Recently, I came across an article about a brilliant campaign: #droptheplus (droptheplus.org). The article features a couple of lovely models that look like real people. Beautiful. And real. The campaign is one of many that are making a genuine attempt to change the way that the world perceives beauty—and, the function of the female form. While many retailers, fashion houses, commercials and magazines include a wider range of shapes and sizes, colors and idiosyncrasies a real impact on young people is far from realized. If anything, the problem is nearing epochal. And, it isn’t just about physical appearance.
In a feature in last week’s edition of TIME magazine, Katy Steinmetz brings to the fore a related phenomenon with the header, “Help! My Parents are Millennials: how this generation is changing the way we raise kids.” In the article, Steinmetz describes the effects of social media on a new generation of children—and, their parents. Everything, I mean E-VER-Y-THING is documented: Instagrammed, Tweeted, Facebook–tagged and –shared. Then, there’s Buzzfeed, YouTube videos, blogs and Periscope. Full disclosure: I am not reluctant to post an image here and again of my beautiful, respectful, well-above-average children. ? Still, these emerging young adults who are now having children are the generation that came of age with a cell phone in their hands. Now a smartphone at the ready, each outing and new outfit, meal and disaster is snapped, cropped, edited and posted to the world with a few touches of the screen. The result: stressed-out parents who feel inadequate as caregivers in comparison with their counterparts whom they “follow.”
It is wonderful to be able to share images and thoughts instantly with people we cannot be near—and even with those who are. The problem is that they are just that: images. And, the technology that develops the photo apps and platforms on which they are shared are increasingly deft. The state of affairs is not new. Images are as ancient as cave’s walls and flint. But, it was not until the advent of advertising marshaling an industry (thanks, Don Draper) that exploits those images, people-as-objects of desire, did the affair become most damaging. Now images can be manipulated with incredible ease with the right tools—and there is always an app for that-whatever. Facetune, the latest in photo-editing can whiten teeth, fix stray hairs, delete a pimple, even make lips poutier and eyes stand out. So, when one can make herself more “perfect” with Facetune, why not have the real thing done surgically? Point in fact, in 2014, 63,538 teens opted for cosmetic surgery in the US. With hashtags like, #waisttraining, #bikinibridge, and #thighgaps, the extent of the selfie impact is self-evident.
Any effort to be countercultural is not easy. To make your true self visible, face the public, as it were, with your unaltered face, is exponentially onerous. Take, for instance, this beautiful and brave young woman:
That comments and messages can be anonymous, or, in the very least, intimacy removed makes instantaneous, damaging remarks incredibly easy. The recipient is not impassive, however, and the remarks linger. So do the images of jovial friendships, amazing trips, creative parent-child interactions, etc., etc., etc. By posting our best (edited) selves and perfect (selected images) outings, profound quotes and quirky anecdotes, we provide a measuring stick by which others may measure their own lived experience. True, it’s the reader’s choice to compare. But, how am I to know who you really are unless we meet for coffee and I see the laugh lines developing around your eyes, and that you, too, no longer have a waist after growing a child or two in your belly? I love seeing my friends’ and families’ vacation pics and am motivated by a good quote or story. Still, I limit my time on social media and am intentional about how I use each platform. For young people, whose reality is instant data and entertainment, however, discretion is not intuitive. Ignoring social media or technologies is not a model for those who will continue to develop with them.
So, how do we help change the trajectory of the ways this new reality can be damaging? I propose another campaign. Perhaps, #selfless or #somebodyelsie? Post pictures of other people’s families, those whom you admire, or #bantheselfie for a set time? I don’t know—I’m not terribly hashtag savvy. What I do know is that we cannot ignore what young people are doing. We must be engaged and in personal, flesh and blood relationship with each other. Notice what others are posting and following and hashtagging—and talk with them about these things—in person. Notice. Reflect. Pray and pay attention. Then we can really see, really know, really love. There is power and healing in the human touch. So far, there is still no app for that.