In a society driven by technology, it is no surprise that the biggest influence on today’s youth is the media. Although there are many outlets of influence, the media has the largest impact on self-esteem, causing teenagers to take measures to fit a socially constructed standard of beauty.
On Dec. 19, 2015, fourteen year old Molly O’Malia, an aspiring singer and model, found herself in a scandal with rapper Tyga. This scandal started with contact from Tyga via text message, asking O’Malia if she wanted to Facetime. According to a written statement released at a press conference, O’Malia claims that these advances made her extremely uncomfortable, and was under the impression that their conversation was to address adding her to Last Kings Records, Tyga’s record label.
In a matter of days, the scandal was all over social media and magazines including OK!, People, and US Magazine. While some publications focused on the inappropriate conversation between a twenty-six year old and a fourteen year old, many focused solely on the contrast between O’Malia’s age and her appearance. This discussion of her age has also created conversations regarding the effects of the media on youth.
Youth models are constantly surrounded by adults expecting them to act and look a certain way, enabling them to be successful in a competitive business. Expectations such as these are also the catalyst of extreme stress for the models.
“It’s so fun and so fulfilling,” says Arts & Communication Academy student Samantha Yacob ’17, on both modeling and acting. However, she notes that it’s also “really stressful because you really are working in an adult industry as a child which can get hard on you.”
“As a kid, you are really just expected to stay out of the way.”
Outside of this expectation, Yacob follows three main rules: “1. bring something to entertain yourself, 2. follow directions, and 3. be professional at all times.”
Although these rules apply to most models, both young models and average teenagers alike can relate to the pressure to physically fit a standard that is considered attractive or good by the media.
In Western media, the standards for beauty are defined by having long hair and a slim figure, but also having more feminine traits such as a full chest and wider hips. These standards are not exclusive to the United States, as other cultures around the world are beginning to adopt western culture, picking up unrealistic beauty standards.
As teenagers go through phases of vulnerability and insecurity, these standards of beauty are easily absorbed by youth as they attempt to find ways to fit in. Due to youth involvement in social media, it is easier than ever to influence teenagers on a massive scale. This influence is seen through the fact that those who are considered beautiful gain social status and popularity over those who are not.
“There are role models in the entertainment industry that greatly appeal to our teens,” writes Betty Alark, a blogger on Quora.com. “They desire to be like them thus, mimicking their examples. Entertainment role models are held in the highest esteem by teens, to the point of being worshiped.”
An example of such worshipped “role models” are none other than the Kardashians, a family known for their looks achieved by plastic surgery, dangerous diets, and makeup.
“The media/television grows our teens ‘up’ expediently; projecting an image of what girls should look like; what they should wear, etc.,” writes Alark. “The media/television is the culprit grandstand of misdirection for teens; for children; and will continue to be the avenue for enslaving and holding our children captive via of a demonic value system.”
Alark calls this value system “demonic” for the mental and emotional effects it has on those who are influenced by the standards of the media. Many of these effects result in eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia Nervosa, binge eating, and Purging Disorder, due to a damaged sense of self worth.
“Is it any wonder why our teens physical appearance creates the persona of adulthood as opposed to the innocence that teens have projected in past generations? They are robbed of their innocence by deception,” explains Alark.
Issues such as these leave parents wondering who is to blame for the harm these standards cause, and how they can be avoided.
“There are teens that are directed by sound principles which makes a world of a difference – because, it takes a great deal of strength, and constant leading,” writes Alark in conclusion. Through this belief, she suggests that teenagers should surround themselves with more positive and helpful role models to keep them on the path of self appreciation and high self-esteem.
In a perfect world, this harmful influence could easily be avoided by not engaging in media, which is nearly impossible now. In agreeance with Alark, the only way to move towards abolishing this skewed perception of beauty is to provide a message of self-acceptance and self confidence for teenagers as they begin to find who they are.