Aesthetics continue to be one of the top currencies used to determine worth for teenagers and women. In this digital age however, life, communication and relationships predominantly take place online and value heavily relies on the ability to collect ‘likes’, ‘friends’ and ‘followers’. The pivotal role that social media plays in the life of teens can be understood with the knowledge that ‘likes’ equate to acceptance, appreciation and admiration. As in the ‘real world’ the absence of attention equates to rejection, disapproval and abandonment, and potentially damaging consequences are sacrificed for fleeting trivial popularity.
Teen girls have discovered that the most effective method in receiving attention and increasing status is by offering up sexually suggestive selfies. The inherently visual nature of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram provide a stage like never before for the personal advertisement of sexuality. Even more troubling, problematic teen behaviour is now performed on a public stage in a society that has become desensitised to sex. Pouting with feigned arousal and exposing excessive flesh, girls adopt poses to enhance their gender defining physicalities. No longer restricted to the realms of porn, images of girls saturate our social media news feed with generic porn-influenced contrived sexuality.
The obvious choice would be to blame egotism or loose morality. However the truth is that as anxiety about appearance begins at an early age, negative body image is a driving behavioural force. Studies show that 72% of girls aged between 10 and 17 said they felt tremendous pressure to be beautiful and more than 90% of girls want to change at least one aspect of their appearance. Insecurity and low self-esteem are at an all-time high thanks to the media’s saturation of rare and unattainable standards of beauty: tall, extremely thin, large breasts, symmetrical facial features with full lips, large eyes, long thick hair and honey coloured skin. She is an inescapable presence on our TV’s, computers, phones, magazines and billboards, her image incessantly used to sell us everything from carving knives to sports cars.
Prior to this digital age which we now live in, teens would have to fight for time with the one television at home to watch the latest music videos. Girls would have to wait for their Dolly magazine to arrive in the post to get a monthly dose of beauty, fashion and sex advice. Teens would have to make a call on the landline to gossip with their friends. If you developed a crush on someone, you’d have to work up to courage to actually speak them face to face. Technological advancements have rendered these healthy normalities and developmental rites of passage obsolete, and parents are being left in the dark as teens develop online avatars with increasing autonomy.
Society lacks a measure for what is acceptable behaviour, and the media’s offer of role models are, for the most part, demoralising, hyper sexualised and anti-feminist. This has left us with a generation of prematurely sexualised, troubled and confused youth. Young girls are objectifying their bodies and communicating that they are promiscuous, available and sexually driven by partaking in these social media displays, whether they fully comprehend this or not. They are unwittingly surrendering their power by letting others decide their value, with their worth exclusively based on being an objectifiable sexual entity.
This has led to an increasing demand for more risqué images, which is where the increasing popularity of sexting fits in. Considered as a form of flirtation, sexting carries potentially catastrophic ramifications as teens unwittingly produce and distribute what is considered by law as child pornography. Personal sexts sent in confidence are often shared between friends, typically when an argument or breakup inevitably ensues. Disturbingly, research also shows that 88% of these images are made available online, damaging reputation and jeopardising future employability and relationships.
Placing excessive merit on ones aesthetics is unhealthy. Placing value on one’s ability to sexually arouse masses of the public is unhealthier. With maturity comes self-respect and understanding. Unfortunately insight often arrives too late, as once an image is released it can sometimes never be retracted – a permanent public reminder of one’s mistakes. So, what can we do? Prevention is better than cure, so we must teach younger generation’s self-respect and respect for each other. Girls need to understand that they are an entire entity comprised of a mind, spirit and body.
When simplified, the answers become clear – so ask the teen in your life these two questions:
1. Do you want to be viewed as an object whose main function is to sexually arouse?
2. Do you want to be viewed with adoration and respect by the people that matter?