Words by Mona Chatskin Art by Perri Athanasiou
Whether you’ve tried to repress them or not, we all have memories from our awkward early teen years.
Deep, in the Facebook photo albums that have been set to private, there is still buried evidence of those dark days. Gelled side fringes, fluoro Target track pants, peace sign symbols and lips pouted at the camera – yep, that was the most fashionable look for trendy thirteen-year olds.
Yet now it seems like girls entering their early teenagehood have uncovered an entirely new level of maturity. We’ve all seen the ‘13-year old’s now vs. me when I was 13’ memes. Where once was a cola flavoured Lip Smackers, now appears an Anastasia Beverly Hills eyeshadow palette. Where once were Jay Jays t-shirts with funny sayings, now appear lacy bralettes on young girls (some, who have barely hit puberty). Where once was Sportsgirl nail polish clumsily painted on, now appear fake Acrylic nails that can be heard click-clacking on the newest iPhones.
Something I will always remember from my teenage years was the constant desire to grow up as quickly and intensely as possible. I was one of the few girls my age who asked my mother when I could finally have a bra, whereas most would dread that doomed day. I wore higher heels when I was 16 than I do now, and I always feared coming across as a little kid. Then in later years, probably around the age of 18, I finally became content with dressing accordingly to my age. At that very same time, millions of young girls were entering their own teenage struggle. And just as Murphy’s Law goes, social media was there waiting to echo insecurity into their heads.
Thankfully when I was experiencing my adolescent years, social media influencers didn’t exist. There were no artfully curated images clogging up my Instagram feed. Well, they at least were coffees hashtagged #yum, and not of Instagram ‘models’ bathed in the Valencia filter. And yes, while there are many people with large social media presences that try to convey the importance of body image, there are still far too few of these voices.
Over the years social media has extended to far more than mere flat lays of lunch. Just like everyone else (perhaps even more so), young people – both women and men – are easily impressionable to the pressures of striving to attain a ‘perfect’ life. The pressures I was subject to as a teenager seem to pale in comparison to those that exist now. Young women are being increasingly exposed to the pressure of sexualisation. There now seems to be little we can do to remedy this progress of events.
It isn’t just social media that’s hopping on board the time-to-stuff-your-boobs-and-act-twenty train. My Little Pony, a personal former favourite toy brand, now makes bras. Call me crazy, but if you’re still into playing with ponies, then you probably don’t need a lacy bra. Similarly, in 2011, Abercrombie and Fitch added push-up bikinis to their children’s range. Way back in 2006, the UK chain store Tesco (like our Big W) advertised a pole dancing kit in its toys and games section, labelled as appropriate for children ages 11 and up. Yep, just let that sink in.
Adolescents are now also reaching puberty at a significantly younger age. While the average age for US girls entering puberty was formerly 12 years old in the 1980s, this average age fell to just nine years old in 2011. Girls who reach puberty sooner than their peers are also more likely to be sexually harassed. Although it is still unclear why teenagers are hitting puberty so much sooner now, the additional pressures from social media platforms do little to curb these statistics.
While companies and social media continuously reinforce the sexualisation of young girls, a study conducted by Holland and Haslam in 2015 found that sexualised adolescents are more likely to be treated and viewed differently by adults. Another study by Graff and Murnen, discovered that when people view photographs of ten-year-old girls in sexualised clothing, these children are perceived as less intelligent and less moral than when they wear less sexualised outfits. The self-objectification that young women face can consequently result in serious psychological outcomes, such as depression and eating disorders. These studies demonstrate the serious ramifications which can result from the sexualisation of teenagers.
Discussion surrounding positive body image is essential for young people who are experiencing some of the most challenging years of their life. But even more importantly, society needs to allow kids to ‘just stay kids’ for as long as possible. We need to stop putting pressure on our youth to grow up and act older than they are.
In our younger years, we all heard older relatives and teachers telling us adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. To enjoy being a kid. And I’m sure that just like me, you probably scoffed at them and couldn’t wait to grow up. Now looking back, I realise it would’ve been better to spend less time trying to grow up, and more time being a damn kid.