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#AskNicolaMorgan 7: “How can teenagers remain confident when there’s so much pressure on social media to look good – eg like Justin Bieber, Selina Gomez?”

The Ask Nicola Morgan competition is finished and I should be announcing the winners but it’s just too difficult and I need a bit more time! I have actually decided two of the three winners but I’m having great difficulty with the third. However, I PROMISE I will announce all the winners here on Friday 22nd, because I know Scottish schools (and maybe some others) break up the following week and it’s not fair if I don’t tell you.

Meanwhile, here’s the next of my answers. Today’s question comes from Ms Morris’s library group Biddenham International School and Sports College in Bedfordshire.

“How can teenagers remain confident when there’s so much pressure on social media to look good – eg like Justin Bieber, Selina Gomez?”

This is a heartfelt question with no easy answers, but I’d like to unpick it a bit.

“Good”? Think about what you mean by that. How they look is “good” only in a very narrow, artificial way. (Actually, I don’t personally think it’s a good look, but that’s me being the age and person I am! I get that they are held up as an ideal – I just happen not to like it.) They look the way they do (when you see them, which is not when they wake up in the morning or are lounging around at home) because of all the money and time spent making them look that way. This is one version (your version) of “good” and I believe we all have it in our power to change our thinking and see other forms of beauty, style, health, energy and vitality as “good”, too. People like this are wearing masks, almost literally. They have been made to look “good” artificially. I’m not criticising them for it, just saying it’s only one version of looking good and not my version of it.

Besides, most of the time when you see them you are seeing official photos, taken by photographers paid to make them look as good as possible. To think that this is how they really look, without the money and lights and make-up is to be conned.

And then along came the likes of Zoella, who began as an ordinary teenager in her bedroom sharing make-up tips. Good for her (and the others of different genders, who share their body beautiful tips) but unfortunately, in perpetrating the message that “You, too, can look like this” they have reinforced the message “Because this is how you should want to look.”

I’m not going to be able to solve this deep mindset in a blogpost. Our desire to conform to the ideals of the other people around us is hard-wired into us and arguably teenagers are more vulnerable to this because they more than any other age have to fit in and feel secure in new and changing friendships. It’s often really tough being a teenager because peer pressure is a real and powerful driver. Of course, many teenagers don’t conform (or manage to find different groups) and are able to walk an individual path. But that’s hard to do and brings the risk of rejection and standing out. And so it’s very easy and completely understandable when people, particularly teenagers, end up liking and valuing the same things as the majority. In other words, following fashion.

Note that I am talking about tendencies, here, not absolutes. So, yes, of course, there are people who are able to stay confident even when not aspiring to the accepted idea of what “looks good” and there are also schools and groups that are more welcoming and tolerant of “difference”. But the general and understandable tendency is that if the people around you follow one fashion or ideal of what is “good”, most people will do the same.

So, going back to the question, it’s very hard to stay confident when, first, your friends all think that Justin Bieber and Selina Gomez (or whoever) are the ideal of “looking good”.

Here are my tips (and I don’t pretend any of them is an instant cure):

  1. Just remind yourself that they look this way because of shedloads of money and time. It’s their job to look like this, so it’s worth it for them. But is it really what you want?
  2. Also remind yourself that it’s likely that your friends are also feeling unconfident about how they look in some way, even the ones who you think do look confident. I think most people are self-conscious and critical about at least one part of their body.
  3. This won’t be so important to you in a few years’ time. Yes, adults also worry about how they look, but it is so often worse for teenagers, partly because you’re changing quickly so your bodies are not familiar to you as they are to adults.
  4. Rebel! Have your own way of looking good. See beauty in other things: healthy athletes, strong dancers or yoga practitioners, smiling families and friends.

Please don’t think I don’t sympathise. I really do. When I was at secondary school I was very much the outsider who didn’t follow fashion and didn’t know how to do what the other girls were doing. (I was much younger than my class and I’d only been to a boys school since I was five, so…) I really did feel left out. All I can say is that I got through it and I’m rather proud of how independent I had to be. But I’ll admit it often hurt. So I really do understand.

But… Try to keep a sense of perspective: what do you really want from life? To look like Bieber or Gomez? Or to be a great friend, begin an exciting career, be a brilliant artist or talented sportsperson, be strong and fit and healthy, to have a skill that people respect, feel well most days, do inspiring or exciting things? Think about what you can achieve, not what make-up and money can make you look like. Think of values that will last, not plastic beauty you plaster on and which then washes off in the shower. Or on your sheets.

I bet today’s so-called fashion-following “good-lookers” have orange sheets!

Plastic skin and stained sheets? It’s not a “good” look.

 

Do comment but please remember that this site is for all ages.

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