Social Media, Photoshop & Me: Some Words From a Teenager Growing Up Online

The influence of social media on teenage girls applies pressure daily. I know because I am one. The line between showing off our best selves and warping our appearances is too fine for comfort. My generation is the first for whom Photoshop and filters have become our own personal domain, rather than that of advertisers. It takes a lot of courage to put the most real version of yourself on the internet -- a permanent realm. It's hard to love your pimple and keep it in your selfie, knowing that it may end up a topic in somebody else's group chat.

I think it's always worth asking: How do Photoshopped selfies affect people other than the individual posting them? Even when I recognize that an image has been Photoshopped, I still sometimes find myself buying into the image of an ideal body or skin type. Even when I know, deep down, that an image is presenting unattainable, unrealistic perfection, it can be impossible not to crave it.

These carefully curated images, presented daily on the Instagram accounts of a wealth of beautiful celebrities, can be a source of great insecurity. When I see fit, healthy famous people who are already stunning in real-life, presenting Photoshopped images, it can be difficult not to wonder: "If Beyoncé thinks her body needs to be edited, what on Earth does mine need?"

An edited picture can, in some ways, be validation: an image of what we may someday achieve with time: clear skin, perfect body, gorgeous hair. I personally have felt tempted to adjust pictures of myself before posting them, and I think every girl my age has too. I'll even own up to posting an edited picture or two in the past, only to regret it later. We’re all experiencing growing pains, and body insecurity is part of the territory. The difference is, teenagers now exist in a more public space; the private insecurities of the teens who came before us are now out there for everyone to see and "like" and comment on. The stakes are higher.

Young famous women are under pressure too. When a celebrity like Kylie Jenner or Selena Gomez Photoshops a picture of themselves on social media, it can make headlines. Sometimes, these posts garner millions of comments and criticisms, and are ultimately deleted shortly thereafter, presumably out of shame or regret.

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There is a school of thought that Photoshop and other editing apps are acceptable because social media is meant to showcase the best possible version of ourselves. It is said that the user publishing the picture, famous or not, should be able to have control over how it looks. After all, the internet is forever. But how are we supposed to practice self-love if our "best selves" are not our real selves?

In the end, I have to remind myself that this (albeit awkward) stage in our lives is ultimately beautiful, with or without filters. We’re young and in the midst of creating ourselves. This is a time for us to celebrate and embrace our natural image through the process of internal and external growth.

As young people, our challenge is to ‘be the change.’ As the first generation dealing with these particular online pressures, we also need to be the generation that rejects the standards that push us to edit ourselves. If we begin to post our photos, feeling secure in our imperfections and encouraging others to do the same, the current standards of beauty may slowly become obsolete. Just as Instagram has become a forum to peddle perfection, it has also become a place for young people to own our flaws and embrace the realities of our bodies.

When we value love and acceptance above toned thighs; when we focus more on accepting all body types, shapes and sizes; when enough of us stop buying into -- and "liking" -- altered, unattainably flawless images, then wider media will eventually adapt to fit our interests and reshape what perfection looks like. This shift is already underway on runways, where recent years have seen designers featuring models with previously "unacceptable" body types. When fashion houses do this, it is usually to much acclaim and public praise.

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To my peers, I would say: Before posting an edited picture of yourself, be sure to take into account its potential effects on others and on your own personal growth. Social media might be a source of pressure on us now, but if we use it as a source for change, it can be a source of empowerment too.

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