The Unrealistic Pressure on Teen Girls to be "Perfect"
Updated: Aug 9
When you’re a teenager, making certain decisions can feel like life or death. Being bombarded with messages from friends, parents, boys, and especially social media can take a toll on the way a girl perceives herself in the mirror at the end of the day. It’s also easy to look at someone else’s life and think it’s better than yours. Seven in ten girls suffer from self-esteem issues, a thinking concern in which individuals feel that they are not “good enough,” whether in school, physical appearance, or relationships with friends and family members” (1). The way that the media defines ‘fitting in’ is that you have to be pretty, have the designer clothes, the flawless face, and the best personality. Teenage girls are made to feel like they need to live up to what everyone thinks is “perfect”. When looking through a magazine like Cosmopolitan or Vogue, there is a clear trend starting from the first page: successful, beautiful, and thin. However, these are unrealistic and harmful standards. There is too much pressure on teenage girls to fit this unrealistic standard of beauty, when they are not being shown the behind the scenes of editing, photoshop, and exaggeration.
All of the pressure placed on young women to simultaneously excel academically, flourish socially, and maintain an active extracurricular schedule, shapes how they perceive and understand the very notion of success and achievement. Much of this pressure comes from mass media, which gives the implication that girls always need a happy and upbeat attitude and that girls are always in control. Girls feel that pressure to be energetic, smiling, and enthusiastic, and become self-critical when they are not. Not only with personality and the way they present themselves, but young girls also have lower self esteem because they do not feel as beautiful as the people they see on TV, advertisements, and fashion runways. On average, the beauty industry spends 20 billion dollars a year on advertisements, with their primary target being young women (3). However, what is not shown is the amount of altering done to the images of these people to remove every perceived imperfection. When a young girl hears the photoshopped model on the cover of Vogue being called flawless, it’s automatic and expected for her to set this as the standard and want to become a replica. What these young girls don’t understand is that society’s ideal body image is unachievable, and especially unhealthy. Barbie dolls and Victoria Secret’s angles are just two icons that have shaped the way young women perceive appearance expectations. However, they are extremely unrealistic and dangerous to try to achieve. In a study conducted on mass media, it was revealed that women’s magazines had about 10.5 times as many weight loss advertisements than men’s.
The makeup industry is another example. This industry has developed a way of capitalizing on young girls by manipulating them into thinking they need makeup to be perceived as pretty. Teenage girls are taught that if their skin doesn't look perfectly painted they will be judged, or if they accidentally poke their eye with a black pencil it is okay because at least their eyes will look pretty (2). “It is estimated that 1 in 5 girls ages 8-18 have negative views about their appearance when they’re not wearing makeup; as reported by press release site, Mintel, 42% of teen girls use makeup as a way to boost their confidence” (3). From manicures to pedicures to highlights and plastic surgery, the beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. This targeting and manipulating of young girls starts extremely young, as even Hello Kitty has nail polish and a lip gloss line. This is not to say that all makeup is bad. For many, makeup is used as a form of self expression and art, and this is a beautiful thing. It is important to ask yourself the intention and reason behind your actions.
Another issue with society that causes young girls to try to change themselves to be “perfect” is through changing themselves for a male figure. There are many videos on Youtube, Tik Tok, and even Instagram telling girls what they should do to make a boy like them. For example, videos titled “Things Girls do that Guys Find Attractive”, or “3 Things Men find Beautiful in a Woman”. This teaches girls to change themselves for someone else's approval, rather than making decisions based on what brings them joy. Do not try to mold yourself into someone you are not in order to please a partner, or even a friend.
The negative impact of the idea of “ideal beauty” does not only affect girls and women. Many young boys fall into the trap of thinking that an “attractive man” is one with rock hard abs and bulging biceps. It’s not surprising that in recent years, men have struggled with body image almost as much as young women. The masculine beauty ideal traits include male body shape, height, skin tones, body weight, and muscle mass. Oftentimes, men feel the need to conform to these standards in order to feel desirable.
So, what can we do? How can we change the ideal for perfection into promoting diversity, beauty in all shapes and sizes, a makeup-free face or a painted one. Although the beauty industry cannot simply be stopped, we can, with one step at a time, try to combat the extremely negative effects of it all. Remember that the beauty industry sells fantasy, not reality. Life should be about finding your own happiness, not changing yourself into someone you believe others will like. One way to work on combating the desire to reach perfection is to learn how to be more self compassionate, as self-compassion teaches us to treat ourselves with kindness and support. You can still maintain the desire to achieve, without striving for unrealistic standards. If you are always setting goals that are impossible to meet, it prevents you from trying new things and being able to feel positively about yourself. No one is perfect. Even if we could be perfect, it would not get us where we really want to go. A happy and healthy life is based on loving relationships with others and a loving relationship with yourself. Love, at its root, has nothing to do with perfectionism. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. You change the world by being yourself, not by being perfect.
Written By: Ali Green
Social Media Intern for The Grove Counseling & Consulting, LLC in Johns Creek, GA
1. Riehle, Madison. “Teens Feel Pressure to Be “Perfect.”” The Broadview, 13 Feb. 2014, broadview.sacredsf.org/6731/features/perfection-pressures/ .
2. “Society’s Pressure to Be Perfect. | TeenInk.” Www.teenink.com, www.teenink.com/hot_topics/what_matters/article/690519/Societys-.
3. Brady-Wright, Emma. “Striving for Perfection? How the Beauty Industry Is Affecting Teens through Advertising.” The Headlight, ibwhsmag.com/686/news/striving-for-perfection-how-the-beauty-industry-is-affecting-tee ns-through-advertising/.