The New Sixteen

It seems everyone has something to say about the dangers of social media and body confidence. The age at which many solidify their online presence is becoming younger as more teenagers feel stressed about the way their bodies look. Searching ‘teen + body image + social media’ online produces over fourteen million results; evidence of the link between social media usage and negative body image ranges from psychological studies in medical journals to the opinions of young adults in focus groups. While I will readily accept that the regular scrolling on my Instagram sometimes perpetuates my self confidence issues, it is images of the people I know and of myself, not the Kardashians, that make me resent my own body.

To me, celebrities are fictional. The sixteen year old relative of a friend who I am somehow following on Instagram is real and therefore the candid photos of their golden-skinned, unblemished physique make me feel like what I look like is not ‘real’. I recently made the mistake of looking back on images of myself at sixteen; before acne and numerous other skin problems; before the shape of my body swapped from the right-angled limbs of a child to the more padded frame of a woman; before the features of my face became harsher and more defined. I began to compare my past and present self, and wonder why I had not realised how lucky I was at a time when I often felt like I wasn’t the ‘prettiest’ or the ‘skinniest’; if only I’d known what three years of being a student would do to my body! I’d never dare to wear a crop top like that now, or strut around in such skin-tight jeans without breathing in at least a little bit. Then I compared myself to the sixteen year olds I now have on social media; make up skills far surpassing what people bothered to slap on in 2010, shorter skirts and tighter dresses that probably didn’t come from Tammy at BHS and an altogether far more sophisticated look that often makes these girls look years older than I do at almost 22.

The ‘awkward’ phase has been wiped out of the teenage girl’s life. There is no more improvising a nude lip with Miss Sporty concealer because makeup is an entirely different game in 2017. There is no more scrounging around Primark in town for something that comes in below a tenner because any piece of clothing you could dream of will now be delivered to your door overnight, and there is certainly no more crossing your fingers that the grainy digital camera photos of last week’s house party on Facebook will be remotely flattering, because everything can be personally filtered and deleted until the perfect Instagram photo that makes you look exactly how you want is created.

These bodies and faces are no different to mine at sixteen, they simply belong to a generation far more proficient in the social media game and with better resources than mine had. As much as it seems like they have it easier, unfortunately it sounds like it’s actually a heck of a lot harder. On another note, my body will never return to the boyish frame it used to be, no matter how hard I try to make it happen. It will never resemble the sixteen-going-on-twenty-six girls on my Instagram feed. My body at this moment in time represents my own age and how well I treat it, and that is something I need to embrace.

Amy McShane

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