Let’s teach our children that they are perfect.... Just as they are

As a mum to two small children, I fear the world they face into; its fickleness, unforgiving nature and cruel aspects, so says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll 
Let’s teach our children that they are perfect.... Just as they are

Portrait of three friends taking photos with a smartphone

HAVE you seen Dove’s new online film called Reverse Selfie? If not, I would advise looking it up.

I hadn’t come across it until I saw Sile Seoige speaking about her shock and anger at it; she was visibly upset at the reality that it portrays, the spiral that our young people are getting caught up in.

Part of the Dove Self-Esteem project to raise awareness of the impact social media appearance pressure and digital self-distortion can have on young people’s self-esteem, the film illustrates the process of a young girl, no more than 11 or 12 years old, taking a selfie on her phone. She puts on her lipstick and eye liner, takes the photo, and edits it to make herself look “prettier”, older, more Barbie-esque, then uploads it to a social media platform to receive flattering comments about how great she looks.

The film is especially impactful as it actually played this out in reverse. You first see the positive social media comments, and the picture of the perfectly symmetrical face, full lips, thick glossy hair, then the reversal of the process to un-edit the picture back to looking like the photographer herself, standing in her bedroom with the phone raised to take that much sought after “perfect selfie”.

The final up-close shot is of her young, vulnerable, innocent face. Her absolutely beautiful, perfect face. 

And you’re left with the gut-wrenching realisation that she doesn’t feel beautiful enough or worthy enough as she is.

She feels the need and pressure to hide behind filters and photo edits, until she’s past the point of recognition.

Sile pointed out that those of us in our 30s and 40s never heard of or had to come in contact with a photo filter or the pressure of social media as we were growing up. What our children are facing into now is terrifying; this constant undercurrent of pressure to look a certain way, the subliminal messaging from all angles that showing up as yourself with your imperfections and flaws is just not good enough.

What impact will this have on their confidence, self esteem, mental health? And what can we do about it?

Sile implored those watching to stop using filters — a way to adjust the appearance of your photo or video. While some seem light-hearted and fun, with stars sparkling in your eyes or butterflies flitting in your hair, others can be used to improve your colouring, make it look like you’re wearing makeup, or even transform the shape of your face.

She herself had regularly used them in the past to add a glow on tired days, but because of her increasing discomfort with the message it was sending, hasn’t used one now in a year. As she cried into the camera about her sadness around this topic, she highlighted how here she was with no makeup, tired and wrinkly but it didn’t matter.

She spoke about how filters hide somebody’s vibe, their energy. You can sense a person’s personality and emotions through their eyes, and these filter layers just remove the authenticity and the ability to get to know the real person. As she noted, you’re not fooling anybody. Everyone knows you’re using a filter. What are you trying to prove?

She implored those watching to reconsider their need to alter their faces, and instead to show up as themselves. She feared that we are sending out the worst signals to our children; insinuating to them that how they look needs to change, that they won’t be accepted by others and shouldn’t accept themselves as they are. Children are like sponges. They do what they see, and if they see us criticising, judging or altering our own appearances, obviously not happy in our own skin, it rubs off.

Sile spoke about the responsibility that she believes social media companies have to address this issue into the future and protect the wellbeing of future generations.

As a mum to two small children, I fear the world they face into; its fickleness, unforgiving nature, and cruel aspects. 

I remind them every day how beautiful they are, inside and out; how gorgeous their smiles are, how kind and caring they are, how happy they make us.

What I want for them is to feel that they are worthy and perfect just as they are, to not feel the need to alter their appearance in order to be seen or validated. And that needs to be modelled for them. The Dove ad and Sile’s discussion about it has really given me food for thought around our attitudes and beliefs about our own self-worth, and how best to instil confidence and self-belief in our young people.

It goes deeper than getting rid of filters, but is that a potential starting point? As Dove’s parting line says, “let’s change beauty”.


Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through her company InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See www.intuition.ie

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