Girls and sex
Two steps forward, one back
For girls, growing up is a perilous journey
FOR tips on taking a selfie, talk to teenage girls. Many know that your “good” side is the one without your parting, and that it is slimming to pose with a hand on hip and legs “bevelled” (one straight, the other bent). Not quite pleased with the results? Simply download one of many “selfie surgery apps” to edit blemishes, whiten teeth and shrink noses.
Adolescents have always been keenly aware of how they are seen by their peers. But social media amplify this self-consciousness. Now that nearly three-quarters of American teens have access to a smartphone, many of them while away their days broadcasting their thoughts, photos and lapses in judgment for immediate praise or scorn from hundreds of “friends”. Being a teenager was never easy, but this is the first time your charm, looks or popularity have been so readily quantifiable, and your mistakes so easy for others to see. Just how this technological revolution affects young people—and particularly young women—is the subject of two fascinating new American books.
For many girls, the constant seeking of “likes” and attention on social media can “feel like being a contestant in a never-ending beauty pageant”, writes Nancy Jo Sales in “American Girls”, a thoroughly researched if sprawling book. In this image-saturated environment, comments on girls' photos tend to focus disproportionately on looks, bullying is common and anxieties about female rivals are rife. In interviews, girls complain of how hard it is to appear “hot” but not “slutty”, sexually confident but not “thirsty” (ie, desperate). That young women often aspire to be titillating should not be surprising given that the most successful female celebrities often present themselves as eye-candy for the male gaze. “Everybody wants to take a selfie as good as the Kardashians',” says Maggie, a 13-year-old.
Such self-objectification comes at a cost. A review of studies from 12 industrialised countries found that adolescent girls around the world are increasingly depressed and anxious about their weight and appearance.