I’m pretty sure I know “what” and “how,” so I guess my main question is “why?”. Why are you here? And why did you do this to me? To us?
I guess to explain “why,” I must go through “what” and “how.” More and more, young children, and especially young girls, are encouraged to be more mature at younger and younger ages. Not just in sophistication and attitude, but physical expectations are also higher. Girls as young as 12 or 13 are expected to present themselves the same way as 30 year old women. This doesn’t mean they are starting to wear light blue eyeshadow, apply crusty mascara, or pierce their ears; that behavior is typical. It means that they are starting to wear contour, fake eyelashes, and pluck their eyebrows. I first went with my friend to get her eyebrows threaded when we were in 6th grade. A decade ago, Millie Bobby Brown and Skai Jackson wouldn’t have worn bodycon black dresses on the red carpet, they would have worn low-rise jeans. None of the things I have named are bad things, in fact, they are empowering things. However, the fact that girls at younger and younger ages feel the need to look older is frightening. If you need an example, scroll through Loren Gray’s Instagram feed, especially from 2017-2018 (for context, she turned 15 on April 19, 2017. She is now 17).
This pattern of younger and younger girls trying to look and act older is bred from society’s idolization of beauty and internalized misogyny. Society has always had physical expectations for women, and media has always spread those expectations, but that came in an entirely new form with social media. More accessible than ever, these ideas flourish and spread to a wider audience. In this case, the new real estate is younger girls. Instead of asking “what do I want to wear” girls start to ask “what can I wear to be like that girl I saw on Instagram.” Younger than ever, girls start to learn the ideal ingrained in our society that their value is directly tied to physical attractiveness. By 5th grade, my friends and I both had felt inadequacy in the way we looked and the men we were attracting. We were about 10. Even before middle school, we had realized that our looks were the main way to get what we were supposed to: male attention. By high school, I had learned this sometimes meant turning against one another. By looking more mature than they are, girls nowadays are trying to match societal expectations, even if they don’t realize it themselves; they may just think “this is what makes me look good” because that is the goal.
One of the biggest accelerators of these standards is romanticization. By displaying how much attention, love, and influence attractive women receive on social media, girls start to idealize what it means to be “beautiful.” This applies to other subjects as well. One primary example is mental health. When I was around 12, I had relatively severe depression. However, when I saw “cool” people posting pictures that say “Realize, Real Eyes, Real Lies” song lyrics about pain, and art about self-harm, I thought it was something beautiful. I even avoided treatment or recognition because I thought “I’m not cool enough to be depressed.” This form of romanticizing is incredibly common, and even more dangerous. It not only harms the viewer but ingrains that belief in the culture.
The question of “why” still remains. To oppress women and guarantee man’s dominance? To eliminate childhood? No reason at all? All of the above? We just can’t know. What we can do is recognize these patterns and resist any further increase. When we see a post that says “Me when I was 14 vs. 14 year olds nowadays,” we can ask: why?