Embracing your perfect imperfections

Published 12:55 pm Saturday, October 21, 2017

By Erin Smith

A professor strode into the room and held aloft an ATM-fresh $20 bill. “Who wants this?” he asked his class.

Every hand in the room shot up. The professor then crumbled the bill in his hand. “How about now?” he queried. Again, every hand went up.

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The professor finally threw it on the floor and ground it beneath his shoe, getting it dirty and even more wrinkled. “Still want it?” Of course! “I thought so,” he smiled. “Regardless of what it looks like, the value is the same. Being crumbled doesn’t diminish its worth.”

I was reminded of this story when reading a disturbing article recently about the prevalence of adolescent suicides in females. Suicide among girls ages 15-19 has hit a 40-year high and continues to rise.

Though suicides are correlated with multiple risk factors, such as poverty, violence and drug and alcohol abuse, the prevailing use of social media has been added to the list for the first time. We’re seeing an entire generation of kids who are under enormous pressure to adhere to unattainable standards, who are laboring under the opinions of others.

Adolescence goes hand in hand with feelings of awkwardness and inadequacy, often resulting in desperate attempts to fit into the social mores set by peer groups. Add to that the prevailing cultural idea that a girl’s value is tied to her beauty and you’ve got a problem.

Social media has amplified those feelings of inadequacy for many people, especially young girls. Humans, by nature, are comparative creatures. And if comparison were an Olympic sport, teenage girls would be on the podium biting their medals.

Social media apps are dominated by females. According to the marketing firm Digital Flash, almost 70 percent of Facebook and Instagram accounts are held by women. And Instagram, where the focus is on images with little contextual content, is dominated by younger women.

It makes sense, as Instagram is a marketing magnet for fashion and beauty brands, who are all clamoring for those same women to buy their products. This visual platform offers filters and lighting to modify your appearance to create “flawless” photos. The problem is, flawless is a lie.

Of course, I’m passionate about this because my almost 13-year-old daughter just got a phone. She’s a mature, responsible kid who won’t abuse her privileges or disregard her personal ethics when posting.

Nevertheless, her father and I worry about how she might fall into the trap of comparison or unconscious consumption online. Here are some tips for parents to help kids avoid those traps.

Teach kids to mindfully recognize their feelings

Social media consumption should be as authentic and mindful as possible. If your kid is scrolling through social media and certain posts make them feel lonely or unworthy, don’t pretend that isn’t happening. Encourage your kids to talk to you about these feelings. Once a feeling has been labeled, then ask if that particular emotion is adding to or subtracting from their self-worth.  If it isn’t serving them in becoming decent human beings, consider unfollowing that feed.

— Encourage kids to realize it’s not real

A social media account is simply someone’s highlight reel. And it’s generally been Photoshopped with filters and airbrushing apps. No matter how amazing someone’s life looks online, it’s not. She struggles, she hurts. Your life is no more dull or painful that anyone else’s. It’s a matter of perception. Encourage your kids to follow people who post inspiring and transparent images. I have unfollowed countless yoga feeds that feature only tall, thin, young and beautiful women performing advanced yoga postures. That is such a tiny slice of yoga and mindfulness; it doesn’t tell the whole yoga story, so I don’t support that in my feed.

— Be ethical in your own posting

Our kids are paying attention to what we say and do, even when it doesn’t seem to be so. Make sure your social media accounts are authentic and inspiring. Social media drives more people in the doors of my yoga studio than any other form of advertising. While I will use filters to improve visibility and lighting, I have a hard and fast rule about airbrushing. Scroll through my feed and you’re likely to see me in a yoga pose where cellulite is clearly visible. And acne. Certainly eye wrinkles.

This is a conscious choice to be real. I also highlight all the amazing students at the OM place, regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual persuasion. I believe yoga and mindfulness is for everyone, so I consciously make sure my feed reflects that. Put out there the messages you want your kids to receive.

We are not called to be like others. We are called to be ourselves, unique and beautiful.

Like the $20 bill, our value is not diminished by either our appearance or the opinions of others. Help your kids adopt this truth to feel worthy and loved.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. 

Send her a shout out at erin@theOMplace.net or play along at www.theOMplaceChannel.com.