When I was a teenager I knew three things to be true: Smoking cigarettes exponentially increased your cool factor, letting a boy touch your boobs was sure to bring deeper meaning to your relationship, and my thighs were visible from outerspace, possibly other galaxies.
A video in health class featuring gratuitous shots of a smoker’s lung ravaged by cancer was enough to convince me the risk wasn’t worth a lunch table upgrade in the cafeteria and the fact that Joe Mancino dumped me three days after I let him cop an under the sweater feel of my girls had me suspicious of the correlation between putting out and the formation of inseparable bonds — something I didn’t fully wise up to until college.
That last one, though, the bit about my thighs, that plagued me throughout adolescence. Wearing jeans through the sweltering Summers of the South seemed a small price to pay to cover my greatest insecurity. In private, I would bemoan my perceived flaw to my friends. I would flip through the television channels or the pages of Seventeen and, while it was a source of entertainment, it was also a parade of slender thighed women and a highlight of my inadequacy.
I was your average teenage girl of the 90s, rife with insecurity, and the eventual acceptance of the size and shape of my thighs took years to achieve. I imagine that the girl I was more than a decade ago is not much different than the teenagers of present day. Only, today’s 16-year-old girl has a smartphone in place of a pager and, for some reason unknown to me, shares her jeans with her boyfriend. But being uncomfortable with her body? That trend has persisted through the decades.
Self-loathing in some form is a teenage rite of passage, but it is the way in which the youth of the digital age are choosing to cope with it that is a cause for alarm. Facebook, Twitter, Formspring — the means by which today’s youth can solicit feedback and receive invited and often uninvited commentary on their physical appearance are numerous and growing. Perhaps the most disturbing is the recent trend of ‘Am I Ugly?’ videos.
They are popping up all over YouTube. Nervous-looking teenage girls stare into a camera and ask the users of the world wide web to be brutally honest about their appearance. The comments that follow would damage the most self-assured grown women. I can only imagine the emotional devastation experienced by the teen insecure enough to forgo the reassurance of her loved ones and seek an ‘honest’ opinion from strangers.
Teens are also taking to sites like Pinterest and Tumblr to create a place for ‘thinspiration,’ a term which describes images of often emaciated women used to motivate a person to lose weight. No longer are young people with disordered eating and low self-esteem isolated. They are now mere keystrokes away from a wealth of ‘pro-ana’ sites offering a sense of community, tips on purging, restricting, and ways to suppress their appetite.
Facebook and Tumblr have taken action against this movement, pledging to remove any content that promotes harmful behavior, while YouTube has yet to address the proliferation in ‘Am I Ugly‘ videos.
The internet is in many ways life-enriching. The click of a button enables us to expand our knowledge, book a trip, or connect with a friend a continent away. Unfortunately, for the first generation to ‘grow up online’ and those who parent them it has also become a dangerous way to magnify what a decade ago might have been a contained sense of self-doubt.
With the ways in which we access and use the internet expanding daily, how do we gain control of this disturbing trend?
Amber Doty is the managing editor of Go Mighty, as well as a slightly eccentric wife and mother of two. Her interests include eating meals she had no hand in preparing, making formerly professional business meetings awkward, and perfecting the emotional outburst. One day she hopes to travel to all seven continents, but for now she lives in North Carolina happily equidistant from the mountains and the beach. You can read more from Amber on her blog, The Daily Doty.