Delara Youssefian looks back on her awkward teenage years and contemplates how social media is influencing the next generation. For TWSS issue #17 ‘Masks’.
There are a lot of memories I cherish from my early teenage years. While I’ve made a huge effort to block quite a lot of it out from my mind, I look back on my past awkward, frizzy, self-conscious self with a strange sense of nostalgia and love. Making plans with friends to go to the town centre on a Saturday, with a clean set of the classic leggings-and-denim-shorts combo set aside for the occasion, and the money I’d saved over the last few weeks to buy myself a fresh pot of Maybelline’s Dream Matte Mousse, shade ‘Orange’. I couldn’t talk to anyone new without punctuating every other word with a nervous laugh, and no matter how rigorously I applied my tea tree oil stick, I just couldn’t get rid the pimples across my cheeks. If you had asked 12-year-old me whether I was happy with myself, the answer would unquestionably be ‘*nervous laugh* hell no’. But 20-year-old me couldn’t be happier that I went through that stage of Primark knotted crop-tops and too much black eyeliner, because it taught me a lot. That’s why I feel an overwhelming surge of sadness when I see young kids today wearing genuinely nice outfits, perfect makeup and hair, and confidence exploding through the roof; they’re bypassing what generations have had to endure in order to survive to their late teens and twenties, and there is so much wrong with that.
Gone are the days of silver and blue eyeshadow and concealer lips, now we have fully-contoured and cut-creased teenagers strutting the streets and filling our social media feeds. I have friends with younger sisters, around 10 or 11, who call them up with questions on which tanning oil to get from Superdrug because they want to kick-start their bronzing before they go on holiday. Me? I’m pretty sure at that age I didn’t even know fake tan existed, and I still got excited to use that blue-tinted sun cream because the smell would always remind me of summer and fun memories, even though it gave me a white cast that made my skin about 10 shades lighter than it really was.
The long acrylic nails and 5-step skincare routines are just a metaphor for the dramatic shift in teenage attitudes – they become concerned with appearance much earlier than ever before, they care more about what is socially acceptable from primary school age, and they pick up typically ‘adult’ activities such as replying to emails or going to the bank to deposit some extra cash, then complain about how ‘stressed’ and ‘tired’ they are from their difficult pseudo-adult lives.
Where have the Nintendo games gone? Where have the board games gone? Why are they sporting glowy, flawless skin with perfect eyeliner instead of spot-ridden, orange faces with eyeliner thicker than a bowl of oatmeal?
The biggest reasons why? YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest. If we as adults are prone to feeling inadequate, and standing in front of the mirror tugging on bits of stomach fat that don’t seem to appear on any of the bodies on Instagram, how could the same feeling not be felt by the age group that are perhaps most vulnerable to body consciousness and insecurity? Being constantly surrounded by pictures that have obviously taken a trip through Photoshop and Facetune is damaging, so of course younger teenagers feel more pressure nowadays to look the same. I thank the Lord every day that social media influencers didn’t exist when we were growing up; as if comparing ourselves to the other girls in our schools or the ones on TV and in movies wasn’t enough, now kids are blessed with the online presence of actually (or seemingly) physically ‘perfect’ human beings whose job it is to teach them how to blend their bronzer in the right places and how to correctly apply false lashes. This vast source of self-consciousness-inducing media is so easily accessible to anyone and everyone, ready to guide them through a tutorial on how to successfully avoid the awkward stage, and kick puberty into the sunset. But that stage is necessary in a person’s life. Everyone needs to endure a few years of spots and unfortunate clothing choices, because the relief when you finally reach the end of the dark tunnel is incomparable to anything else. The rewards reaped from surviving that stage are infinite – (finally) some confidence in yourself and your appearance, gaining the ability to talk to someone without sweat building on your upper lip, the discovery of makeup and skincare products that actually work for your skin and look good, and also learning how to use them properly so you don’t look like you’re going through an unfortunate and accidental emo phase.
These things might be superficial, but the confidence it can give to a person really can’t be underestimated. A thick skin and a great deal of strength are the rewards when you finally come to the end of years of insecurity and self-doubt.
People have been saying for decades that ‘kids are growing up too fast’, it’s not exactly a new phenomenon. There are a million different factors having an impact on this, and maybe in the context we are living in today, there’s no room for kids to be kids. Instead of going to the park or wandering aimlessly around the shops, kids today are ditching school to protest against climate change and are witnessing terrorism and war both at home and internationally. It’s amazing that the younger generations are so politicised and aware of their world, but at the same time, these things are huge burdens to lay on the shoulders of children. We might have been aware of the all the world’s crap when we were growing up, but politics never seemed so personal then as it does now – it was just another ‘adult issue’. Kids are making speeches to international organisations, they’re organising demonstrations, they’re carrying out campaigns and activism online; they’re fighting everything that is wrong with our world, and doing that clearly requires a lot of growing up, fast. Maybe their changing physical appearances just reflect how kids are being forced to mentally grow up quicker now. Even so, I’ll still always give an encouraging and sympathetic smile to the uncomfortable-looking girl sat on the bus with an aura of frizz around her head and mismatched clothing: girl, I get you, and I promise, one day you’ll look back on yourself with admiration and pride.
Illustration by Rosa Stevens.