I don’t understand this new world of social media. It seems unreal to me on so many different levels.

Today’s kids are engaged in startling activities that we would never have remotely considered when we were growing up. And our generation was not known for prudery.

In this new world in which life, communication, and relationships increasingly take place online, one’s value heavily relies on the ability to collect ‘likes’, ‘friends’ and ‘followers’: all intangibles. The pivotal role that social media play in the life of teens can only be understood with the knowledge that ‘likes’ equate to acceptance, appreciation, and admiration. As in the “real world,” the absence of attention equates to rejection, disapproval, and abandonment. Teen girls (and boys, too) have discovered that the most effective method for receiving attention and “status” from their peers is by offering up sexually suggestive or explicit “selfies” in the social media.

I didn’t even know what a selfie was until I came across the term on the Internet and looked it up. A selfie, for the uninitiated, is a personally produced self-portrait or short clip done with a cell phone, digital or web camera.

The most benign selfies feature pouting teens with feigned expressions of arousal, exposed flesh, and provocative poses to enhance gender-defining physicalities. The most extreme images feature explicit acts including masturbation and coitus between partners of both genders.

The digital world is awash in such images—and we’re not just talking about out-and-out pornography.

MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, and a proliferation of “amateur” websites  provide a stage like never before for the display of sexuality. Even more troubling, however, is what should be private teen behavior is now performed on a public stage in a society that has become desensitized to sex.

This has led to an increasing demand for more risqué images, which is where the increasing popularity of sexting fits in. Considered a form of flirtation, sexting carries potentially catastrophic ramifications as teens unwittingly produce and distribute what is considered by law as child pornography.

On any given day there are news stories of persons being arrested for the possession of child pornography. While mostly adults, some are children themselves.

In January of this year, a 16-year-old Virginia girl was arrested for creating child pornography. She admitted to taking “lewd” photos of herself, posting them to Twitter and sending them directly to male friends.

In a conversation in general terms (and not about any one case), Sgt. Stephen Anders of the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force says that far too many young people—predominantly girls but boys, too—are creating selfies in varying degrees of sexuality and do not realize they may indeed be doing something illegal.

“She takes a picture of herself, exposing herself, whether its her breasts or genitals, she just produced child pornography because it is sexually explicit material depicting someone under the age of 18. She then sends it to her boyfriend, she’s now distributed child pornography. In addition to producing and distributing it she posses it because you have to have it before you can send it to someone and after you make it you posses it. So, right there in Virginia that’s three different felonies that she committed by taking that one picture and sending it to her boyfriend.”

If the boyfriend asked for the picture, he solicited child pornography and he is also in possession of it. Those, again, are felonies that can be compounded even further.

“But then if he starts sharing it with his friends, as most young men would be apt to do because they’re, like, ‘…hey look at what I’ve got,’ you know, trying to raise their status level with their peers… that starts being distributed and it spider webs out until it is everywhere and everyone has access to it.”

Therein is one of the biggest and most dramatic outcomes of a child or adolescent taking pictures of themselves that are considered pornographic. Those pictures are out there for anyone to see, forever.

The truth is that anxiety about appearance begins at an early age.  Studies show that 72% of girls aged between 10 and 17 said they felt tremendous pressure to be beautiful, and more than 90% of girls want to change at least one aspect of their appearance. Insecurity and low self-esteem are at an all-time high, thanks to the media’s saturation of rare and unattainable standards of beauty: tall, extremely thin, large breasts, symmetrical facial features with full lips, large eyes, long thick hair, and honey-colored skin.

This package is incessantly used to sell us everything from beer to sports cars. The media’s offer of role models is, for the most part, demoralizing, hyper-sexualized, and anti-feminist. This has left us with a generation of prematurely sexualized, troubled, and confused youth.

Young people are objectifying their bodies and communicating that they are promiscuous, available, and sexually-driven by partaking in these social media displays, whether they fully comprehend this or not. Parents are being left in the dark as teens develop online avatars with increasing autonomy.

Disturbingly, research also shows that 88% of these images will be made available online, usually after a break-up, damaging reputations and jeopardizing future employability and relationships.

Placing excessive merit on one’s outward appearances is unhealthy. Placing value on one’s ability to sexually arouse an audience is unhealthier. With maturity comes self-respect and understanding. Unfortunately, such insight usually arrives too late. Once an image is released on the Internet, it can never be retracted and becomes a permanent public reminder of one’s mistakes.

We must teach young people self-respect and respect for each other. Young people need to understand that they are a package comprised of mind, spirit, and body, none of which is visible on the surface.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Annie Lenox performing “Keep Young and Beautiful”


2 Responses to “selfies”

  1. 1 Simon
    March 11, 2014 at 5:08 am

    Just sick, and i mean not the girl. What next prison sentence for this girl and her boyfriend and a record?

  2. 2 Bob H
    March 11, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I passed on the “felony” paragraphs of this to a middle school principal I have worked with. I’ll see if she thinks it is a useful resource for social studies for her students. I think it is clearly written and easy to understand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: