If you’re aged between 16 and 22 years of age, what would you say are the most challenging aspects of being a young woman in today’s world?
Last week I had the privilege of interviewing about fifteen young Kiwi women from all walks of life that sat within that age same demographic. And asking each of them that very same question gave me pause for thought.
Being a woman somewhat outside of that particular age-group, I suppose I had some preconceived ideas about what issues or topics might be top of the ‘young female challenges’ agenda. I thought that future employment might be right up there, or the environment. Maybe even the #metoo movement or navigating sexual harassment in schools or the workplace.
The number one challenge that EVERY SINGLE ONE of these young women brought up was the pressure of social media.
All fifteen women ranged in ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, and geography (granted, my talent pool was only within Auckland, and not nation-wide, but still). They all felt the incredible pressure and pull of who, and what, they needed to be perceived as, based purely on what they saw on their social media feeds.
I’m not one of those people that bemoan the interweb and all of the hand-wringing that seems to go alongside people of an older generation. I’m just as addicted as the next person to my social media feeds.
My problem comes with the fact that after talking with fifteen dynamic, free-thinking, relatively confident, young Kiwi women, (NONE of whom I would ever describe as needing to change who they are because they were all fucking amazing in their own unique ways), they all felt like they weren’t succeeding in life because of what their social media feeds told them.
So who, or what, started the images and lifestyles depicted on social media that are making our young women feel ‘less than’? A quick Google search showed up various articles and lists of the who’s who of social media. Scrolling through each ‘influencer's’ social media feeds is like flipping through a magazine of perfectly styled photo shoots, with great hair and make-up, gorgeous lighting, and locations that immediately inspire travel envy.
But none of it is real. To my eyes, it’s all perfectly crafted, digitally altered, and completely inauthentic, despite claims on pretty much every single influencer's feed that authenticity and truthfulness are their brand motto. Yeah, right.
Advertising and images have surrounded humans since, well, forever. So how come social media feeds seem to be having more of an impact on young women than ever before? And if Instagram has been surveyed as the worst social media network for mental health and well-being, how will platforms like it be held accountable for the pressure and anxiety that they are inducing?
Because social media IS making young women anxious. Scrolling endlessly through picture after picture of perfect lifestyles, perfect bodies, perfect faces, and perfect people is an impossible construct for anyone to fit themselves into. No amount of saying to a young person face-to-face that they are beautiful just the way they are, and that their personalities, their outlook on life, or even their lip gloss brand or clothing are all perfectly OK as long as they are happy within themselves, seems to be becoming a pointless exercise.
And the terrifying thing is, I don’t know how we fix it. Do you?Support Villainesse