When I was in seventh grade, my nemesis ripped my school picture into sections, scotch-taped the pieces back together, and then passed around the disfigured-looking picture to our schoolmates, egging them on to say nasty things.
“Heather’s a monster.”
“She looks deformed.”
“So pretty! Yeah, pretty ugly.”
It was hurtful. And I cried about it at home. But within a day or two, the picture was lost or thrown away and the incident faded. My guess is that none of the bullies even remember it now. My memory is the only record.
Kids aren’t so lucky today.
The picture would have been posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and maybe even stored in a photo vault. The bully and her minions would have been forever cast as the mean girls. And I’d have had the nasty picture, the LIKES, and the resulting comments digitally frozen in my Internet history.
Like I said, kids aren’t so lucky today.
With the iPhone camera ever ready, there’s a constant pressure to record each moment, to snap pictures, and subsequently to accumulate LIKES and SHARES. Even the most well adjusted young girls are concerned about their looks and online profiles. The pictures that are the most popular are the hot ones. NPR did a fascinating story about this hot-photo-to-LIKE-ratio.
It’s sad, but true: show more skin, be more popular.
Recently, the issue hit home when my daughter attended the birthday party of a thirteen-year old friend. Beforehand, she agonized because it was a whirlpool party and the expectation was that all the girls would pose in their swimsuits for a hot Instagram photograph.
“What should I do?” she asked.
“Keep your T-shirt on.”
“But everyone will make fun of me.”
“Well, then just stay under the water.”
And that’s what she did. In the picture on the birthday girl’s Snapchat story, you can see my daughter, from the neck up, in the back of the whirlpool.
At least she had a plan going into the situation.
The pressure is constant.
Girls vamp for the camera.
Hands on hips.
Butts popped out.
Stomachs sucked in.
Hair just right.
It’s a nasty by-product of the Kardashian era. There’s an unrelenting undercurrent that equates popularity with bare skin. Feminists might argue that it’s a girl’s choice of expression. That we’ve fought to get to this point—that we’ve earned the right to flaunt it or not flaunt it.
But it sure creates a parenting dilemma.
Teenage boys make wild, impulsive decisions because their frontal lobes are not fully developed. Well, let’s not be sexist. Girls do stupid things, too—for the same stupid reason boys do: they’re kids and they’re subject to peer pressure. And they want to be liked and to fit in.
Social media is unavoidable.
Today, a picture becomes more than a picture, but rather a part of who a person is—once taken, it’s frozen and always accessible. Colleges search online profiles all the time. Kids are creating photographic histories that will surely outlast their youthful mistakes.
The hot photo debate seems like small potatoes when you hear about sexting and drinking photographs going viral. But this is where it starts—with the acceptance of baring too much, too early. Everybody’s tolerance level gets higher (both the poser’s and the viewer’s). And before you know it, SEND NUDES, becomes the plea.
So what’s the answer?
Maybe one solution is The Grandparent Litmus Test.
I tell my kids that if they’d be embarrassed if Grandmom or Pop Pop saw a picture (of themselves or others) that they have on their phone, then the picture is not okay. Do not take it. Do not pose for it. Do not post it.
Don’t do it.
I hope they are listening.
The stakes are high.
No longer are mean girls passing around your rearranged school portrait. If the wrong digital image gets out there, it could fly away with your life.
Kids aren’t so lucky today.