February 1, 2015

Talkin’ Bout My Generation

The world is changing and changing fast. While many people would argue that our world is going sour, I wholeheartedly believe it’s the best time to be alive, ever. Statistically, we are the wealthiest, healthiest and safest we’ve been in human existence. Technology has opened doors to reach new people, different cultures, new ways of thinking, and information that has never been accessible before. We are also reaping the benefits of generations of people who fought long hard battles to gain the degree of social change and acceptance we see today: gay people can get married; the President of the United States is black; cultural majorities have collapsed; we can talk openly about sex, physical and mental health problems, emotions, and just about everything else; one of the most famous people in the world is transgender; women are qualifying for and accepting executive positions in the workforce; etc. These are all signs of growth, and there’s still more to come.

Of all these positive social changes, I am especially grateful for how far women have come. I try to envision the lives of my grandmothers and their mothers often. I try to imagine what it would be like to not have a voice – to have an opinion but not be able to express it; to be house stricken doing chores that only women did; to be sexually assaulted by men, sometimes even your own husband, and unable to do anything about it; to be forbidden to vote; to be forced into having children; to exist as inferiors to men; to have most of the privileges we, women, have today stripped from us. I’ve heard stories of my grandmothers over the past few years that have shocked and angered me. It makes me sad that they and the women before them didn’t get to experience life the way I do.

Luckily, times have changed and society has evolved. I am grateful for all the women who have come and gone before me who had to earn the freedom and luxuries that have become my birthright. Women had to fight to be heard and taken seriously. They had to be astronomically determined to get out of the house and prove they were capable (both intellectually and physically) of far more than cooking, cleaning and having babies. They were deprived of pursuing their passions like being authors, scientists, and doctors. Even women who made significant contributions to society often had to step aside and let a male colleague take the credit. They were beaten and killed over things I don’t think twice about. They had to go to extreme lengths to better the lives of future generations which took time, courage and a lot of sacrifices, but thankfully they persevered.

At times, I feel as though young women today are losing sight of all the things our female ancestors worked so hard to achieve: independence, strength, respect and proven intellect. Of course, there are a lot of amazing women out there, to say the least, but social media and the rise of influencers mean that women are constantly being fed the idea that beauty trumps all. The content flooding the internet with is… well, embarrassing, for lack of a better word. I’m not sure what’s more cringe – the photos themselves or the nonsensical captions they are paired with in attempt to mask the vanity:

Is Doublemint Gum doing commercial auditions again or were you torn because both selfies are just too good? Also extra: the apostrophe on “Sunday’s” and fresh lipstick for lounging.

It’s the phone we’re supposed to be looking at? All I can see is the crooked door frame from bad editing.

Finally, someone discovered the secret to happiness. This selfie just screams “I don’t care.”

Nothing like an overly filtered/photoshopped selfie to drive home this caption’s message.

You know a fresh face of full coverage makeup comes off when you sweat right? P.S. Your gym looks an awful lot like a car.

Solid advice. You should take it.

Note to my future children: No need to post a weird solo photo of yourself to wish us a happy anniversary on a social media platform we don’t use. But thanks!

This selfie is definitely going to up their chances of a win. Fo sho.

I’m glad Pac isn’t around to see his lyrics turned into captions for basic white girls with duck faces.

Free ad for Nike except between the filter and the full shirtless body shot, this post definitely isn’t about those unbranded pants.

Over 14,000 likes? Those must be some pretty spectacular clouds… if only we could see them.

Okay, I go could go on forrevvver, but you get the point. I didn’t even have to look hard on Instagram to find these photos. There are literally hundreds of thousands of Instagram accounts (with followers to match) of women who do their own “selfie modeling” so much that it’s a career choice now and it’s changing what girls aspire to become.

What’s easy to forget but important for girls to remember when comparing themselves to all these seemingly flawless women is that as effortless and perfect as these photos appear to be, they simply are not. It’s laughable thinking about the process of posting a selfie. Behind nearly every one is actual prep time adjusting hair, facial expressions, body positioning, and more with dozens of deleted photos that didn’t make the cut. On top of that prep work, the pictures are still edited and filtered to perfection. Phone cameras even have built-in face smoothing now when you take a picture to speed up the editing process. Videos are no exception. Seriously, it’s rare to see an honest selfie. Even Snapchat added filter effects. The whole point of a camera is to capture a moment in time or share an experience, but photos like these don’t capture experiences at all. They merely say, “look at me.” Even still, we are no longer capturing what we look like; we are capturing what we want to look like. And to all you girls posting overly beautified photos of yourselves and then captioning it with a quote about inner beauty… please, knock it off.

In many cases, you’d probably never look twice at some of the “models” on social media if you saw them in person, but the facade they are creating is setting poor goals for girls. At least subliminally, it’s sending the message that the most important part of being a woman is looking pretty – and not just pretty but perfect.

With the increasing emphasis being placed on physical beauty, it’ll be interesting to see how today’s youth handles aging (including myself on this). It’s already looking grim with plastic surgery on the rise for 20-somethings. Cosmetic assistance aside, you can’t escape aging. Outside of a clothing line and Photoshop, “Forever 21” doesn’t exist. Everyone ages and younger more attractive people step up, always. When you feel fulfilled and happy with your hobbies, career, or accomplishments in general, you may not  mind passing the baton as much. But when you define yourself or your career by how you look and how desired you feel by other people; when your sense of worth comes from the number of followers you have or likes you get; when your ego is fed by an audience who starts to care less and less about you; then the transition out of the spotlight could turn out to be a difficult one.

So when did this “look how pretty I am” addiction become socially acceptable? I think it’s so prevalent among millennials that many of us don’t even notice how ridiculous it is. I mean selfies are awkward. They are very strange pictures to take, nonetheless share. Please ignore the inappropriate audio, but this video clip of a girl taking a selfie is not entirely an inaccurate depiction of the absurd process that so many girls feel compelled to partake in:

This happens every millisecond of the day in people’s homes and cars, etc., you just don’t always see it in action. There are a lot of great things about Generation Y, and it’s a generation I’m proud to be a part of for a LOT of reasons, but the abundance of self-interest in what’s been nicknamed “Generation Me” is admittedly annoying. I realize every new generation gets a label and it’s a repeat cycle for people to think the human race is doomed when observing the youth. Decade after decade we survive, thrive even, and somehow our quality of life continues to improve despite gloomy outlooks. I’m in no way implying that we’re all screwed. Without a doubt, Generation Y is doing a lot of things right; but I do think we need to get over ourselves. One of our generation’s largest and most impactful creation to date is social media. Despite its intent to “connect” us all, it transformed into a tool for self-promotion rather than social engagement. Our biggest interest in others is for an audience.

The focus of this blog isn’t about millennials though (which for the record I’m a fan of), it’s about women – specifically today’s young women who seem to be the biggest pioneers of self-promotion. Now, before writing this post, I tried to consider pros of the selfie fad. I did find people arguing that selfies are increasing the confidence of girls as they oftentimes get lots of positive feedback from their friends on social media. I can understand how someone would come to that conclusion, however, I disagree with the rationale. First of all, most of the feedback they are getting is related only to their looks. Comments like “OMG you’re so pretty!” or “Hottie!” should only be taken as compliments to a certain degree. Additionally, this kind of continuous feedback can quickly turn into a need for attention. There is a difference between being confident and being self-absorbed. Besides, most of the photos young girls are uploading have been edited. The feedback they are getting is that their modified and filtered selves are pretty, not necessarily their real selves. That is not the kind of confidence to build on. And I’m not convinced it’s building confidence as much as it’s building competition. This is the literal opposite of what our female ancestors worked so hard to achieve. There are days I worry that women are collectively taking steps backward, not forward.

I realize I’m not saying anything enlightening here, but there’s no question that the mainstream media is also playing a role. Shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Desperate Housewives are setting poor and unrealistic examples for our female youth. When tuning into the popular television show, The Bachelor, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the selection of women they’ve chosen to represent America’s most eligible singles. Then there’s the new hit country song on the radio titled, “God Made Girls” by RaeLynn. Every single lyric in this song is soul-crushing. To give you a preview, this is the opening verse:

Somebody’s gotta wear a pretty skirt,
Somebody’s gotta be the one to flirt,
Somebody’s gotta wanna hold his hand
So God made girls

I hope I don’t need to explain what is wrong with these lyrics. I don’t personally believe in a god who made us, but a lot of people do, and the narrative that we were created for the purpose of serving men seriously needs to die.

My point in all of this is that we can blame men all we want for the existence of gender inequality, but ultimately, we’re contributing to it too. We have to take some responsibility and accept that, at least in part, we are doing it to ourselves. We are each other’s enemies.

I know it’s possible to raise a daughter who is strong, independent, confident and intellectual, but I am also realistic in knowing that friends and media can impact a child’s life in ways parents have no control over. How do you teach a girl in today’s society to take pride in her smarts or her talents more than her beauty? How do you teach your daughter to think for herself and to have a mind of her own? How do you teach her to have confidence and stand up for what she believes in? How do you teach her to hold her ground with men who treat her like crap? How do you convince her that she should look for a good life partner and not just someone who will buy her a fancy ring? A partner that will not be threatened by her strength, opinions, success, and independence, but rather encourages those things? How do you make sure she grows up to be passionate about something greater in life than looking pretty? How do you ensure she doesn’t become self-absorbed in a self-obsessed society? And most importantly, how do you keep her away from her peers and all the media that teaches her otherwise?

I know I will do whatever I can so my future daughters and nieces are aware of and appreciate all the challenges our female ancestors faced to earn us the rights we have as women today. I want them to become women that would make our ancestors proud and happy to have endured all they did. In the meantime, I hope we don’t undo the credibility they worked so hard to achieve and that the benefits of their efforts go on for as long as our species is in existence.

Ladies: There is nothing wrong with caring about beauty or enjoying feeling beautiful! However, our appearance should never be what defines our value or worth. It is up to us to promote the message of our female ancestors – that we are so, so much more.