Increasingly, I am finding a particular kind of post clogging up my feed. It is the, ‘like’ if you think the person in the photo is cute, pretty, beautiful etc. The images may be children or teens with or without physical disability or disfigurement, and/or young people who are being bullied, think they’re ugly and so on.
Obviously, very young children are not posting these images themselves, but those who do are sending some counter-productive messages. Whilst the message seems to be one of empowerment, and I am convinced posters mean well, I have to ask whether we are just greasing the downward spiral of low self-esteem in young people. It is promoting the concept that unless you get hundreds of likes from friends and strangers, you are not worthy or valued. What is actually being demonstrated here is that what you look like is something that has to be approved of by as many people as possible.
By mindlessly hitting ‘like’ on a friend’s ‘share’, we are perpetuating this idea that we are only as valuable as the world says we are. We are also devaluing the importance of positive action and achievement as the route to high, or improved self esteem. I can’t think of a time when I’ve heard someone comment how proud they are of their children’s looks, yet time and again, I hear pride or admiration of a young person’s resilience, consideration, kindness, fundraising, academic or sporting achievement. In the ‘real world’, in classrooms and on social media, this is what we need to be modelling.
In middle school, we spend time talking about body image and how the media influences ideals of beauty and culture. I use cognitive behavioural ideas to demonstrate common thinking errors, so students learn to question both judgments and opinions and what is behind these evaluations. This includes:
- looking through alternative lenses and what influences these views;
- being aware of our ‘filters’ – for example having very definite ideas on what constitutes how people should look and behave, whilst dismissing anything outside this as negatively different;
- understanding how negative labelling of whole self and other people, rather than of actions or mistakes, can influence our mind-set;
- being aware of acting on feelings as the truth – I am angry with that person so that person is bad; I feel ugly so I must be.
It is my intention that students build awareness of how easily we can be influenced by ourselves, others and the media. I will definitely be asking students what they think of the culture of validation by social media and what the possible implications may be for individuals and society in general.