For my Adolescent Literature Class, one of the choices for our final project was a personal project in which we could focus on a particular part of adolescent literature or culture that is of interest to us. So, naturally, I chose the way media affects society and teenagers today. But, also, we learned a lot about finding your voice, and for a long time, I had lost my voice. For a long time, I had no idea how to tell anybody about the battle that was raging on in my head. And then one day, I started to write. I found my voice. So, I share my story. And I won’t be silenced again.
The media affects society in so many ways–some good, some bad.
And I know many blog posts and articles have been written on this topic before. I am not the first, nor will I be the last. But, I think it’s important to talk about. I think it’s important to talk about, because we hear things like, “this is how the media affects her…” “this is how the media is affecting our teens…” but, we hardly ever hear, “this is how the media affects ME.”
This is how the media affects me:
“I was raised in a society that taught girls how to protect themselves from sexual assault, but didn’t teach guys how to not rape. Fat lot of good that did me.
I was raised in a society where beauty is found in Photoshop and good lighting. And even though society’s beginning to change, I think it’s too late for my generation.
It’s too late for those who have already starved themselves to the point of hospitalization. It’s too late for those who have killed themselves because the pressures of society were too much. It’s too late for those who have already created enough scars on their skin to map the constellations in the sky.” – Open Letter to Society
That is how the media affects me.
It affects me because I don’t fit the societal standards of beauty. It affects me because I’ve been sexually assaulted. It affects me because I struggle with Depression. It affects me because I’m a teenager, and my mind is so impressionable.
It affects me for all the reasons it should affect me: I’m not a model.
I’m not perfect.
But, then again, neither are the models, neither are half of the people in images we are exposed to every minute of every day. And I know this. I’ve read the articles. I’ve seen the statistics. I’ve watched the YouTube videos of how Photoshop is used to enhance, erase, fix, perfect the imperfect.
And I still compare myself to all the images I see.
I compare, and I lose every time. I want to be them. So, I’ve learned the tricks on how to take “the most perfect selfie.” I’ve learned which way to face the camera to capture my ‘good side,’ by which I mean, hiding the side of my face with the most imperfections. I’ve learned how to tilt my head at just the right angle to hide my double chin. I’ve learned the best filters to use, the lighting that suits me best, and the way to do my make-up just right to make my eyes pop. I’ve also learned the best way to pose for photographs to hide the extra pounds on my body.
But, I also have mastered the way to get rid of the extra pounds: starving myself. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one in my group of friends who have felt as though the beauty standards of society were so hard to achieve, the only way to get half-way there is to starve themselves.
I felt that way. So, for five years I nitpicked every calorie. For five years I only ate on days I felt I deserved it–days I deemed myself worthy enough for food–which, let me tell you, were few and far between.
And it did nothing for my self-esteem. Starving myself did nothing to alleviate how depressed I felt about being me. It made me feel worse, because when you compare yourself to fake images over and over again, you will lose. Every single time.
I was having a conversation with a pre-teen friend of mine once. She mentioned how she thought she was ugly, because she didn’t look like anybody in magazines. I told her, the girl in the magazine doesn’t look like the girl in the magazine.
And I realized I need to stop comparing myself. Society can call me ugly if it wants, because if pretty is having flawless skin, zero fat, perfect straight white teeth, and perfect hair, I’ll stick with what I’ve got.
I’m not condemning the use of Photoshop in the media, because I’ve Instagrammed the heck out of some of my photos. But, I’ve also taken and posted many photos of me au natural. And I applaud the celebrities who are doing the same. I applaud the celebrities who show their bare skin–imperfections and all.
Because teenagers are impressionable, and they will believe what they are told and shown. We are teaching them, you taught me, that true beauty is found in Photoshopped images where fat is sucked out, scars and blemishes are air-brushed, teeth are straightened and whitened, lighting is manipulated, and eyes are brightened.
Because, yes, that’s one form of beauty. But we also need to teach our teenagers that beauty is also found in the confidence to accept how you look, flaws and all. Wearing make-up and fancy clothes is a choice, and only belongs to the person whose body it affects, whose appearance it alters.
So, no. I’m no model. But I will continue to take horrible, ugly, selfies. Because I’m beautiful, despite what the media says.