Dear teens, I am sure you’ve heard of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The poor little princess was hunted by her stepmom all because she was convinced that her beauty was being overshadowed by her gorgeous stepdaughter. Now while there are many, many serious issues with that fairy-tale, the one that struck me most were the obsession with beauty and how it can drive people to do things that defy logic.
That got me thinking. Are we not also living in a world where the media constantly throws images of beauty and perfection at us all the time? The models are thin, and thin is sexy. The girls have perfect Korean glass skin, and that is beautiful. The boys are tall and chiselled, and that’s manly. Tik Toks and reels are full of influencers that are constantly creating content around beauty and the perfect look. In the olden times (when I was young and impressionable) I remember growing up with Barbie (have you seen her waistline and endless legs?) and Ken (don’t even get me started on his V-shaped torso and killer smile) – the ultimate perfect couple, and it was beyond stressful. So, when I hear ‘am I perfect enough?’ – I feel you.
All that glitters is not gold
I did some digging around and found that the most popular people in the media have struggles that they hide behind the filters and photoshop jobs. Global icons, the Kardashians, have been regularly called out for their photoshopped pictures. Model Amelia Grey Hamlin came out about her anorexia on a popular television series. Teen superstar Selena Gomez has battled all kinds of physical ailments and has opened up about her struggles with anxiety and depression. Therefore, clichéd as it sounds but behind the glitz and the glam are just real people, vulnerable people, who are trying to live up to the expectations of beauty – at the cost of their physical and mental health.
Body-image: How’s your relationship with yourself?
Have you ever given serious thought to your relationship with your body? Do you feel good about yourself, do you worry that if you were taller, you would look better, or if you were thinner, you would feel better about yourself? The thing about body image is that it is both mental and emotional: it’s both the mental picture that you have of your body and the way you feel about your body when you look in a mirror. Doubting yourself and having these thoughts is perfectly normal for any teenager. It doesn’t mean you have body image issues; you just have growing-up issues. However, when you relentlessly obsess over it, that’s when you have a problem. Ask yourself what happens when you take a selfie that you intend to share with others – would you rather capture the moment with a friend or do you add filters, adjust the lighting, and pose only with your ‘good side’ and then count how many ‘likes’ you got from it?
I recently spoke to some of the coolest kids in my neighborhood about social media and body image and the conversation threw up some interesting points. When I asked them if they feel pressured to look ‘thin’ on Instagram, Naazli (16) said that she felt conscious about posting her pictures because she thought people would judge her for how she looked. Her friend Anandi (16) mentioned that her posts are restricted to IG stories, and she almost always uses filters to enhance the way she looks because she feels they make her look better. Promit (17) on the other hand said that for him social media is a place where he needs to post the best version of himself. Their friend Angad (15) said that he uses social media handles mainly to connect with friends and not necessarily to post any of his pictures there.
We also chatted about looking ‘glowy’ and ‘fair’ (beauty filters) on our socials, Anandi quipped that when she looks at herself against the light, she feels she looks prettier, so the right lighting and right filter are very important to her. Naazli on the other hand was more concerned about hiding her acne. She said that when she posts pictures of herself when she has a breakout her friends comment about it and that hurts. She said, ‘I feel I need to hide my acne by posing such that my acne is not visible.’
Is validation everything?
When I asked my gang of teens where they stood on ‘validation’ – they were unanimous in their stand that validation is important. It’s great when it comes from friends but it’s even better if it comes from strangers because they see them without any biases.
This statement really got me thinking. Validation can be a powerful thing. It can drive you to be the best that you can be, or it can take you down the rabbit hole of unhealthy and sometimes life-threatening disorders. The thing with validation is that you need to set boundaries because it can get addictive. And with the good also comes the bad and the ugly. Social media has all kinds of people with all kinds of insecurities and agendas. There are meme pages created specially to bully other teens that can be extremely detrimental to their mental and physical health. Cyber bullying is a serious issue and trolling the new normal. So, when you’re looking for validation, you’re also walking a tight rope that can swing either way.
Being body positive
Aishaani (16) on the other hand felt that she did not feel conscious about herself at all. A budding stylist, she feels that her pictures are really her own personal statements and was not concerned about what others thought about them. Promit made a profound observation that I saw many of the others agreed with. He said, “I have great respect for people who post real pictures of themselves without any filters because they are comfortable in their skin and that’s admirable.” In other words, people who have a healthy body image are admired by their friends and the people around them. Because when you are happy and content with who you are and how you look, you glow different.
Teens and media
Media, in all its forms – social, print, television, audio, is a powerful tool. With millions of messages per nanoseconds coming at us continuously, media platforms have been drivers of real time change. The conversations around diversity, inclusion, and equity have made a profound difference to the lives of those who did not have a voice earlier. I love the fact that today if you don’t fit into the box, then you just change the box. And a lot of this chatter-for-change is coming from the young guns. For teenagers, media provides a platform to express opinions responsibly and explore opportunities, establish meaningful connections, and enjoy what the world has to offer. It is a space that allows them to be authentic, celebrate their uniqueness, and experience other points of view. It is a wonderful tool that needs to be leveraged by them to grow as individuals rather than be held prisoners to other people’s standards of beauty. Because at the end of the day, everyone is beautiful, you don’t need a filter to prove that.
‘Your imperfections make you beautiful, they make you who you are. So just be yourself, love yourself for who you are and just keep going.’ – Demi Lovato