“It’s because of her age” my mum would say each time my 12 year old niece would throw a tantrum.
As someone who grew up with this little girl, caring for her like she was my sister, I could never understand why at times she would turn into a drama queen, threatening to throw herself out of cars, or run away – pretty extreme if you ask me. She was always so loving and caring and even though I was told that the adolescent years were pretty tough for a parent or family member, I didn’t think it could be that bad.
When the going got tough, I would sit down with my niece to try to understand why she felt she needed to lash out and her response would always be that she “didn’t know.” It was only when I started asking my mum the same question that the motive became clear. Social Media.
It turns out that my niece would only freak out after she’d been online looking at her private Instagram account (everyone in her class was online). Photos of skinny girls in the latest clothes, out on holidays having so much fun (hashtag totes amaze), would make her take a look at the life she is living and feel as though she was inferior because she wasn’t doing the same. She comes from a normal family who aren’t able to take her on luxury cruises or buy her Christian Laboutins. And so when I found out, a part of me felt physically sick.
As a twenty something growing up in the digital age, I know how difficult it is to understand that what you see online isn’t real. It took me the best part of my early twenties to realise that though – at one point I banned all women’s magazines from my reading list! Now, i’m much more aware and on days where I may not be feeling great, I simply steer well clear of Facebook and my friends who all have seemingly perfect lives.
As someone who likes sport, I recently watched the Olympic Games in Rio and felt so inspired by Britain’s female rugby and hockey squads. They were all so strong and fit and I feel that they should be the ones holding the flag for women’s beauty, encouraging the young girls of today to keep fit whilst showing them that ‘strength is the new sexy’. But it seems that they can’t, because the world only recognises beauty as a stick thin model whose best friends are a light salad and toilet bowl.
Whenever we sit down and talk – my niece and I – I often think how lucky she is to have an auntie who is with the times, street wise and trendy (ok, maybe not trendy), who can help her to understand the importance of being true to herself and become street smart. What kills me though is to think that there are thousands of young girls out there right who don’t have this support, who are scanning all of the social sites with a pang in their stomachs thinking they don’t stack up to what they’re seeing, and thats not right.
As you grow older, you come to realise that life isn’t about wearing the latest brands, filtering your photos, pouting and thigh gaps. Life is about pushing yourself, being humble, good friends and experiencing the world. Some realise this earlier on in life, some when they might think it’s too late, but never when you need to know it most… when you’re just starting out.