Our young women are trapped. Pretty and perfect like collector dolls perfectly preserved. They are positioned and posed in stillness, sliding up and down our news feed. Trapped behind glass the size of an iPhone. Their faces are beautiful, but they are crying out for help.
The girls behind the glass are in crises and I don’t know what to do.
Let me explain.
I have a teenage daughter. One day she broke her phone and needed to borrow mine for a couple of days. When she returned my phone, she forgot to log out of her Instagram account. Not her “real” Instagram account, but a “finsta” account, or “fake Instagram.”
These are the accounts your pre-teen and teens have that you don’t know about. Trust me, your kid has one. They are hiding it from you for a reason. It is where they express their deepest insecurities whether they mean to or not.
For two days I was forced down the rabbit hole of observing hundreds of young women’s “finsta” accounts. These accounts are typically only seen or followed by other kids’ “finsta” accounts, so it is a bit of a “secret world.”
Was I snooping? Well, yes, I guess I was. Seeing what these young women were posting wrecked me in a way I never thought possible.
The first thing that struck me, but didn’t surprise me, was the sexualized nature of the pictures. It really isn’t a shock to know that teen girls are posing and dressing provocatively in their photos.
Now more than ever girls can look like supermodels through filters and lighting and the right clothes and makeup. This is not a great concern for me. Teen girls want to look and feel older. I was probably the same way at that age.
What struck me and broke my heart was the text that accompanied these beautiful (albeit almost rated R) pictures. Never in my life have I seen a cluster of such sadness, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
From broken hearts to dissolving friendships to seemingly unhealthy relationships with boys, the amount of dysfunction was shocking. The captions were short but telling. Some were beautifully eloquent despite their limited character space. The general message, though, was sadness and defeat. The overwhelming theme was that these girls are broken and reaching out for help or validation in the form of “likes” or a quick “comment.”
Worse yet, these images oftentimes displayed alcohol, pot, vaping devices, or implied or overt promiscuity. This is not surprising given the hurt I was seeing. These are classic “numbing” mechanisms.
Of the hundreds of images, I saw, I did not once see a girl talking about how she was feeling great, or aced a test, or got an “A” on a paper.
They save those kinds of messages for their “real” Instagram accounts, the ones families and colleges and sorority sisters see. Are they facades? Who is to know?
The “finsta” accounts are full of beautiful girls, looking older than they are, with sadness behind their perfectly lined eyelids. I can only assume that if they are consuming the same images and messages that I did for two days…. all day every day, then they must be in a constant state of misery, self-loathing, depression and anxiety. They must think it is normal. They must think this is all there is.
Of course, this opened up some tough conversations with my daughter. Fights and frustration and tears were had, without much resolution. We have our own issues with mental health in my family and we are dealing with it by seeking help and doing the best we can. But not every family has access to those resources. Many families may not know their girls are struggling.
I’ve always been a fervent supporter of young women. I give a lot of financial support, to organizations that I believe lift girls up (Girls on the Run and The Miss America Scholarship Program) or by trying to be a mentor.
I realize now, it is not enough. We all need to work harder. I’m not a psychiatrist but I think the mental health of our young women is in crises.
It stands to reason that when their formative years intersect with a culture that devalues and marginalizes them that they would be suffering. Not to mention the cumulative effect that hours of social media has on their psyche, robbing them of true, personal, human contact.
I have no answers.
I just know I must continue to fight for them. Not just my daughters, but all young women. We all do. The girls behind the glass are in trouble. They are screaming out and suffocating behind those 6-inch screens. We need to break them out of there. We need to reach through the ether and hug them and tell them it is ok instead of scrolling past them, swiping them up, and out of sight.