This post mentions suicide. If you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
There is a pandemic afoot, and it has nothing to do with a Covid-19 variant.
The toxically perfect, airbrushed existence of Instagram models that portray their fabulous lives for the world to lust over — in more ways than one — as they make you covet their fashionable outfits, expensive lifestyle, and other goods or services you want, but typically can’t afford.
We, as adults, at least know we’re being sold to. We know that some brand is paying these gorgeous, too-thin girls heaps of money, and enticing them with free clothing and free trips all to post to their millions of followers, in the hopes that some young woman from Kansas will drain her bank account to purchase the designer hand bag or shoes the model is hacking.
And if I sound a bit…harsh or bitter, as I’m describing it, it’s because I am. Influencer culture makes me really angry.
Because it’s killing our kids.
The pandemic has been astronomically difficult on our kids. They were isolated from their friends, kept away from school, locked in their homes, and therefore spent hours upon hours on social media. Scrolling through images and depictions of perfect lives, airbrushed bodies, and photoshopped smiles. Images that make a young girl doubt her own beauty, as compared with manipulated images, and snapshots of feigned experiences that make her unhappy with her life.
Kids internalize that more than we know. During the pandemic, the rate of suicide attempts among teen girls rose a staggering 51%. That figure is absolutely crushing. And it makes me want to shake the shoulders of the internet and scream, “Look at the damage you’re doing!”
Because what we don’t see from the perfectly planned and color coordinated Instagram grids of these influencers, is the darkness that many of them feel: the pressure to be thin and fit into the designer clothes sent to them, in sizes meant for non-menstruating preteens. The pressure to have picture-perfect abdominal muscles, the pressure to maintain a “follower base” or hit a certain “like-quota” on a photo. Can you imagine if your life and perceived self-worth hinged upon that? What happens when life is no longer to be lived, but to be captured? Seems incredibly lonely to me.
To appear to have it all, from the outside…yet internally always be questioning your worth and striving to maintain an unnaturally thin body, and wrinkle-free face?
We can see past the facade. But kids can’t.
They just see a life that they want, and can’t have.
And then, you add to that, TikTok.
I have been very, very against TikTok. The way it hyper-sexualizes young girls with viral sexy dances and promotes this sickeningly self-focused existance. It honestly makes me want to throw up. The filters, the self-obsession, the preoccupation with “me, me, me.” I just…yikes.
But there’s another aspect of TikTok that is hidden and even more harmful that that. And that is how it has trivialized mental illness, and dare I say, made it “fashionable” to have a “mental health issue.” TikTokers speak so flippantly about their mental diagnoses that “therapists and doctors warn there has been a sharp increase of teens self-diagnosing mental health disorders from ADHD to depression and Tourette Syndrome on the app.” (NBC12) It’s the copycat or horoscope syndrome, where you see something enough times that you start to believe you have it too. A self-fulfilling prophecy, driven by people making their mental illness diagnosis “relatable” or even, “cool.” Using it to set them apart, make them special or “quirky”, and have it be the defining quality about who they are: “their brand.”
And this infuriates me, too, and is the main reason why I have resisted joining TikTok for so long. You’ve got all these young people on the app, making light and joking about their mental illness. Making “viral” or “catchy” videos about a serious diagnosis that people all over the world suffer with, just to gain views, popularity and notoriety.
I mean, sure — I could go on there and make a snappy video about anorexia, and say…”Haha — just ate the skin of an apple for lunch…ANOREXIA MADE ME DO IT! HAHAHAHA” Those are the types of videos that are out there. Or “Tell me you’re anorexic without telling me you’re anorexic: (and then a video of the creator just drinking tea and munching on celery for dinner.)”
Girls DIE from anorexia.
How about you show that video to the mother of one of my readers who passed away from anorexia several years ago, and ask her what she thinks of those videos? Ask her how she feels about people making light of grave mental illnesses that claim the life of so many.
And as an anorexia survivor myself, it makes me absolutely livid to see mental health made light of in such a shallow, frivolous, and superficial way. And all for viewership gain.
Again, kids see that. They absorb it. Looking for anything to make them feel not so alone — even if that means self-diagnosing yourself with a mental illness they don’t have.
This is the last thing.
All of this came to a head earlier this week, when news broke that the former Miss USA, Chelsie Kryst, jumped to her death from a luxury NYC apartment building. Tragic, heartbreaking news that not only left the world heartsick, but also shocked. As she was one of these influencers who, from the outside, appeared to have it all. She was beautiful, a former beauty queen, working as a news correspondent at Extra, multiple degrees. She had it all, and yet inside she was hurting. Deeply.
Scroll through her Instagram profile, you don’t see that. You don’t see that pain. You see a beautiful woman, healthy, young, thriving, with gorgeous makeup and an exciting career.
Instagram is but a glimpse into the part of life people want you to see. It is their exhibition of what society demands. I’m guilty of it. I’m sure you are too.
We don’t post the hard moments when we’re down, or hurting, or feeling defeated. But instead, the highlights. The mountain top moments. Which, there’s nothing wrong with, on its face.
But when it’s distorted to advertise, to make money, to influence — that’s when it becomes a threat, preying on our young girls, who can’t see the manipulation at play.
And please hear me, I’m not saying this beautiful young woman was doing that. But her tragic death illuminates that what we see is not always the whole story.
As to the solution here, it’s really a losing battle. Instagram influencer marketing isn’t going away anytime soon. We can’t “halt” the Internet freight train that will soon become so embedded in our daily lives that it’ll be in contact lenses in our eyes.
But what we can do is model in our real lives true beauty to our young girls. Remind them that one’s worth comes from inside. That it comes from being created by God, as a daughter of the King. Reminding her that “likes” on a photo have no reflection on how much that person matters. What matters, is that we are kind. Loving to others. Honest. Patient. Curious. And that we love God and all His creations.
That is what matters.
And that is why I will continue to post the good, the bad, and the vulnerably ugly on this blog. To remind everyone that there is beauty in the mess.
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