It’s summer; the pressures of school have faded from your attention, and now you are back on Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. After days of being away from your beloved phones (if you were studying), you finally have access to those golden hours, with clear mirrors to take flashy photos, fairy lights, and there is no one hounding you to hurry up with your “IG worthy photo”.
After getting the right lighting and angle, with a ton of face tuning, you click ‘post’ and put down your phone. You can practically hear, and then see the comments rolling in: “You’re so fat! You look trash. #struggling.” Women are exposed to such derogatory statements way too often. Simply because we have come to an age in which the use of electronic communication is the new normal.
This is social media, and it allows absolutely anyone to post, chat, share, tag, react; the possibilities are endless. I see a ubiquitous, flawed beauty norm, on every single platform I know. Girls have to be skinny like a small bouquet of twigs, have those Kylie Jenner lips, the natural highlight, pearly whites, an hourglass figure, a clear complexion, and that bikini body all day, every day.
Opinions displayed on social media often a collective uniform opinion has established a new standard for women’s beauty. And with this, the world has become very conscious of even the smallest of things, only because of the gnawing ‘FOMO. This goes for the beauty standards on social media as well. According to The Millenium Cohort Study led by the UK government, the pressures of social media (beauty being one of them) are harmful to the health of girls, since girls spend more hours a day on social media.
Over the years, I have noticed that if a girl does not meet or exceed the expectations society has for beauty, people do not click on the thumbs-up or the all too desired heart emoji for the post. Instead, they may go as far as dedicating an entire comment towards expressing how ‘ugly’ that person is even criticizing them.
But what exactly makes it a hateful criticism? Flashback to my early years as a young student, where innocent plush toys reigned over lunchtimes and breaks, and soul-crushing Instagram posts ruled overtime after school. My elementary school wasn’t usual. In the class, next door was a girl named Kennedy. Every time lunch rolled around, a stampede of children hunted for seats and guarded them for their friends, shooting deadly looks at those trying to sit with them.
It was like there was a literal “deadline” from the American Civil War, those who dared to come forward were repulsed vehemently. I always saw Kennedy and her swarm of friends and thought, “Wow, she’s a CCP! (an abbreviation my friends taught me) Cute, cool, and popular.”
Kennedy’s friends used to backstab her on Instagram and group chats, gossip about how chubby and short she was. Everyone said that Kennedy was unaware of the things said about her online, but whenever she found out bits and pieces, I would see her crying in the girls’ bathroom, and deleting posts off her Instagram feed.
Even though Kennedy faced the brunt of it, girls around her, the 9-year-olds, who have yet to learn the ways of the online world, let alone the real world, face an unpleasant reality. They learn that not meeting the “deadlines” of the social media beauty assignments, will hurt them emotionally and that there were ways to negate their impact. I’ve seen my 3rd-grade besties turn from wearing colourful, non-brand shirts and pants, to wearing branded, skin clinging clothing and expensive platform shoes. Whether you’re a bystander or the victim of this mess, the backlash is always there if you miss the deadline.
Here’s one story. At the age of 14, Ashlee Thomas was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. She felt as if everyone was criticizing her online. Ashlee was severely underweight and force-fed seven times a day to avoid hurtful comments. She was dying before her parents’ eyes only to become an unrealistic ideal. Just because of a single critical post on her body by some random person sitting behind a screen, Ashlee decided that she was ugly, and “deformed”. She felt that the internet world was banishing her.
Such irrational behaviour towards something as natural as our person can only lead to very serious mental health issues. There were times were Ashlee was close to committing suicide. Here are some scary statistics.
A study conducted by Florida and San Diego State University proved that the use of social media caused suicide rates among teenagers (8th graders to twelfth graders), to grow by 65%. The Imperial College of London has proved that teens who use social media were more likely to report psychological stress than those who use it less. A US National Survey on Drug Use and Health surveyed young adults and found that their use of social media caused an average 71% increase in major psychological stress.
Knowing, hearing, and reading about girls who have severe mental and physical health issues all because of stupid trolls online truly breaks my heart. It angers me to see that people have stooped so low that they push an imaginary standard that interferes with one’s expression of identity.
Hurting yourself to be pretty for social media should not be an assignment, for which a deadline has to be met. I can’t bear to see more young girls and my friends enslaved by the social constructs of this warped media.
They simply do not deserve to be shamed and most certainly don’t have to change themselves. Social media in this aspect has taken over many lives, and it shouldn’t have the power to do so anymore.
So, now what? We’ve heard the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s time to change the script. Only we should be allowed to define our beauty. Only we should be allowed to define our boundaries. Having to live within a framework defined by someone else is not okay. Especially if it’s someone that doesn’t dare say awful things to your face. It’s time to reclaim our bodies from the netizens who frankly don’t matter. Our virtual existence should not dictate everything about us, it is our true existence that will push us forward in life.
Women should refuse to hand over the controls of how they should look, to someone else’s keyboard. And I know that as social media continues to impose its convoluted standards, we will hit some nasty comments. However, the choice of letting that affect us is purely our own decision. Honestly and frighteningly, there are only two options. Either we decide to take control or we become slaves to the deadline of cruel beauty expectations.