Every generation has a new definition of childhood and adolescence. Each decade brings with it a new interpretation of the bildungsroman. Technological development changes the ideas around growing up. When you think of teenagers from the 1700s, you think about a bunch of teenagers, covered in mud, hanging out on a farm, or in some huge, Victorian mansion. Thoughts of adolescence sixty years past conjure up ideas of young men in flat tops, of James Dean crying and Ponyboy Curtis crying. When I think of adolescence today, I think of technological advancements. The accompaniment and familiarity with Instagram have extended the idea of “typical” adolescence. The typical problems associated with growing up have found a new plane – social media.
I remember hearing non-stop criticism about the use of photoshop in magazines, Hollywood, and advertisements in the 2000s. Back then, there were ads illustrating that models didn’t even look like the advertisements they were in. The obsession with being skinny was widespread and dangerous. Body image became a serious issue for a huge percent of teenage girls, eating disorders were widespread and almost normalized. Gossip magazines did nothing to help and everything to hurt the issue. Branching into social media, the same issues have found a new cloak under Instagram to mask themselves.
Photoshopping Growing Pains
Photoshop doesn’t exist in the same way anymore. While Photoshop was the tool of companies, FaceTune is the tool of the individual. Virtually every major account and millions of smaller accounts regularly edit their photos to unrealistic standards. The problems of the 2000s have only become more normalized and accessible. While before, essentially only models were hyper-photoshopped, now everyday people online are edited. Your friends, even. Unrealistic beauty standards became simultaneously more normalized and more criticized in the last three-five years. There are thousands of accounts that point out the amount of editing done to Instagram pictures, but still, millions of young people struggle with their image and appearance because of the exposure to hyper-edited photos of people online.
Not just in terms of weight, but the look of your face, the size of your lips and nose, the cut of your jaw have become central topics of concern for young people. Plastic surgery has become normal, and plastic surgeons have found an ideal demographic in insecure people, just growing up, with ample money to spend. It’s common to see young people with lip injections, nose jobs, and botox done. The inspiration for these surgeries is from online influence. While yes, the individual chooses to get cosmetic surgery, does this not mirror a more serious issue? The hyper-importance placed on images that social media has created has fostered new ideals for beauty. This has created new insecurities where there were none before.
Relationships Remade by Instagram
Beyond the image, Instagram has, in part, fundamentally repurposed the whole idea of friendship, relationships, and communication. It’s normal to approach someone in their DMs, having only seen their pictures and not knowing them in real life. You can expect to have a Finsta that’s accessible only to your closest. It’s normal to talk to people only through Instagram’s chat function. These small alterations might just seem like slight ways of altering previously known methods of communication and meeting, but I believe it has an impact on the personality is undeniable. The parameters for relationships and communication have fundamentally changed from the previous generation to the next because of the hyper-prevalence of Instagram.
It’s unacceptable to like the pictures of someone of the desired sex when committed and it’s unacceptable to approach someone of the desired sex on Instagram. New paranoias have developed for young people in relationships. Other users will push to have their relationship ideals normalized. There are hundreds of things to become jealous of, there are hundreds of slights to pick up on from a partner or potential partner. Because Instagram records everything for future reflection, all actions are under the microscope. What does this story mean? Does this caption mean anything? Why didn’t I get a tag? These and millions of other relationship anxieties have developed in the belly of Instagram. Relationships are destroyed by action or inaction online. Online gestures have become as important as physical ones. And, these gestures are normalized and mandated by the generation growing up with these tools.
Growing Up With Friends Online
Friendships online have stretched into a new form. Communication online has its own language and connecting with people has new obstacles. The same anxieties about relationships can occur in friendships on Instagram. It’s normal to add and keep friends on Instagram – it’s, therefore, normal to show off in front of your friends. The insecurities developed on Instagram – seeing others’ flexes constantly – heighten by only (or mostly) showing them to your friends. While before, successes and failures were the business of the individual in question, it’s extended now to everyone in your immediate and grander social circle. Friends have now become a form of competition to many young people. It is no longer just friendships for friendship’s sake, but underlying competition between people.
This isn’t to say all friends are in competition with another. There’s the existence of having hundreds of people you follow, yet only dozens you regularly speak to throughout the year know about stuff they wouldn’t ordinarily know about. It’s an environment ripe for competition between people you’re not that close with, but close enough to have as a friend. The relationships between acquaintances has taken a whole new form from this. Private pictures of vacation, outside of Instagram would usually only find the eyes of close friends and family. They are now the entertainment of people you rarely talk to. The bonds with people you’re not that close with have shifted from what it was. There is an expectation to present to everyone you even kind of know.
Presenting as Second Nature
The prevalence of presentation has become second nature to people who grew up on Instagram. Considering how you look or how something would photograph has become hyper-present. There is a constant awareness that the younger generation has that older people don’t have. How do I look at this moment? Is my makeup okay? Does my hair look fine? We have developed a small person inside ourselves who is constantly looking outward.
There is a viewer extremely paranoid in how we present. The difference between online and offline has blurred for people who are so used to constantly being before a camera. Not just the camera, but considering what their next post will be or how their comments/likes will be interpreted. Their personality is constantly up for dissection, and it’s totally different from how any other generation before it has developed. Privacy, not just online but from the self, is debatable.
Shoutout to Alexandre Desan of UNSPLASH.COM for the featured image.