Many of you who know me personally know that once a month I mentor a 13 year old girl called El. It’s part of the Girls Out Loud Big Sister Programme which targets the girls who sit in the middle of the cohort who simply cruise along. These girls are in danger of becoming invisible purely because they are neither seriously disruptive, nor super academically gifted. They struggle to find their place and often get lost in the noise, either hiding in the corner or looking for validation in all the wrong places.
In the short time I’ve being involved in this wonderful cause I’ve been struck by the impact social media has on these young girls. The insane amounts of pressure they face day in, day out via their online interactions has blown my mind (and I consider myself not to be terribly naïve in this particular area).
Young people (let’s not pretend it’s all about the girls) are exposed to so many things which increase their anxiety around appearance and cause them to focus on their body image. Society’s obsession with celebrity culture creates an unhealthy image of what we should all aspire to, with many of us forgetting just how much airbrushing goes in to the perfect image.
However, that is nothing new and sadly, isn’t going away any time soon. What does seem to be on the increase though is the proliferation of social media channels focussing on nothing but image. The likes of Snapchat and Instagram promote unrealistic messages of how people, especially young girls, “should” look. If you don’t conform to the “correct” standards you can easily become ostracised.
It’s easy to sit here in the cold light of day and query why anyone would care how many “likes” their latest photo has received, but when social interactions are based on negative or positive comments and ratings, friendships become nothing more than competitions. It is an unhealthy way to live – but to remove yourself from the situation ensures you become an outsider and are excluded in the real world as well.
The problem is in a world where social media dominates, we have fallen in to the trap of sharing almost everything. Let’s face it, a night out didn’t happen unless there are countless photos all over your chosen platform. There’s little point in arguing such a good night would captivate your attention so much you’d be able to avoid the lure of the selfie in the first place.
The problem is filters existed long before Instagram came along. When you are in control of what you share it makes sense that you only share the best. It’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with that. Or is there?
When you post photos of you working in your perfectly manicured garden along with a status describing your perfect life and how you have it all #LuckyGirl #LivingTheDream #Freedom – doesn’t it make it a little harder to yell for help when it goes a little wrong?
Does the inherent undertone of “I have it all, come be like me” not set you apart and put you on a precarious pedestal? I worry so much that as a society we are all playing the Fakebook game a little too well, and I fear what impact this is having on our mental health.
If, we the sage adults are able to fall in to this trap of pretend perfection, what hope is there for our young teens?