Thought Catalog

How Facebook Has Changed The Way Young Girls View Themselves

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I remember the first photo tagged of me on Facebook; I was a senior in high school, and had just attended my school’s homecoming, where photos taken beforehand are protocol. Parents huddle together in astonishment and sadness, their children so grown up and on their way to get trashed at some afterparty. Up until this point, however, these photos were developed at Walgreens, put in an album or a glittery, sticker-bedecked collage, and kept in a drawer as a memory-at-hand for future moments of nostalgia. But when I saw a photo of myself on homecoming, in a muted beige knee-length dress that I basically drooled over, the first thought that came to mind was: “Oh my God. I look like that?” And so my self-scrutiny became intensified. I analyzed that photo of myself in a way I never had before, and not just because I felt sort of strange seeing my photo online, but because I was seeing myself as all my “friends” were. I was no longer worried about my appearance in the same way I had been for the entirety of my adolescence, but now was concerned with how I looked to the world, or at least the internet at large.

This is when I learned how to pose. My fellow female peers can likely attest to similar experiences. Facebook introduced a new self, a sort of viral, stagnant shadow of my real-life self, where I could return and stare at an image of me next to my friends over and over. Does this sound vain? It is. But at least I have some sort of recollection of what my self-image meant to me, pre-Facebook. At 17, I was old enough to remember being 12, 13, and 14 without ever seeing a single photo of myself plastered online unless I scanned one for an AOL instant-messaging session. Sure, by then I was an avid consumer of fashion and pop culture magazines, and I had always noticed the arm-on-hip default pose celebrities struck for the cameras, but I assumed this was how “those people” looked.

Now, my 14-year-old cousin, who has kept a Facebook profile since 6th grade, poses in almost every photo tagged to her. Even in a sweatshirt and leggings at school, her hip is jutted out and her arm strikes a delicate acute angle. At 14, I had no idea that placing my arm a certain way or angling my face a certain way could make me look taller, thinner, better. But girls know better now. Did adolescent girls learn this because they saw or our generation’s ‘traditional’ pictures and picked up on it from an early age? Or are they becoming mannequin-like pros because they’ve seen and possibly studied photos of themselves since they were 11 and 12 years old on Facebook?

I’m not making any argument for or against Facebook, or debating how much exposure to creating various profiles online should be deemed appropriate, but I have noticed that, in any case, the way young girls see themselves and the ways in which their self-image develops during puberty is probably and almost undeniably changing. They are more self-aware in a way my generation and those prior could have ever been.

I’ve also learned how to smile better for photos; that is, I tailored my gum-heavy, upper-lip-disappears real smile to be more appealing and pretty, like my friends’ photos. But I remember when I was blissfully ignorant. My cousin, however, will have no recollection of a ”real” or “fake” smile because she has learned to tailor her smile, and her inflections even, for the eyes of her 1,000+ friends. When someone asks to take a picture, she knows that it will end up online. In fact, in college, I remember a conversation I had with a friend; spring break was peeking around the corner, and she lamented that she would not look as good in a bikini as her friends would. She even said “and that stuff is going to be all over Facebook.” This fact alone, and not the desire to be in better shape or increase her physical stamina, was the only reason she began working out like a fiend. She wasn’t looking at herself with her own eyes, but with the eyes of her judgmental peers and acquaintances.

What does this mean for 5-year-old girls who will likely see themselves through a similar lens from an even earlier age? Will my future daughter’s 8th birthday photos rival a gossip magazine’s red carpet pages? Or am I buying into the cliché argument that the internet is making us more stupid, less personable and altogether screwed up? I don’t know. Am I one of the overly-vain women who cares too much about what I look like online? Possibly.

All I know is: I never cared or even considered what I looked like from the side until Facebook taught me to. And now, my cousin, her peers and the girls years younger than them care and consider this, even if they don’t realize it. TC mark

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  • Sophia

    This is so sad and so true. More reasons to finally take the leap and delete my Facebook. The idea of my daughter growing up in this culture scares me. 

  • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

    ABsolutely true and yes, why we should all deactivate our Facebook profiles. or at least allow no pictures.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2311203 Kevin Pritchard

    The progress train moves on…..

     You could write a piece like this for almost every piece of technology over the last few years. Welcome to the “getting old” process. As you get older you’ll gradually find new pieces of technology more strange and alarming. Remember when radio came out and the older generation thought it was the devil. Then recorded music, then tv, then the internet…… It’s easy to say kids growing up ‘nowadays’ are being corrupted. What we really mean to say is that it’s different than our childhood, and since we reflect fondly on 0ur childhood we find that thought alarming. 

    Also, music ‘nowadays’ is just awful, I don’t know how kids can listen to it. 

    /oldpersonrant 

  • snaphappy

    I think you overlook the digital camera element. Before digital cameras you didn’t have this instant way of seeing how you look right there and then, and the option to take another photo if you don’t like the first one.
    Certainly for me, growing up, when a camera came out I didn’t think about how to pose best for it, because I didn’t have the instant result in front of me. Whenever I take a picture of my little cousins I am always amazed that they want to see the result and judge it for themselves. And these are 10/12 year old boys.

    • http://twitter.com/DopeAmbition Brianne Garcia

      I think the element of instant review is definitely a part of it, but the scrutiny through the eyes of our “friends” also comes into play with facebook in a way it couldn’t with a digital camera alone. 

  • becky

    It is true, if I know a picture will be on Facebook I pose so I will look good, even though no one probably cares…in all reality they probably care more about how they look then anyone else. But even my 10 yr old sister poses for pictures, of course she doesn’t have an account.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    that triangle shit some girls do with their arms — i don’t get it. fat arms = triangle poses??? do you do the tree pose if you have fat legs? 

    • http://twitter.com/herenotlost Lola Li

      No, you stand side-on and turn your upper body slightly towards the camera.

      • http://twitter.com/scruzz Shawn

        Get out of my head.

  • Jcichow1

    These are very interesting questions. In fact, there are tons of studies done that show that girls are developing eating disorders waaay earlier than ever before. So, yes it’s terrifying that girls are so concerned about their looks on facebook because it can lead to so many more serious things.

  • http://raymondthimmes.com/ Raymond Thimmes

    fuck facebook, anyway

  • http://newhandsweepstakes.com/contributors/brian-mcelmurry/ Brian M

    really good!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=688670900 Heather Anne

    very true and very well written. 

  • liz

    “I remember the first photo tagged of me on Facebook…”I hate the thought that someday this will be a valid line of literature.

    Not to say that this wasn’t a thoughtful article, but I despise how Facebook has infiltrated our first-world, selfish consciousness.

  • Joanna

    but couldnt you argue the same for guys? posing shirtless in the mirror taking cell phone pictures of themselves… while obviously less pronounced since our culture always emphasizes the female image over the man’s, i think if i was a guy id be just as self conscious of having toned abs in my spring break photos too since they’ll be “all over facebook.” in general facebook has just changed the way we as a society view ourselves

  • http://twitter.com/scruzz Shawn

    Maybe we should take less time blaming Facebook, and take more time blaming the vanities and superficiality of people in general. Facebook doesn’t make people  superficial; people make Facebook superficial. Yes, of course, it “exposes” more of you to a larger amount of people, but those people are supposed to be your Facebook “friend”. If they AREN’T actually your friend, then that’s on you for being one of those tools who adds people just for the sake of adding people. Sorry.

    I will admit, however, how much it’s impacting how young people see themselves. Kids get cyber-bullied, judged, etc., and we’re probably going to see a generation people growing up really hurt and insecure. That’s a tragedy. But this is even more reason for us to start (warning: corniness alert) being more compassionate and empathetic with each other, while still being swift and firm to punish those who use social media for bad. At the end of the day, blaming Facebook is a cop-out. 

    Facebook (and social media in general) has been an amazing, democratizing tool that has allowed my friend and I to stay connected to the people who really matter, and stay connected in ways that wasn’t possible 10 years ago. In the case of the negative people I’ve been confronted with,  I’ve  simply unfriended them. It’s all about what you do with it.

    • A L Dunne

      Well, to quote McLuhen, “The medium is the message.” The platforms we communicate with shape our world, and currently our youth are being shaped by a website that involves the widespread sharing of dozens or hundreds of photos of yourself, even if you’re not the one sharing them.
      It’s not a case of Facebook being evil, but it’s definitely a case of trying to understand how it shapes our perceptions of the world and the people in it.

      • http://twitter.com/scruzz Shawn

        Oh, I absolutely agree with you, in that the medium is changing the way we talk. In fact, I would say revolutionize. But that doesn’t make Facebook inherently evil (as you mentioned). Like I mentioned, it’s ALL about how it’s used; look how quickly SOPA and the Komen foundation fund cutting crumbled under the onslaught of social media? That was a case where it was used for good (at least in my eyes).

    • kate

      It is a great tool, but we also didn’t grow up with it. It didn’t help to socialize us the way it is socializing our younger siblings, cousins, children, students, etc.  Like you said, it definitely is impacting younger people in a way that it didn’t impact us.  We are adults and able to use it for the “right” reasons (most of the time?) but as a teacher I can say it’s definitely impacting kids in a negative way. I wish Mark Zuckerberg never made it available to kids younger than college. Ugh.

  • http://nonegenuine.blogspot.com/ Scott

    There is such a horrible dishonesty to having one’s photograph taken.  It makes me feel like a naked liar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/black.moon.ghost.girl Moon Temple

    still feel like i have 0 idea how to pose for photos

  • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

    very true. 
    it would be pretty hard to NOT analyze every small flaw when you are being presented
    with a chance to see yourself how others do. 
    For me it does have to do with low-confidence, but just having it out there makes me worry about every aspect and improve it for next time.

  • AK

    All so true. And this is why I despise Facebook! From the posey pictures to people’s taste in music and movies, their likes and dislikes etc… everything screams fake. Girls and boys alike are under so much pressure these days and all these online profiles are so carefully constructed because of how they want others to perceive them. I miss the days when text messaging was the coolest way to communicate. Instant deactivate, or better yet delete forever and never go back. Great article!

  • deecie.

    I’ve gotten to a point where I actually can’t care anymore. Being “on” all the time is exhausting, I’m a person not a puppet. I might have to give in at some point and start caring again, but is it nuts to think that some of us don’t want to feel like celebrities, as hard as that may be to believe? It’s ridiculous to me that now everytime we take pictures we look at them and say how horrible we look, delete them, and take the same thing with our hair/makeup/whatever fixed. 

    Sigh.

  • Wat

    This was a good article. And sad. More writers on here should be like you..

  • Jemimamoon

    This is so true. As a 16-year old, I now have a catalogue of go-to poses and facial expressions for photos that I know are going on facebook…and yes I do practice in the mirror. Thinking about it now, after reading this article, it kind of sickens me.

  • kate

    Thank you so much for writing this. Everything you said/observed/analyzed is incredibly true and a little frightening. I genuinely feel sorry for my young cousins and sisters… For us, before college and before facebook existed, ignorance WAS bliss.  This type of self-awareness through facebook definitely isn’t healthy. I’d like to say I’m “above” it now, and that I don’t really care about it the way I did as a freshman in college, but I think we’re so use to this strange type of cyber vanity that we don’t even know we’re doing it half the time. I click through pictures of myself the way I can click through channels on the TV. It’s a sad consquence of social media, and I hope it lessens in the future, rathaer than getting worse (i.e. our 8 year old daughters doing smoochy faces into camera lenses for all their friends to see). 

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