauty and wellness, they have ushered more creativity, inclusivity, and transparency into the industry. In this column, we're stepping into the minds of some of the most notable Gen Z'ers to learn more about how they are redefining beauty, the products they swear by, and their plans for the future.
When rhythmic gymnast Nastasya Generalova moves across the floor, she's captivating. For one minute and 30 seconds, she reels you in with her graceful movements (and electrifying eye makeup). The 21-year-old began gymnastics training when she was four years old, and her lifelong dedication to the sport led her to become the first Black rhythmic gymnast to win a World Cup medal. Outside of making sports history, Generalova is also signed to Wilhelmina Models and has shot campaigns with brands like Victoria's Secret Pink and Stuart Weitzman. Not to mention, she's doing all of this while pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Political Science at Columbia University.
Generalova's accomplishments are inspiring. But beyond her athletic achievements and modeling credits, it's Generalova's endearing energy and thoughtful mind that make her a true star. Though she describes herself as naturally introverted, she quickly gets riled up when talking about positively impacting the world. Ahead, Generalova discusses advocating for women's rights, inspiring young girls of color through gymnastics, and her competition day glam.
When did your passion for gymnastics begin?
I'm half Russian, and rhythmic gymnastics is very popular in Russia. In the sport, you get to express your emotions on the floor, and that's something I always loved as a kid. I was always quiet and shy, but I felt like a different human being once I went on the floor. I like showing off to the audience and judges for the one minute and 30 seconds we have on the floor. When you're remembered, and people want to watch you again, that means you create an impact.
You're also signed to Wilhelmina Models. When did you develop an interest in modeling?
Growing up with a single mother, there were a lot of things we could not afford. I couldn't afford to represent the United States because it's a self-funded sport. I got scouted for modeling when I was a sports ambassador for rhythmic gymnastics at the Special Olympics. At first, I did modeling to help myself compete in gymnastics because I couldn't compete if I couldn't afford it. But as time went on, I realized it was also extremely beneficial because it allowed me to spread awareness about the sport. Modeling also helps with my performance and my confidence. Many people have this wrong view of modeling where it's just about looking pretty for the camera, and it's not.
What have been some of your most memorable moments in gymnastics and modeling?
The most memorable moment in my gymnastic career was when I became the first Black gymnast in my sport to win a World Cup medal. That was a huge accomplishment because the sport is not the most diverse. When I would compete, I would be the only one who looked like me. Winning the World Cup medal was not only for our country, but it was a win for all gymnasts of color. Parents would come up to me and say, You inspired my child to stay in the sport. You resemble my daughter, so she knows her dreams are possible. If you can inspire one person, in my opinion, you're already a superhero.
In modeling, I've done several very cool projects. One of the coolest ones I've done was a campaign with Kendall Jenner for Stuart Weitzmann. When I moved to New York for school, I saw the campaign in the subway, taxis, and Times Square. I was like, Wow, I really did this.
You're also working with the non-profit organization She's The First as an ambassador. What made you want to align yourself with them?
She's The First helps girls become educated, heard, and respected. That's something that has been an extremely important part of my life. My mom has always emphasized the importance of education. Your body and beauty fade, but your knowledge and soul are forever. And obviously, being respected and heard is extremely important. As women, we have to fight twice as hard in society. Growing up in an all-girl sport and being raised by a single mother, I've been around many powerful women, and that inspires me. I want girls to know anything is possible, and I love that She's The First believes that too.
How do you hope to continue using your platform to empower young girls and women?
Millions of girls are denied their rights and the platform to advocate for themselves. Because I have a platform to reach girls, I want to ensure they know about the resources they can use to advocate for themselves, such as the toolkits created by She's The First. Another way I want to use my platform is to share it directly with young girls. On the International Day of the Girl in October, I let a high school student, a member of She's The First Advisory Council, take over my account. She's a student in Pakistan, has a passion for girl empowerment, and is heavily involved in activism in her community. Using your platform to give a voice to people who don't have that is the best possible thing you can do.
Another thing I've noticed is you're into beauty, especially eye makeup on competition days. Would you say your beauty routine helps pump up your confidence when you hit the floor?
As the only Black gymnast on the floor, I am already different than everybody else. But I feel like you can say a lot through makeup without even talking. I like to create a glaring burgundy eye because it gazes into people whenever I perform and look at them in the eyes. But I mainly do crazy makeup for competitions. I love to keep it simple in real life, and I'm very big on skincare, especially vitamin E and C.
Is there anyone that inspires you beauty-wise?
Imaan Hammam is one of my biggest inspirations and is also a global ambassador for She's The First. She's a fantastic supermodel and an all-around kind and authentic person.
Sade is also one of my beauty inspirations. To me, she's the epitome of class. Everything about her is beautiful.
You're balancing so much as a student, model, and gymnast. What do you do to relax?
I love nature, so sometimes I'll drive by myself to find a beautiful view. I'll sit there and journal. l like to write about three things I was grateful for at the end of the day. I'm also very big on drawing as a way to express my emotions.
What do you appreciate most about being a part of Gen Z?
Gen Z has an incredible reputation for activism. This generation is really big on taking action for their rights. I appreciate how our generation isn't afraid to speak up because that takes a lot of courage.
What do you hope to accomplish one day?
I'm excited to graduate from Columbia University. I majored in political science, so I want to go into international relations and be a part of something like the UN. When I graduate, I want to continue giving to people to make the world a better place. There's not enough kindness in this world.
Aside from modeling and gymnastics, the most important thing to me is achieving inner peace. That's something not many people master, so I just want to have inner peace.