How important is beauty to teenage girls? Apparently to many, being attractive is everything. And just to be sure they’re pretty enough, they’re asking for opinions about their looks—on the Internet.
On YouTube, girls are posting videos asking the world if they are pretty.
On Facebook, pages are popping up (and just as quickly being closed down) looking for ‘The Most Beautiful Teenager,” or “Most Natural Teenage Beauty.”
On Tumblr, young women post pictures of themselves with the caption, “Am I pretty yet?”
Are these girls looking for validation? Just fooling around? Or is this just normal teenage behaviour but moved online to their new social playground?
I think all three. But, the last is very concerning. It’s one thing to ask your BFF if you look pretty. But, there are a number of issues inherently wrong with taking it to the web.
The obvious impact is on self-esteem. What happens when the answer to “Am I pretty” is “No, you’re ugly. Or fat. Or stupid.”?
However, the subtle impacts are even more scary, more important—and more insidious.
Posts Make Teens Vulnerable to Cyberbullying
These types of posts open girls wide open to victimization by nearly-anonymous bullying. When a teen (or anyone) is behind a keyboard, they feel powerful. These kids are growing up in a wired world that is, for all intents and purposes, faceless. Attacks on a person’s appearance, or intellect or personality are easy. They say things they’d never say to someone’s face. And, they’re mean. Just for the sake (or fun) of it.
These girls are posting suggestive pictures of themselves in a public forum. Their idea of what’s beautiful has truly entered the realm of “less is more.” They are flaunting their bodies, and showing everyone (via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and more) what they’ve got. And when I say “everyone,” I mean everyone. Because nothing is ever private on the Internet, and once posted, it’s never gone. These contests or memes, where all the pictures are gathered in one place, are like a feeding ground for weirdos and pedophiles. My teenage daughter has a Tumblr site and a propensity to post pictures of she and her friends “having fun.” She’s learning the hard way that some of the attention is not always welcome.
Society-wide, this new perception of “bootylicious” beauty is hazardous to body image. According to an article in the Herald Sun, “A shocking survey of 1,000 teenage girls found 60 per cent do not think they are beautiful and many are taking dangerous steps to boost their self-esteem.” When my daughter and her friends go out, they spend hours putting on more make-up, higher heels and less clothing. What happens to the girl who isn’t comfortable in clothing like that? Or whose body isn’t suited to micro minis and lycra? How far will she go to fit in?
Glorification of Sexuality Takes Girls 100 Steps Back
The last, and to me the greatest concern, is with these young women and their actual perception of beauty. For years, women have worked hard to become more than a body, more than a face, more than big, flippy hair. This focus on appearance and our youth’s obvious attempts to be “sexy” is taking them 100 steps back. For many years, women have fought for equality and to be assessed on more than their looks. But now, popular culture has reversed the wheel and encourages the stereotype that a woman’s self-worth is based on how she looks and not on how she thinks. Interestingly, while the girls spend hours getting ready to go out, the boys show up in running shoes, jeans and flannel shirts. The girls appear to be trying TOO hard and the boys who have nothing to prove are so jaded, they don’t even notice.
What’s the solution? Many experts suggest educating girls about healthy living. I don’t think that’s the fix.
The real problem is not individual girls’ perceptions of their own appearances or bodies. The real problem is society’s unrealistic expectations of beauty and the glorification of obvious sexuality. The solution starts with ending shows like Toddlers in Tiaras that turn sexing up little girls into entertainment. The solution continues with having open and honest communication with our girls (and our boys) about where real beauty comes from: brains, empathy, kindness and strong healthy bodies.
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What do you think of these social media beauty contests? Are they harmless fun or harmful? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.