How do Selfies Impact Self-Esteem?

The debate of whether teenage girls are overly sexualized by magazines, television and movies has been discussedand debated for decades…..and for good reason. But social media like Facebook, Twitterand Instagram have transformed the playing field completely.  Now, teens have control over what they post, what others see and what they share.

Although teen idols such as movie starts and pop singers still play an important role in adolescent development, many young girls now draw comparisons to their classmates, peers and friends as well.  In addition, the way young girls choose to communicate has also changed.  Instead of sitting on the home selfiesphone for hours while chatting w BFF”S or writing in a diary, they are now communicating by online chat, text, IM and now via  “selflies”  as a way to express themselves.  What’s a selfie? This is where you take a photograph of yourself with a phone or camera from arm’s length.

The selfie is such a popular concept that it was recently crowned the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. The phenomenon has seemed to spread to all corners of society – from prime ministers and the pope, to athletes, and politicians–not just teens.  Now, instead of these pictures being stuck on a bedroom wall, many of them end up online – broadcast to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. So is this a boost for self-esteem, or something that can damage an impressionable teenage girl’s confidence?

Some believe that the selfie does boost self-esteemAccording to a Time magazine article, some researchers believe that selfies have the ability to allow teenage girls to express their moods in a way not possible before. During a phase of life where there is plenty of experimentation, they are able to snap away with different outfits, hair styles, and poses. This helps them to determine the identity they feel most comfortable with, hence boosting self-esteem. Plus, the power of likes and retweets is not to be underestimated. For a teenage girl, receiving likes on Instagram or Facebook can be seen as an endorsement that they are beautiful, from people who are within their social circle. Comments are there to compliment one’s appearance in a way that doesn’t normally happen in a typical personal encounter.

There is also the benefit of inclusion. There have been more than 90 million photographs uploaded to Instagram using the hashtag #selfie. Participation in this club is a way to bond with friends and strangers alike. You feel like you have a community to go to, if you are feeling alone or isolated. But is this real?

Others believe the selflies are harmful. Teen Vogue (of all places) believes that selfies place too much emphasis on the physical appearance of teenagers, rather than their personalities.  There are psychologists who believe the same. Likes and comments that build self-esteem can crush it as well. After all, if two photos are posted – the first with nine likes and the second with two likes, some girls could perceive this as feeling less valued.  And of course, in a world of cyber bullying, negative comments are also a possibility, which can be so hurtful not to mention embarrassing.

Maybe help is on the way. A new app called Snapchat also raises the issue of how inappropriately selfies can be immortalized and used as a weapon for bullying. This new software allows a user to send a photo or video (called a snap) that’s only visible for 10 seconds before it is deleted. However, screenshots can be taken, meaning that an innocuous, embarrassing or ill-judged photo could be used as a weapon for intimidation against you.

Overall, opinions are mixed on the true value of the selfie. But by and large, for teenage girls, it seems to simply be a way to have fun and interact with friends – “possibly” boosting self-esteem. However, it also seems that confidence can be crushed when photographs are taken with the intention of soliciting “likes” only and none are given. Regardless of this new craze, by definition self-esteem can only come from within and not by external means. I’d hate to think that true self-esteem (high or low) is only one photo away.

How to be a Good Friend, to Someone Being Bullied.

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post called “6 reasons why bystandars choose not to intervene to stop bullying.” It was a good article explaining to parents why kids don’t step in. Why they don’t “do the right thing.”   Building off that article, I thought I’d give some additional perspective on the issue and provide information on ways to help them “do the right thing”, to stand up for themselves and others.

1) Research shows that not just kids, but adults too can stand by and watch when something happens to another person. Why? They believe that someone else watching the situation will clearly step in.  It’s a common response. Therefor, what ends up happening is that no one steps in. If you find yourself in a situation of watching someone else being bullied, stand up for them.  Don’t wait for a teacher to show up or someone else to say something. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. End it fast. If your friend is consistently bullied by the same person, create a plan with him/her on how to handle it together the next time it occurs.

2) Fear of retaliation is very real. Kids are not immune to this and neither are adults. If the bully isn’t violent, again stand strong and he/she will see that confidence in you and back down. But if you show nervousness or anxiety, they may decide to bully you too.  You decide. If the bully is violent, you have to tell a teacher or get an adult involved. If you aren’t comfortable telling a teacher face-to-face then leave a note for them.

3) Sometimes your own friend is the bully and it’s tough to address.  Just because someone is your friend, doesn’t mean he/she isn’t someone else’s bully. Remember that. Think about where you ethically draw the line when your friend is bullying someone else. If your friend crosses that bully line, you have a responsibility to say something.  Have a conversation with them privately in an environment where you’re both comfortable so you can help them see or understand how their actions are hurting others. If they’re going to listen to anyone, they will listen to a friend.  Practice what you’d say to your friend before approaching them.

4) Your circle of friends is very important to you when you’re a teen. Sometimes those outside your circle can almost be seen as invisible/as strangers. So when someone outside your clique is being bullied, maybe you see the situation as “none of your business.”  This is an easy defense mechanism to stop you from intervening. We need to teach teens that their school or neighborhood is a whole community and it’s important to look out for your friends as well as those you don’t know in your community.

5) Standing out is the last thing you want to do as a teen. Puberty and hormones take over and you’re always concerned that people are staring at the way you look, the way you dress, etc. Why would anyone willingly have all eyes on them especially in an uncomfortable situation like confronting a bully? It’s completely irrational for a teen brain. In addition, some teens fear that if they are the one to stand up and say something, the other teens will  “possibly” side with the bully. It may seem ridiculous as an adult, but not to a teen. Chances are, if you stand up against the bully, others will stand with you too. (Maybe even thank you.)  Have a few close friends by your side if that helps.

6) Lastly and maybe most importantly, kids aren’t equipped with the right language on how to intervene. They don’t know what to say, how to say it or when to say it.  So, why would they ever intervene?  Schools and parents need to teach anti-bullying language to kids so that bystanders won’t be bystanders any longer. They’d be equipped with the proper language to use if ever in a bullying situation. Practice this language with them over and over. So, instead of standing there in shock , watching the bullying happen and hoping that they aren’t the next victim, they are equipped to step in.

Remember that bullying has many new forms these days. It’s not restricted to the old image of a bully in the cafeteria or on the bus that calls you names to your face.  Now it can be via Facebook, texts, twitter as well as many other forms of social media.  Bullies can hide their identity now, be more sneaky, share damaging photos or bully via indirect ways.  We need to arm our kids with defenses against these forms of attacks as well.

The Latest Teenage Obsession “Thigh Gap.”

The Latest Teenage Obsession “Thigh Gap.”  How does it affect your self-esteem?

Most females can relate to the concept of looking at another woman and thinking; “I wish I looked more like her.”  Maybe it’s her smile, her wavy hair or even her full lips…… but her thigh gap? In the past year the growing trend of “thigh gap” propaganda on the internet has changed passing thoughts of admiration for someone else, to being dangerously pursued by teenage girls who are seduced by the belief that having the coveted thigh gap (inner thighs which do not touch) is the ultimate touchstone of beauty. Experts Blame The Media For Promoting This Trend Amongst Teenage Girls and I think they are right. Thigh gap?  Are you serious!  What’s next…ear lobe envy.

The increasing infatuation that teenage girls have with “thigh gaps” grows even more disturbing when you begin to investigate it further. Just a simple Google search, shows several top page results not only advising young girls on how they can achieve thigh gaps, but also promoting Pro-ana thigh gap culture. Only buried underneath a collection of Thinspiration and other pro-thigh gap tumblrs and blogs, you can find actual informative research articles that explain the dangers of this new body obsession and why it is physically unachievable for most people. Most experts say that this demonstrates a new low in self-esteem and body acceptance amongst young girls caused by the social pressures to achieve this ridiculous standard of beauty.

When you consider the negative health and psychological ramifications of pursuing “thigh gap” status, it is a lot darker than one would initially want to believe. Young girls are cheering each other on, in online forums to purse “thigh gap” status. Encouraging anorexia and bulimic behavior as well as self-harming, and suicidal tendencies if the thigh gap is not achieved. Again, for many females thigh gap is physically impossible at a healthy weight. We are not talking about changing ones hair color or personal style. This practice condones seriously damaging behavior.

We can’t let our younger generations of women be defeated by this kind of propaganda. There needs to be more action taken to inform young girls about self-esteem and body image AND less emphasis placed on promoting and literally “selling” beauty to the vulnerable and young.

As far as I am concerned, we have all become victims of our cultural obsession with being “perfect” (whatever that means.)  The “thigh gap” obsession is just one more expression of this that breeds peer pressure, anxiety and depression triggered by the bullying that coincides with the “Thigh Gap” pursuit culture that is found online.

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