IGen youth are heading back to school and that means school photos. For some, it’s a fun day and for others it’s stressful, given the awkwardness of puberty and lack of control of the lens. Today’s tweens to young adults are the most photographed generation in history, thanks to the Selfie Era. They have tricks to perfect their poses and editing apps to embellish or enhance their look. It’s no wonder. Young people are bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards. At the same time, the body positivity and self-acceptance movements are growing. How do iGen kids navigate these seemingly opposing cultural trends?
One way is iGens use different platforms to show their public and their private self. A third of tweens say they use their “rinsta,” aka real Instagram, for everyone they know. Then they have a separate account under a different name that they call their “finsta,” or fake Instagram, for their closest friends, per a recent Ipsos Omnibus study with youth ages 10 to 13. Boys were more likely than girls to do that.
“On Instagram, everyone wants to look perfect,” says Janet Oak, senior vice president-deputy head of media development at Ipsos. She says someone might show their edited ‘skinny body’ on Rinsta and their embarrassing, let-it-all-hang-out self on Finsta. “You have an online persona which is different from your in-person persona where you have to show the real you,” she says.
IGen see selfies as an extension of themselves
Before they post their perfected selfies to Instagram, young people use editing apps like YouCam Perfect and Facetune to make their teeth whiter, make their lips bigger, their eyes wider or their bikini body skinnier. On Snapchat, they also use the filters that distort or swap faces or add rabbit ears to be funny and entertain themselves.
“These apps are a way of expressing themselves and playing with their look, says Oak. “They don’t see it as inauthentic. It’s an extension, an aspiration; it’s maybe what they could be.”
But in the heat of puberty, nearly half of tweens polled say they can’t wait for the day when they “glow up” and become more attractive. “More kids think they’ll have the ugly duckling syndrome,” says Oak.
Among the body parts they say they would change if they magically could, abs topped the list. Hair, then arms or legs were next, then chest and face and then butt. Still, the largest response, about a third, said that they wouldn’t change anything. That mirrors how adults reacted in a recent Ipsos survey on behalf of RiverMend Health.
Even superstar Beyoncé recently spoke about accepting her body in the September issue of Vogue. But, she also has a dedicated glam squad and one of the most-curated images of anyone in the world.
It’s not surprising that the body positivity movement emerged as a counter-trend. Bloggers to brands are touting the virtues of natural hair and skin, and body acceptance for all. Denim brand Not Your Daughter’s Jeans ran a television commercial around Mother’s Day advising moms to not talk about their daughter’s bodies.
Experimentation or obsession?
Yet, some doctors and psychologists warn that the curated selfie craze can foster an unhealthy obsession on appearance.
“This emphasis on visual performance shifts the focus to how young people look,” says Renee Engeln, psychology professor and body image researcher at Northwestern University. “When you clear out some of that appearance focus, you’re leaving room for other types of development,” she says.
She hopes that young people and their parents will rein in the craze. “There’s one thing that young people are excellent at and that’s rebelling,” says Engeln. “Social media is fantastic because we are in control of a lot of it, so we can take it back. Young people can change how and what they relate to it.”
This isn’t a new issue for iGens, says Andrea Greaves, a qualitative research consultant for Ipsos. She cautions against making broad brush assumptions about iGen youth as previous generations faced. “iGen is an unpredictable generation because they have the opportunity and ability to be so fluid and open,” she says. “This is a chameleon generation that we have to get to know. In the past, we were able to quickly label and say, ‘this is what people feel and how we want to market to them.’ In this generation, it’s harder.”