|Image Credit: Dove|
When you arrive at their webpage, titled “building self-esteem in the social media age” the first statistic that greets you is “by age 13, 80% of girls distort the way they look online” and as you read that you might feel pretty shocked, sickened or saddened. I know I did. Why? I thought to myself, why do they feel the need to edit their pictures and make themselves look different? Just look at those images above, that young girl on the right is almost unrecognisable by the distortions to the image on the left, and a 13 year old has become 20. That's truly what you call a lost youth.
As I mused on this for a few days, I started to wonder if the problem really is as big as many adults assume? Are young girls intrinsically unhappy with the way they look and feeling pressure to be different? Also, Is it any different now to when I was 13, 34 years ago, before the age of social media? When I was at school I remember there being girls who wouldn’t come to school without a full face of make-up or their hair pristine. Isn't this just a newer version of that?
I suppose the big difference now, is that back in my day if you had bad hair, maybe 100 people saw it at school (if they even noticed you) but now if you post a bad hair day picture on social media there is an infinite amount of people who could look at it and it could go on being viewed for days, weeks or even months. Nowadays you have keyboard warriors too, those who want to share their opinion, even if it is negative. Believing that by sharing a photo, you invited their criticism or comment.
So when I found myself in the car with my twin 13-year-old girls last week I asked them about posting pictures on social media and how they feel about it as I've noticed they both rarely post anything to their Instagram grid preferring to share stories instead. There are also a lot of filters and specific poses or effects used. For instance, I notice they like to take photos of themselves in the mirror, so it is a reflective look and maybe their tongue will poke to the side, or they make a sign with their hands. I'm pleased to say none of the trout pout or porno style shots has been in evidence from my girls.
One pointed out to me that many of the filters or apps she uses are for fun, they aren’t about looking more beautiful or perfect. They might be a selfie in a face mask, or with silly big eyes, they are just a bit of fun, a way of expressing herself with her friends.
The other said she didn’t know anyone who actually took the time to use a photo editor to slim their body, change nose shape, elongate their neck etc. So that felt encouraging. She said that young people just want to post a photo they are happy with on social media and to show their best self. How is this any different to many adults, she questioned? And she is right, I wouldn't put a photo up where I felt I looked awful. For me, it won't be about a full face of make-up, but it might be about hiding my crooked smile, left from when I had Bells Palsy, or making my huge tummy not look so big. We each have our insecurities and just because I do not share photos of them on social media, does not mean I am tricking the world. I'm just posting what I am happy with and that is about me, and not you.
Both my daughters are trendy year 9’s who are interested in fashion, boys, going out with friends, shopping etc, so it’s not that they aren’t in the demographic who might be manipulating images. One is far more body confident than the other, but they’re both picky about photos, not to the point that I can’t post any. I just have to run it by them first, in the same way, I would an adult whose photo I was sharing.
It was so interesting to talk with my daughters, as one said she didn’t
think that photo manipulation was as much of an issue as many adults thought it was and she
also pointed out that there needs to be more focus on helping boys, with the
unrealistic expectations of how they "should" look and their mental health. The other shared that there are so many factors that determine how
a girl feels about herself and whether she is willing to post an
unfiltered photo of herself online. Maybe just for the 5 minutes, it takes
to post that photo she wants to forget that she has acne that won't go
away, or that her mum is so ill her heart is breaking, or maybe she's
trying out the pink hair she'd love, but her parents won't yet let her
have. A lot of the use of photo manipulation or filters is about experimentation they tell me.
I think we all need to remember that the early teenage years are tricky, they’re going through all sorts of hormonal changes and trying to discover who they are and what is important to them. The best gift we can give to our children is to talk to them - to be open and honest. To help them accept themselves and be happy with their lot. When they are reticent about posting an image of themselves as they say they don't like it, or they look gross, let's not judge but instead open up a conversation, where we can tell them it is good they are making their own choices. Then we need to ask them to question themselves - why don't they like the image? What is their expectation of how they should look? Where has this expectation come from? Do they think that expectation is right? and so on.
I mentioned earlier that I don't like to post photos that really show off the size of my tummy, and that is true, but I wouldn't allow my dislike of that area to override my need to show my girls that our bodies are amazing. We have plenty of family or group photos where I may inwardly cringe at how large I look, but they'd never know that, as we focus on the fun we were having or the smiles on our faces.
My tummy has held my three gorgeous kids and yes, it has got a bit out of control but I've always allowed the kids to hug me, see me get changed (when JJ was younger, not appropriate now) and talk about the fact that I am overweight. It's a really hard topic to manage, as I don't want them to be overweight but neither do I want to demonise it if it happens.
Let's empower both young men and women to be who they want to be and to be able to try out all the things they would like to. Nothing should stand in their way of expressing themselves in the way they feel is right, as long as it is respectful of others and themselves. There is a good guide to download from the Dove site for parents, to help you to know how to chat to your young people.
Let's crush any expectation they feel that they have to look 'perfect' to post a photo of themselves. Perfection comes in all forms, every one of us is a child of God and created us perfectly imperfect. We just need to accept that and live our best lives.
Check out the hasthags #TheSelfieTalk #ReverseSelfie and #NoDigitalDistortion if you're interested in more posts on this topic.