As we have discussed and learned about in this class, adolescence is a period of many changes, and is a time when individuals struggle to find their “identity” and place in the world. In addition, adolescence is a time period in which many start to care more about their appearance. In this post, I want to observe how one’s appearance can have an effect on how individuals view themselves during this fragile time period that can shape the rest of their lives.
I have chosen to specifically focus on adolescent females on this post, due to the fact that as a girl, I feel that it is easier for me to tie in what I have personally experienced either with myself or have heard from friends. To start, I want to take an a big picture approach on this topic and get an overall view of what women in general think about themselves and their bodies, without getting into any specifics. I found this chart from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to have very useful information on the statistics of body dissatisfaction among women. As shown below, 70% of 18-30 year olds, and 81% of ten year olds are not happy with the way they look. When the “risky” behavior that teenagers are so very well known for is combined with the under-developed frontal cortex that drives decision making, I am unfortunately not very surprised that some adolescents take drastic actions to feel better about their bodies and “improve” their appearance. These actions may include diets, the use of laxatives, and development of eating disorders–all which can lead to very serious consequences.
I came across an article from the New York Times, (linked below in references), that showed how much of an impact our appearance can have on both our self esteem, and our intelligence. In this study students were asked to take a math test in a room with a mirror while in a bathing suits. Shockingly, the girls who took the test in their bathing suits scored significantly lower than those who took the test while in normal clothes. In addition, when the test was replaced with one that required critical thinking and no math, the girls in swimsuits once again scored significantly lower than their counterparts. I found it shocking, and sad, that our appearance has been so prioritized in our society that it can even have an effect academically.
The article also described how social media has also caused a change with the way we view ourselves, since we are no longer “competing” only with celebrities, but we are also now also “competing” with our friends, something I have found to be so very true. With the rise of social media such as facebook and instagram, over the past few years, we are now able to directly compare ourselves to our friends, which to me has an even greater effect than comparing ourselves with celebrities, since our friends are people we associate ourselves with in our everyday lives. I believe that there is a greater negative impact when adolescents are comparing themselves to their friend’s swimsuit pictures at the beach than when comparing themselves with a celebrities pictures at a beach due to the close and personal relationship we have with our friends. I have found this to be true with my friends and I, we will often comment how amazing one our friends may look in a picture and it truly does carries a different meaning than if we comment how amazing a celebrity looks in a picture.
I believe that in a world where we are surrounded by what we see on TV, social media, magazines, etc. it is no surprise that we want to imitate what we see. However, the problem is that what we so often see on the media are not the “normal”body standards, or what the average female looks like. I find it very shocking that such an overwhelming majority of young women are so unsatisfied with their appearance, whether it be due to what they see on TV, or comparing themselves to their friends and others they may on social media or in real life. While there is no easy fix to this problem, I think that it is important that we keep telling adolescents to not place their value solely based on appearance, and to emphasize that what we see so often on TV, magazines, social media, etc. is often staged and is not truly a representation of real life.
Cultural Fun Fact:
Once they reach the age of adolescence, females of the Apache tribe undergo what is known as the Sunrise Ceremony. This four day ceremony, filled with prayer, dancing, songs, and other activities, signifies the start of “womanhood.” During the ceremony, girls run in all four directions (north, south, east west) to signify the four stages of life. In addition, the girl is covered with a mixture of cornmeal and clay for all four days, and pollen on the final day of the ceremony, as shown below. This ceremony cements a girl’s place as an Apache woman, and strengthens her connection with her tribe, people, ancestors, and religion.
Sunrise ceremony image: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/photocontest/detail/american-experience/dripping-pollen-blessings-at-an-apache-sunrise-ceremony/