Mr. Rogers and the Unimaginable Pressure Teenagers Face In A World of Unrealistic Social Media Standards
As a kid, I had a unibrow that my mother, legit, held me down to tweeze into two separate ones. My hair was a big brown poof of frizz. And let's not forget the buckteeth. Needless to say, I wasn't considered one of the pretty or popular girls.
As for my first kiss... I'll never forget that debacle. I'd been hanging with my "boyfriend". And yes, I had to put that word in quotes because he was more of a gloried friend who pitted me rather than actually liked me. We'd been waiting for my bus to arrive to take me home. When it got there, he gave me a quick peck on the lips. A billion butterflies erupted in my belly. Thrilled to death, I spun around and proceeded to bolt up the steps into the bus...
...and landed flat on my face.
I fell up the steps and made an fool out of myself because, even to this day, I'm still painfully awkward.
I could fill an entire blog based solely on my teenage pitfalls.
Jesse is my mini me (even though at thirteen, she already towers over me). She's the prettier, smarter, and more talented version of me. She's also, unfortunately, inherited my awkwardness.
A unique soul, Jesse is a sensitive and creative loner who shines so bright, her brilliance blinds me. I wish she could see herself through my eyes, because when she looks at herself, she only sees what she perceives as faults. To make matters worse, she's a teen in an era of Kardashians and Instagram models (yes, that's actually a thing). Where my generation, and those who came before us, never had the added pressure of social media standards during our formative years, our children suffer this new torment. Sure, each generation had its share of unrealistic beauty standards, but social media changed everything. It altered our entire world in a way we, as people who weren't weened on Instagram and Facebook, have trouble understanding.
Our girls idolize plastics such as Kylie Jenner to the point that they torture themselves to obtain her surgically enhanced so-called perfection. And when they don't measure up (because no one can without plastic surgeons and a team of hair and makeup people), they feel ugly and worthless on a whole higher level.
Remember the Heathers? Instagram standards put those bitches to shame.
As adults, we can (should?) see past the filtered photos people post on Instagram. We know that perfection is nothing more than a bit of trickery. An illusion. From the Instagram moms and models to the fitness folks right on down to the everyperson posting their vacation pictures, it's all a perfectly staged deception. But teens? Too many of them can't see past the facade. And it's not just our girls who are being influenced by the fantasy perpetuated on social media. Boys feel the pressure as well. Doubt me? Spend more than two seconds on Instagram and I promise you you'll see a helluva lot of buff, shirtless men pushing a "fitness" lifestyle right alongside the women posing to give you the best view of her sculpted ass encased in brightly colored spandex.
Social media made me realize that our kids, from toddlers to young adults, need less Kardashian/Jenner and more Mr. Rogers.
I took my daughters shopping for school clothes this week. Tyler, at eight, is my delightful girlie-girl. She's a snap to shop for. Buy her some glittery shirts and black leggings and she's thrilled. Jesse, however, is a tougher cookie. She's a wonderful blend of 90s grunge and modern comfort. She rocks the hell out of her Doc Martens. I wish she could see her magnificence. Instead, all she sees is someone who don't measure up to unrealistic beauty standards when she looks in the mirror. She was reduced to tears in an H&M dressing room because the she feels the clothing she wants to wear don't compliment her body type. I personally think my daughter's body is amazing. She's tall, with incredible long legs. Her big, gorgeous brown eyes are framed by thick, long lashes. Her hair is wavy and long, and just the right shade of brown to compliment her skin tone. And she has curves!!
Basically, Jesse is everything I wished I was at her age, and I ache for her to understand that truth.
I spent half my life extremely skinny. I was, literally, a narrow board until I reached my twenties. No boobs. No hips. No butt. Just a straight run from the top of my head, right down to my feet. In fact, when I was around her age, one of my brother's friends called me an ironing board. And when all my fuller-figured, taller, prettier friends already had their first boyfriends, I was stuck watching from the sidelines with envy because there wasn't a boy in the world who so much as glanced in my direction.
Isn't it ironic how Jesse wishes she had my teenage body, and I wish I could have had hers?
Jesse's internal struggle was never more apparent then when we watched Won't You Be My Neighbor?
During the movie, a clip of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is shown. It's from the episode when Daniel Tiger asked Lady Aberlin if he's a mistake. Jesse broke down. Just absolutely lost it, sobbing uncontrollably in my arms. Seeing my daughter that upset was a real awakening for me, and made me realize I was doing a piss-poor job of leading by example. I've called myself fat and ugly in front of my daughters more times than I have strands of hair on my head. Not only were they listening, they were, apparently, learning. My self-flagellation helped shape Jesse into a woman who is her own worst enemy.
Shame on me for that.
Now it's time for me to undo all that damage. How exactly am I going to do that? I've no idea. I'm learning this whole motherhood thing as I live it each day. But, I do know that step one is to stop hating on myself, and be a better roll model for my impressionable daughters - who are watching me to see how to be a strong, capable, and confident woman who knows her own value.
In a world saturated in ridiculous social media beauty standards, I need to teach my daughters that perfection is just an illusion, and that their wonderfully imperfect selves are remarkable just they way they are. Or, in the immortal words of Mr. Rogers...
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