About Those Influencers…
March 16, 2017
I didn’t date a lot in high school.
I had a bazillion guy friends, little to no boyfriends.
Maybe it was because I was a commitment-phobe.
Maybe it was because I was wiser than my 15 years and knew I should spend my time making friends and having fun instead.
Maybe it was because no one swept me off my feet.
….or maybe it was because I spent 90% of my time looking something like this:
That could have certainly been a factor.
I didn’t take myself very seriously back then.
I wore costumes year-round, I found t-shirts and jeans to be the best use of my clothing budget, and I spent too much time exploring abandoned houses and swimming in public fountains to be concerned about creating “the perfect image”. (Hence the dead broom on my head in the picture above.)
Fast forward to 2017. Fast forward to the age of Snapchat.
Things have changed a bit, huh?
Teenagers today not only feel pressure to create the perfect image – to create the most viral persona – they have quantifiable evidence of how they’re doing along the way.
Comments, likes, views, retweets.
It’s calculated and explicit.
When I was in high school, unless I could spare the extra $5 to buy a Seventeen magazine in the checkout line, I wasn’t explicitly bombarded with the cultural expectations of a 15 year old girl. Of how I should look, dress, and act. Of how I should get a boy to notice me, of how I could appear more attractive.
I mean…I knew in a round-about way, based on interactions in the halls at school and on movies and tv and magazines, but I didn’t know specifically. (And I certainly wasn’t given feedback on it.)
I didn’t worry much about my overall life image, I worried about individual encounters. I thought about my image on a temporary, personal scale. I considered its effects interaction by interaction.
Did I wear the right shirt to school today? I hope this one kid in my one science class doesn’t make fun of it.
Did I say the wrong thing to my teacher? I hope the 3 people who heard it don’t think poorly of me.
Did she just give my crush the note I wrote about him? I hope he doesn’t make fun of it on the football field.
If I bombed, it was somewhat containable and – afterwards – I got to go home, regroup, and start again the next day.
But now? On social media?
It’s public and widespread.
It never ends.
And it’s affecting the way our girls view both reality and themselves. (It affects everyone, really, but let’s stick with girls for the sake of this post.)
They’re no longer just “social networking”, they’re crafting a personal brand.
They are promoters of themselves, equipped with online tools and wide audiences:
Suddenly everyone is a marketer and the product is…himself. herself.
Post by post – with each newsfeed scroll – they’re being fed a narrative. They’re being given a set of expectations for how they should look and act and relate to others.
No longer do they seek it out on the front page at the checkout stand, it’s being hand delivered (and custom-advertised) to them.
And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our culture has really crappy standards.
So as a result, our kids shifting.
They’re moving from relationships to fan accumulation, from innocence to seduction.
A few years ago, I came across the live-tweeting of a middle school girls’ beach trip. As I scrolled through the pictures, I was astounded at how these still-prepubescent 7th grade girls had seemingly been replaced by young adult women in string bikinis.
Before you get all “DON’T TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CAN’T WEAR”, it wasn’t the amount of Lycra on their bodies (or lack thereof), it was the image as a whole that shocked me: the stance, the pursed lips, the magnified cleavage. They all had an identical, obviously-learned stance, and it was crazy seductive.
It instantly aged them – physically and sexually. From 12 to 18 with one pose.
When I was their age, I wouldn’t have known sexiness if it hit me in the face (remarked the girl in the tantalizing straw hat).
But today? It’s no wonder they’re sexier than ever before – they follow accounts depicting it. They’re coached by internet celebs on how to achieve it. They learn about healthy relationships from the Kardashians.
Per their newsfeed, they honestly think life looks like this:
and are disappointed when it doesn’t. When they don’t. When her body doesn’t. When he doesn’t.
We hear so much about porn (and as a mom of boys, the thought of what’s ahead in parenting them makes my hands clammy), but not a whole lot about the influencer portion of social media with our girls.
A world where they are sold aesthetically-based, looks-driven lifestyles.
A life in which physical appearance becomes the goal – for her, her wardrobe, her makeup, her future spouse, her future “micro fashion” kids.
A life in which her personal brand is filtered and perfect.
I fear we’re parenting physically and forgetting to catch up digitally.
We pay attention to who she hangs out with after school, but not where she spends her time online.
We know who her friends are, but no idea who the social media influencers and vloggers telling her how to be a teenager are.
We don’t let her watch inappropriate movies in the living room, but admittedly know little about the YouTube channels she’s subscribed to or what Netflix shows she’s binge-watching. (Like when a 6th grade friend of mine confessed she wasn’t allowed to watch Modern Family with her parents but was on season 6 of Grey’s Anatomy, thanks to some late night, unmonitored Netflixage. And obviously Seattle Grace Hospital is the best place to learn about healthy relationships and sexuality…..said no one ever.)
The truth is, each family is different. Each home has different rules. It really doesn’t matter what your specific rules are.
What matters is that you are consistent in both worlds – that you monitor the digital world to the extent you monitor the physical.
Don’t just check the friends she follows online, pay attention the influencers. Who is she following? Who does she retweet? Which accounts does she tag? What giveaways does she enter?
Check the internet celebrities. The YouTube stars. The Instagram fashionistas. The Twitter personas. The brand-sponsored Snapchat stories.
These are the people telling her how to be a teenager; the accounts helping shape her opinions and decisions.
They are to her what magazine subscriptions were to you. We have to know who she’s subscribing to and what messages they are planting in her heart.
I want nothing more than for our girls to be the confident, beautiful, valued masterpieces they were created to be.
Let’s not let something stupid like a filtered Instagram celebrity be her only defining measurement.
And, hey. If – by some miracle – you’re a teenage girl who’s made it all the way to the bottom of this post, CONGRATS! (Your mom made you read this, didn’t she?)
But since I have you, here’s a word to you:
If you find yourself trying to measure up to what you see online…or if you are sad every time you open up Instagram and see that perfect chick…or if you can’t find the boyfriend the all the “goals” accounts describe…or if you can’t keep up with all the new tweets from *thatoneaccounteveryoneloves* and you’re driving yourself crazy trying…
Unfollow. that. crap.
Fix your newsfeed, girl. Save yourself some sanity.
You’re stronger and better and prettier than you can even imagine. Find people and accounts who remind you of that.