Growing up in the 2000s I remember the precise moment when the Spice Girls came unto the scene. Every girl in my elementary class had a claim on one particular Spice Girl she thought she resembled, and we would all try to dress like them or put on fake concerts where we would sing their songs. The thing I recall the most from this period in my life was the moment when I witnessed the music video for “Say You’ll Be There”, that is truly when I caught my first glimpse of the infamous girl group and saw an outfit that changed my life: Posh Spice’s leather suit. I wanted to be Posh Spice, but because I had wild long curly brown hair everyone insisted I had to be Scary Spice. It annoyed me to the core, because although Scary Spice was beautiful, she wasn’t the Spice Girl I indentified with.
The leather suit of my preteen dreams. P.S. My featured image includes a smiling photo of Victoria. She never smiles, I’ve caught you Posh, I’ve caught you.
I wanted to be mysterious, serious, unapproachable, and sleek. I considered myself to be Posh, and in my own time, when all the other girls weren’t obligating me to fit the role of Scary, I was Posh in my own performances. A few days ago, one of my dearest friends who I love to death and brings me incredible joy everytime we speak, gave me the most amazing compliment: “you remind me of posh spice” she said. I know this is ridiculous beyond words, but I was instantly reminded of the little version of myself who yearned so badly to have the sleek image of a British popstar in a black leather ensemble, and I felt that somehow I had accomplished something (laugh at me if you will) but today, I am Posh spice. I remember that despite this love of Posh Spice, I was free of thinking I had to look a certain way. I didn’t have a sense of feeling that I had to look like any celebrity in particular or that I was wrong for not achieving it. Something, which I think is a striking contrast to the young girls who have to grow up nowadays.
All of these changes bring me to this thought: it is a lot harder to feel good about yourself as a young teen growing up in this day and age, than it was for me as a teenager. When I was a teenager, I had shows like “Lizzie McGguire” and “Even Stevens” showing me regular looking teens (not too far from what I looked like), wearing clothes I could find at my local mall, with little to no make up on, and with crazy or fun hairstyles. If they had jobs, they were average little restaurant jobs, babysitting or retail jobs. I had no Instagram feed full of ‘perfect’ bodies, faces, and hair looks. I had no Facebook, I had no Pinterest, I had none of that. I was able to experiment and fail on my own. I was able look silly or childish and wear a ridiculous amount of glitter on my eyes. All of this without the incessant pressure of social media and photoshop bombarding me from every corner. When I look at the old covers of Seventeen Magazine, and even the early covers of Teen Vogue, I see fresher faces, I see natural lighting and make up. These days I see a hypersexualization, an extreme amount of editing, and topics that make you wonder if you’re “behind” on becoming an adult. It’s all quite sad, because as I see this, I wonder about the amount of innocent young girls these days who are looking at their bodies and thinking: “I’m not pretty, I don’t look like this, I don’t have these clothes, and everybody does apparently”. Social media has given fame to so many youngsters who probably don’t have the maturity or the inner self-control to have it and do something positive with it, and as a result, we have image upon image of an unattainable ‘perfection’ along with a heap of nonsense. No one could get famous off of YouTube when I was a teen, and certainly not off of posting selfies, and no one even aspired to. There was really no need to be more than a kid. But today, you are fed to be a social media star, a business mogul, a designer, a fashion icon, a celebrity, a career driven person, all before the tender age of sixteen.
Photos from a 2016 article by Teen Vogue on hair dye, featuring Kylie Jenner. Can we just take a moment to acknowledge the fact that this child was born in 1997? Let that sink in.
During my time teaching English at an academy here in Spain, I recall the many moments where my female students made comments about how in America, teenage girls can become famous if they’re pretty enough or become YouTube celebrities, they’d ask me how they did it. In their minds, success was based on physical beauty and social media popularity, and sadly, we are living in a world where these facts are proven to be accurate. We have given teens with money and fame the greatest amount of influence and power over our generations both past and present. When a little 12-year-old girl sees a picture of Kylie Jenner she is looking at someone only a few years older than her who already has access to the tools which can help her enhance her body and her face at her own capricious desire. She is looking at a young girl who can wear whatever she wants, do whatever she wants to her hair, be in whatever kind of relationship she wants to be in, and has all the power in the world to do so. The TV shows about regular teens with regular everyday struggles which I used to watch, gave way to shows like Hannah Montana, about a teen who struggled with hiding her worldwide fame. From then on, most shows have been about teen celebrities, famous dancers, famous agents; fame, fame, fame. It has been about a teen world in which there are no limits, no need to grow up, to pay your dues, to go through awkward stages and difficult periods. In this new world there are no parents, there are no rules nor boundaries. Your body is for the world to see and judge, and if you don’t look a certain way by the time you’re a certain age, you’re not good enough. I have to stop and ask, what are we doing? What on earth are we doing to our young people? We are giving so much importance to a life of fame and fortune, of image and popularity, and we are failing to give them structure, balance, and a true self esteem.
Lizzie McGuire, an early 200s show about a teenage girl and her best friends and her struggles in middle school. Liv and Maddie, a current Disney Channel show about a famous celebrity and her twin sister.
From what I see, 2016 is a lot harder of a time to feel good about yourself. But it shouldn’t be. I want to tell young girls (of all ages) reading this, everything you’re looking at online, on TV, on magazines, isn’t real. It is a hyperreality, created well enough to make you think it is, but it isn’t. There is only a small percentage of these social media celebrities who actually have their life together (whatever that means) even when it seems like all of them do, nobody really does. Every image you see on instagram (sometimes even the “no filter” ones) those are altered, they are fixed, they are taken at the perfect angle, at the perfect time, with the right lighting, to give you a product that sells. The truth is, no one looks like that. If you’re young and you don’t know what you want to do yet, just know, you’re not supposed to know. If you do? Then that’s great, but that’s not a rule. You shouldn’t have to feel that you need to go “viral” or that you need more than 1,000 followers on instagram. “Likes” do not equal acceptance, they don’t equal value, or self-esteem. Followers do not equal friends, and being considered beauty by a standard, does not mean true beauty, nor does it mean happiness. I wish I could give you all the teenagers years I had, so that you could hide away and live a real life, and wear quirky clothes, and experiment, fail, do all of those things you feel that you can’t do because it won’t get enough “likes”. I wish you could just do things and not feel you have to post them, or snap them, or any of that. I wish you could just live, and be beautiful. Because what makes you beautiful isn’t what people think of your physical beauty, what makes you beautiful is being yourself, and loving life. Disconnect from social media and live your lives little beauties, live your lives.