Teens care about their looks. Their evolving brains cause them to pay obsessive attention to social norms and they experience emotion with unmatched intensity. With hormones raging, how a teen is perceived by his or her peers matters. It matters a lot.
During the Hebrew month of Adar, Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! and Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood groups wrestle with questions about the standards of beauty they experience in American culture, meeting the biblical heroines, Esther and Vashti.
As we read in Megilat Esther, a call goes out throughout the land, “Assemble all of the beautiful young maidens at the fortress Shushan…And let the maiden who pleases Your Majesty the most be queen instead of Vashti…”(Esther 2:2-4). It is a beauty contest, and Esther wins.
Beauty Contest 24/7
We might hope that beauty contests are a thing of the past, but a quick foray into the virtual lives of teens proves otherwise. In 2013, teen girls organized thousands of beauty contests for themselves using the social media app, “Instagram.”
Here are the instructions, in one teen’s voice:
Hey Followers! A new contest is about to begin. It is called Best Hair! Tag me in a picture where your hair looks amazing! I’m only taking 8 entries! The contest ends at 7:00! So get as many likes on your photo as you can! First and Second Place will be announced. First Place test to be the account profile picture! Thank you.
And so it goes, with our teens checking their Insta-feeds hundreds of times an hour, they will vote, either by “liking” those friends who are “the fairest of them all” or in other contests, by placing an X across the face of the girl deemed least attractive.
Resisting and Resilience
How does a teen cope with the feeling of being Xed out based on her physical appearance?
During their Adar Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! gatherings girls will share stories about the standards of beauty they perceive in the world around them, practice being critical consumers of a media culture that bombards them with such messages, and draw strength from their one-of-a-kind Rosh Hodesh community.
The guys in our Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood groups do similar work, talking about how society expects them to smell and to strut, acknowledging that they too are impacted by our society’s obsession with the visual.
As concerned adults, we too have a role that we can play in keeping kids healthy and safe, in a world where image can matter so much. Parent Hollee Actman Becker offers some best-practices and words to the wise in her Huffington Post piece, “Beauty is Skin Deep, but on Instagram, It’s to the Bone.”
What You Can Do
Here are some of the basics for concerned parents:
- Don’t be afraid of setting limits. Be clear with your teen that if you pay for their phone, it belongs to you. If you think something on their phone is harmful to their well-being, it goes, because it’s yours, and you say so.
- Follow your child on Instagram. Keep an eye on this fast-paced, all-visual world our kids love so much. And, be ready to follow them on the next app, then the next, that will un-doubtedly replace it.
- Talk with your teen about their experience on Instagram and other social networking sites. Give them the space to share what they love and what they hate. Set expectations around cyber-bullying and mean behavior.
- Trust your teen and help her make good choices. As Hollee shares from her personal experience, our teens know how to use these tools for great benefit and great harm. Click here to read her story.