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If you’re on Instagram you may have seen women over 50, 60 and 70, putting their best selves in front of the camera on a daily basis. Many are professional models while others are fashion bloggers, hoping you’ll like what they’re wearing and will purchase it through them, plus they’re hoping brands will collaborate with them. I think most of the women I see on Instagram feel great about themselves, and they’re old enough to have accumulated a sense of self-esteem. It’s the teenage girls there who concern me. So many of them look alike. Let me rephrase that… 

So many of them want to look alike, but they have yet to learn what makes them special and unique.

In an experiment designed to explore how the thousands of social media images we consume, daily, affects our mental health, British photographer, Rankin, photographed 15 British teen girls, aged 13-19. He then asked them to use a photo app to tweak how they looked until they were happy with themselves and thought they looked “social media-ready.” The girls slimmed their nose and faces, made their lips larger, their eyes bigger, their ears smaller and got rid of freckles. Most used the same photo app to add makeup to their faces.

It’s “almost like creating a cartoon character of yourself,” Rankin said.

Rankin found his experiment disturbing and sad because he believes it’s a reflection of how pressured young girls feel to look a certain way. In and of itself, that’s nothing new. I think teenagers have always wanted to feel like they’re part of a group, as opposed to being on the outside, looking in, but I’m concerned about something on an even deeper level.

What happens when how they feel about themselves on the inside doesn’t match with how easily they can change themselves on the outside? How will they cope? You and I know there’s no easy way to get self-esteem, but in our “quick fix” culture… Will they wind up with a lower self-image, body dysmorphia or might they be tempted to turn to drugs, alcohol and casual sex to change how they’re feeling at that moment?

At the other end of the youth self-image spectrum is a 9-year-old girl I read about who wrote to Disney, asking them to create a Disney princess who wore glasses like she does. When she used to play princess with her sisters—even though she couldn’t see very well—she would take off her glasses because she didn’t feel beautiful enough with them on to be a princess. Her letter to Disney said, “I am old enough to know that I am beautiful with glasses, but now I feel sorry for younger girls who many not realize (this) yet.”

I hope this sweet girl continues to find her own self-worth and in a few years isn’t down on herself, trying to tweak her “imaginary self” to look like the next young woman she idolizes. I hope her smart ah-ha moment stays with her and gives her a permanent boost to her self-esteem.

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  1. Excellent post, Brenda. When I saw the article on the tweaks the girls made, I was concerned too! Being a teen and dealing with the hormones and emotions and social girl things are more than enough to deal with at that age! Lord have mercy on these girls and help them see the beauty within and in their unique design. We older women have an opportunity to speak into their lives and hearts to help build their self esteem and self confidence.

    • You’re right Beckye! As older women in their lives we can help mentor them and build their self esteem. When ever I see a little girl… under age 8 or 9, in a store, I always say, “Hi pretty girl.” The reactions I get are everything from surprise, shyness, big smiles and looks that tell me they don’t hear thing like that at home. xoxox, Brenda

  2. Interesting! I’m not surprised by this, at all. Every young girl wants to fit the “perfect” idea of beauty. Whereas, we think youthful skin is beautifully in and of itself.
    I wonder if Rankin did this with a group of sixty years olds, would he get a similar result? I don’t think mature women would want to attain this same level of beauty but perhaps, erase some wrinkles, lift the chin, etc. Social media shows us beautiful mature women who all look more beautiful, have younger looking skin and still sexy bodies. Wouldn’t we want some of that ourselves? Food for thought…

    • Great point, Joanna! While I think these tools have more of a harmful effect on teenagers, you’re right when you say, “Wouldn’t we want some of that ourselves?” I’d love to get rid of my jowls, however, when Jennifer Denton takes my photo for a Fashion Friday post, I never want her to fix my jowls or my wrinkles. I think it’s important for myself and how I project myself to be the real me. Thanks for your awesome comment, Brenda

  3. This is a great post, I’d love to see their changes alongside those of a professional makeup artist who does not change their features but enhances them, showing how beautiful they are now.
    I am reading Wendy Sherman’s book “Not for the Faint of Heart,” an excellent mentor for women young and older. She speaks to recognizing the power we already have if we will own it. It just does not look like male power or other women’s power but we all still have it.
    Thank you,

    • Thanks for mentioning Wendy Sherman’s book. I haven’t read it but after your comment I looked it up online. It sounds like an important book all of us should read. Confidence and self-esteem and the ensuing power they give us come in many forms. It breaks my heart when I think of all the women I know–even more I don’t know–who’ve never felt they had any power and are too self-conscious to try and use it. Thank you, thank you, for telling me about this book!!! Awesome! Brenda

    • Elizabeth, Unless the little girl’s letter gets trashed before it reaches a decision maker or influencer within Disney, I’m betting they do it as well. A Disney princess with glasses would speak to all little girls whether they wear glasses, braces, are handicapped or lacking self-esteem. It would resonate with all of us! xoxox, Brenda

  4. Wow! But, on the positive side, they’re doing it photographically… so, their vision of how they want to see themselves can evolve as they mature and grow.
    Funny how they all want slimmer faces – they don’t realize that will happen as they age. I’d love to have some of my baby-fat fullness back in my face!

  5. I was at a high school reunion recently and someone said she recognized me by the gap between my front teeth. Perhaps as we get older and accept our own flaws, we also seek out and look for the imperfections in the faces of our friends and loved ones as a proof of continuity. Like a landmark almost.

    • Mithra, While we have the right to change those things about ourselves we don’t like, it’s comforting to see friends who haven’t changed. Quite a few of my high school friends came to my late husband’s memorial service. I was so touched they took the time to come but one of them… I had no clue who she was until I asked someone later. She’d had a facelift, her nose altered, cheek implants… I would never have know who she was, and it was an uncomfortable feeling because she was so sweet and tender with me that day. Look at Lauren Hutton and the gap in her teeth… A landmark, indeed. Brava to her for not caving the the pressure from the modeling world to get it fixed. xoxox, Brenda

  6. I wore glasses from the time I was two! Even after eye surgery at 5 I wore glasses. Then in seventh grade a foot problem emerged and
    I had to wear special shoes–but only for a while. Somehow my smile, my smarts, my openness to others overcame all of this. Maybe I learned early on that succeeding with my brain would take me places. Eventually, I learned a bit about makeup and found ways to put my glasses aside for photos. Was that
    wrong? No, it just gave me some confidence. But your post is so apt. Thanks.

    • Hi Beth, I began wearing glasses in middle school, but always knew I needed them. They were Coke bottle thick, and I was so self-conscious about them. In high school I began wearing contacts, but was late discovering makeup. What a game changer that was! By the time I was in my 20’s, I wasn’t self-conscious about anything. Like you, my smarts and my smile and ability to talk to anybody changed everything. Thanks for your comment! Brenda

    • It’s hard, isn’t it, Laurie? In addition to “I need a life” so I don’t devote the time needed for Instagram, I can only do so much of perfect lives! xoxo, Brenda

  7. Interesting! I saw a girls’ hi school basketball team over the weekend and all the girls wore their hair pulled back from their face in a ponytail. Let’s face it this is not the best look for all girls but trying to be the same, in this example, the team, means conformity. I love that the eyeglasses wearing girl wrote Disney. Cinderella herself is old enough to need bifocals!

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