Think about social media and how easy it is to manipulate images (for example, there’s an app which fixes skins blemishes, brightens eyes and thins down the face). Add to this a few ‘likes’ from encouraging friends and a teen’s reality is now an illusion. Social theorist Baudrillard called this phenomenon a ‘simulcra’. Here’s an example: A friend of mine has a daughter who was off to her weekly singing lesson, yet the girl posted on her Instagram account that she was off to her singing ‘agent’. Yes, it’s a lie but in her mind it was merely a stretch of the truth and the girl got kudos from her peers, which helped solidify this false identity to create an illusion.
The messages surrounding teens become confused because in a social media entrenched society, identity has become homogenised or, in other words, we’re copying others—usually those people we perceive as popular or powerful. This imitative mentality is depriving people of the possibility of cultivating true individuality and self-determination. Because of an increase in internet and social media use, teen identities are constructed by the collection and/or manipulation of images. These images determine how individuals perceive themselves and how they want to be perceived by others and this is a simulcra—a reproduction of the real. And then of course, the teens have to live up to that ideal or move onto the next ‘fit’.
- Listen to your gut instinct. It’s there for a reason. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Pay attention to your intuition and learn to trust it when it tells you something is not quite right. Don’t go against it, even if you’re being pressured by others to do so.
- Work on being comfortable in your own skin. There’s literally no-one in the world like you and you’re allowed to not be like everyone else. Even if you think there’s nothing interesting about you, embrace your life and your uniqueness. Don’t be sucked in by the media, or the falseness that we’re bombarded with, work on developing a love for your mind and body. Much of what you read and see on social media is false, and research shows that the more you use it, the more likely you’ll get depression (there’s that social comparison theory wreaking havoc with your mind again).
- Don’t be forced to be different and don’t be forced to be the same. You’re an individual, you don’t need to change your hair or clothes to fit in. Stick to what you like and what you’re comfortable with and don’t bow down to the pressure of people who want to change you. Don’t do things to fit other people’s expectations. Healthy friendships don’t force!
- Accept challenges. Growth comes from change and this is where we can develop our authentic self. If everything you do is easy, there will be no true growth—do something different and try new things.
- Spend time with people you admire. Look around at the people in your life and ask yourself why you like them. Make friends with independent thinkers and creatives who aren’t worried to be their authentic selves. If you spend time being with followers, you’ll always find it harder to be your authentic self.
- Be a critical thinker. Think outside the box and don’t accept things at face value—ask the ‘why’ question continually. Do your own research and don’t listen to gossip and arm-chair experts. Start reading. Start questioning. Start challenging.
- Be honest. Authentic people are honest, so always start and finish with the truth even if it’s difficult. Don’t lie to impress others, be comfortable with who you are. White lies, “your hair cut is lovely”, is fine as long as no-one is getting hurt, but the big lies must be avoided.
- If you have a flaw in your character, work on it. Be willing to improve yourself and be eager to grow as an individual. Don’t worry about the things you can’t change, accept them as part of your uniqueness. However, work on the things you can change by making a step by step plan; make goals, and then make healthy habits.
- Laugh at yourself. I spend a lot of time laughing at myself. Don’t take yourself too seriously, no-one is perfect. When you’re truly authentic you’ll be released from the prison of needing to fit in to other people’s expectations.