I work at a school of all boys, so it is easy for me to forget what it’s like to work with teenage girls. I recently took a job teaching ACT prep on Saturday mornings to boys and girls at a local high school. As the girls trickled into my classroom passing me at the doorway, I realized how much time went into their looks. I mean, it was an early Saturday morning! If I was in high school at the time and I came in for an ACT prep class, I probably would be in jeans and a hoodie. Not these ladies. So many of them had a full face of makeup and glossy bouncy curls, or smooth straight hair. At first, I thought to myself, “Wow! How do they already know how to apply their makeup so well?” I then realized, due to the internet and the immediacy of information, anything can be found online. This may sound like a perk of modern society, but is this really a good thing? I started thinking more and more about what pressures young girls face today. I came to the conclusion that being a teenager is much harder today than it was when I was one. The following are not only things that make life harder for teenage girls, but also are things I didn't really have to deal with when I was younger:
1. Makeup and hair tutorials
When I was in high school my greatest worry when it came to make up was making sure my eyeliner was even and my eyebrows were plucked just the right way. I also had terrible skin that I was trying to figure out ways to cover, but guess what, so was every other teenager I knew. Today people have access to hair and makeup tutorials. These are plastered all over the Internet.On the surface, makeup and hair tutorials may seem harmless, and even beneficial. Instead of fumbling with makeup for the first time, or just doing what your friends are doing (which they just learned from their older sisters), you can watch other girls go through a step by step instructional video of how to apply the perfect lip liner. You can't go far on YouTube or Instagram without finding a video about how to clown contour (yes, that’s a thing) or braid your hair in a crazy complicated way. In reality, however, I think it just places an unnecessary pressure on girls to look like the women in these videos. A girl’s style and expression is no longer hers, rather it is just a replica of the latest trend and video. Have you mastered the beach waves look yet? That’s okay, just look it up. How about the perfect smokey eye? Well, Pinterest has over 100 pins that can direct you to a how-to on that. Whatever the look- there’s a video, and although that may seem like it makes a girl’s life easier, it creates a situation where girls' expectations of themselves are unrealistic.
2. Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter...etc
Now, we all may laugh and think to ourselves that a selfie is no big deal, but to many teenage girls taking a perfect selfie is very important. Don’t forget, these selfies are being posted on social media. Getting as many likes as possible is not just a form of validation but is more so a form of social currency for our youth. Having an active and popular presence on social media is a whole new measure of popularity and happiness for teens today. Every hangout, hookup, and latte are now being posted as evidence of how "cool" they are, when in reality these are simply manicured versions of their lives. For teenage girls especially, wanting to fit in and look the part derives a lot from whether or not they are accepted on social media.
3. Reality TV
There is nothing more terrible than watching a TV show of so-called “real people” who are taking extravagant trips, have their own Glam squad, and can shop wherever they want when I myself consider buying an outfit at Macy’s as a splurge. There is nothing real about these people, yet they are portrayed as people we can easily emulate. I can't imagine what it would be like as a teenager to sit and watch shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, thinking that this is the way real people live in other parts of the country. I have to admit, I myself am a sucker for a trashy reality TV shows, but I also know that these shows are just that- trashy TV. When I was in high school, the amount of reality TV was pretty minimal. I spent my weekday nights watching love triangles unfold on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill. Of course, like all TV and movies, there were always elements of fantasy- but that was okay because these were shows of fiction. Reality TV is created in a way to perpetuate this idea that anyone can be made into a celebrity with the right look and following, and that’s simply not true.
4. Online Pornography
WOAH- What?! Yes- I am going there-and I hope you have an open mind to continue reading. Now, online pornography has never been something I have thought much about. I know it’s out there, and I know it’s free and easily accessible. But it wasn’t until I saw the documentary, Hot Girls Wanted, that I really began to think of the damaging effects the online pornography industry has on the youth of America. Think about it: before the internet, teenagers had to figure out creative ways of getting their hands on dirty videos and pictures, and because of that it wasn't done as often. Today, anyone with Wi-Fi can download and watch videos ranging from amateur videos made by frisky couples to hardcore violent sex acts performed on seemingly young girls. In fact, according to the documentary, videos featuring teenage girls are the number-one-searched type of pornography. How does this affect teens? Well, boys who are watching these videos (at an even younger age than before) may believe that this is what a real sexual relationship is like, and girls who get into relationships with these boys may be forced into participating in sexual acts that make them uncomfortable and even put them in physical danger. Both young men and women are at a great risk of going through their adolescence with this unrealistic view of sex, and to me that is scary.
Now to some who are reading this, it may seem like I am making a lot of assumptions, and I’m sorry. I am not trying to say that all teenage girls are victims in this cruel world of beauty, celebrity, and social media. I just realize, that as an adult, figuring out how to look past the veil of materialism, vanity, and artificiality is hard! Figuring out who you are as a sexual being is scary and tricky at best. So, I can only imagine what it would be like to deal with this as a young girl. We all remember what it was like to be a teenager. There was a lot about it that wasn’t fun. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted from life, and I was able to figure it out on my own through a journey of triumphs and mistakes- all of which are memories and not regretful moments plastered all over the internet.
I know these 4 challenges are just the tip of the iceberg for what the youth today have to deal with, but I think it’s a starting point for important discussion to happen. As parents, teachers, counselors, etc, we have to face the fact that although there are many things we can relate to with youth today, teens are living a very different life. It’s important to talk to them about these challenges, and not pretend like we always know what they are going through. If we look at what girls (and boys) are facing today and have those hard conversations, we will help them to not only make better decisions as teenagers, but develop the confidence and skills to continue making those positive decisions into adulthood.
It’s pretty crazy for me to think that one day my very own daughter will have to learn how to stand on her own in a world that will lay perpetual societal pressures on her shoulders. I know it won’t be easy for her or me, and I just hope we are both up for the challenge.