Anna-Lena Jonsson-Cohen, BA Student
Hunter College, The City University of New York
The rapid development of technology and emergence of smartphones and social media have drastically changed the lives of girls. Their exposure to social media starts at a very young age and by teenage years has become their main source of communication and interactions. Teenage years are already dramatic and difficult for most with hormones raging, bodies changing and young minds trying to make sense of the world. With the prevalence of social media, it has become even more dramatic as teenagers now need to find their identity online with a whole different set of rules. Social media has become the platform for performance which greatly affects the lives of girls, often in a negative way.
Today, many children, before even being born, make their debut on social media by expecting parents sharing ultrasound pictures to show their bliss. Thereafter, the progression of the pregnancy is vigilantly updated with pictures of growing bellies, announcement of the baby’s sex, and colorful gendered baby showers. Once the baby is born there is an endless update of pictures of the child’s development and progress. The Internet security company AVG (2010) found that 92% of children in the United States start their digital footsteps before the age of two; these statistics will most likely keep increasing. Children today are taught to perform for others’ pleasure from a very young age and to be viewed through a digital screen.
This type of performance behavior is continuously reinforced in children by parents and other role models throughout childhood. Sales (2016) sets up a very common scene of this by describing a musical performance in an elementary school. Here the children are singing their hearts out and while looking at the audience they are met by a sea of digital screens. This happens daily with parents constantly filming and taking pictures of their children, making them pose and perform so they can portray the idyllic family scene on social media. This affects adolescents’ self-concept and sense of self-worth (Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2016); it especially affects girls since in our society they are socialized to put emphasis on female beauty based solely on looks as they become hyperaware of their looks from a very young age.
What is it like to be a teenage girl today? A Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010 shows that teens spend nearly 11 hours a day online and plugged into cellphones and various electronic devices (Rideout, Foehr & Roberts, 2010). Most communication and interactions between teenagers today are done via social media and texting (Sales, 2016). However, the social media can be a very hostile environment as there is much emphasis on looks; therefore girls are posting increasingly provocative pictures of themselves in order to get “likes” and attention. Much of their self-esteem tends to be based on how they are viewed because their need to perform increases as they achieve their desired attention by attempting to look sexy. What they end up doing though is sexually objectifying themselves by using their bodies to find self-worth. It is hard to escape from because girls spend so much time on social media—the main stage for them to perform.
Sadly, such sexual self-objectification transfers to young women’s sexual experiences as well. Today, online pornography is readily available and this is where teenagers get most of their sex education. Pornography conveys a very skewed picture of sexual intimacy with a focus on degrading and violating women; unfortunately, this does not only stay online but channels into real life. Young women are often dissatisfied with their sexual encounters, mainly because their needs are rarely met because boys expect girls to perform like the porn stars while they themselves try to perform like the male costars (Sales, 2016). Girls see themselves as objects for others’ satisfaction; by internalizing this notion they start to perform like the porn actors they see online, even though it gives them little pleasure and can cause distress. Many girls disguise their dismay prevalent in hook up culture by saying that they too like rough sex with no strings attached (Sales, 2016). But again, this is just another example of a type of performance that girls engage in and use as a strategy to endure their voyage in this increasingly sexist climate.
It has never been easy to be a girl, but social media is making it even harder because it is an online world of uncontrolled sexism. Social media and the advancement of technology have created a platform where girls are forced to perform for approval in a rather hostile environment. This performance orientation is ingrained from a very early age as parents expose their children on social media often before they are even born. Thereafter it is only reinforced. Sadly, girls nowadays seem to be under the impression that what it means to be a girl is to be able to perform—regardless of the consequences.
Sales, N. J. (2016). American girls: Social media and the secret lives of teenagers [Kindle]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2016). The interrelated roles of mass media and social media in adolescents’ development of an objectified self-concept: A longitudinal study. Communication Research, 43, 1116-1140. doi:10.1177/0093650215600488