Our teenagers these days are bombarded with thousands of images via numerous media platforms including but not limited to; social media, television, music videos, advertising and print. A majority of these images is through social media and with that, becomes the pressure to be perfect.
Having a teenage daughter, I see many of these images come into her life through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and You Tube. They are also streamed through the likes of Netflix when she embarks on a school holiday marathon of watching the latest show, enjoying some down time or studying the latest You Tuber applying make-up, which is packed with product endorsements.
Yet, what most of us don’t realise as parents is that these images are doing more damage and have more impact on our teenagers and their decision making than we know. Why? Because they are striving for something that is unrealistic and impossible to achieve. The perfect body, the flawless tan, shaped eyebrows, eyelashes, manicured nails and hair & make-up like you have just stepped out of a salon are all becoming the most important thing to our girls in particular.
Boys however, are also under pressure to have the perfect body and physique. They are attempting to achieve these impossible body images at a much younger age in order to replicate these unrealistic ideals of how they should look to be “popular” and “normal”. Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are all very popular amongst the Grade 5 students and even though some of the platforms have age restrictions, it is far too easy to open these accounts and even harder to police them.
Being a teacher and a mum, I talk to primary aged children daily and I live with a teenage girl and soon to be teenage boy, self- esteem, confidence and wanting to be accepted drives a lot of these girls and boys, to get as many ‘likes’ and “followers” as they can. This is achieved by posting various images of themselves that can be provocative depending on the pose, the clothes and the pout. Don’t forget the make- up, to resemble a perfect complexion, the angle of the shot to ensure their face looks thinner than it is (because they believe it isn’t) and if need be, they add a filter to alter the image and achieve “perfection”. They then hit upload and wait for the ‘likes’ and if there are not enough, they then put a shout out on their ‘second’ Instagram account for example, telling followers to check out the latest post on their ‘main’account. This screams, “Accept ME”! The pressure our kids find themselves caught up in from society and their friends is real. If they are already happy within themselves and have good self-esteem, they still feel the pressure. It only takes one comment from a peer, a friend or “internet troll” to draw them into the uncertainty of how they look, are they pretty enough and are they thin enough, which then has a domino effect that can quickly spiral out of control.
Suddenly, they start skipping breakfast here and there, throwing out their lunch at school because their peers question why they are eating so much and surviving on very little. From there they become tired, lack energy and before they know it (and you know it), they are anemic from depriving their bodies of the nutrients it needs. Yet they still strive for acceptance and continue to work on the perfect body and image they feel they need to execute to the world.
Never had I seen so much fake tan, perfect pigtails, eyelash extensions and shaped eyebrows finished with a full face of make up as I had watching my daughter play netball this season. The only reason I didn’t see the perfect nails is because they had to be cut short to play the game otherwise I’m sure that would have been the finishing touch to this somewhat ‘ regular’ look on a Saturday afternoon! Talking to my older nieces recently who played netball, with the tan, and the perfect hair and make-up, they were able to give me an insight into why these girls felt the pressure to play four quarters of netball, sweating off make-up. Some had boyfriends who came to watch and they couldn’t be seen without their ‘face’ and a few girls had had bad skin and felt more comfortable covering their acne (even though by sweating with a full face of make-up were clogging their pores and inevitably ending up with more acne). The tan was in aid of covering a bad skin condition or the fact that they had to wear a short dress and thought their legs looked better tanned than pasty white did!
As a mum, I think it is important to reinforce to our daughters that being accepted for what’s on the inside is far more important than the outside or how many ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ they have, yet it would seem society doesn’t want to play the game. Society, reinforced by social media, tells our kids that acceptance is through glamorous and perfect images that can only be achieved through lighting, filters, posing and flawless skin. One day, when our kids look back, have managed to weave their way through the teenage years, are happy with themselves, both inside and out, they too may reflect on their younger days. As a parent, one can only hope!