Every year for Christmas, my daughter and I flip through Snapchat filters to send some holiday cheer to relatives via social media. Sometimes we look like reindeer or elves, but all the time we love being silly.

This year my almost 10 year old was just a bit curious about social media’s Instagram and Snapchat filters that didn’t make you look so silly but instead altered, slimmed, streamlined and enlarged your features. We went together through a couple but I could see her interest peaking as we got to the ones that perfected her face to society’s ever sky rocketing and unattainable beauty standards.

She asked if we could take pictures with these filters and I obliged (I don’t want to pretend these aren’t out there) and we went through them. I asked her to find her favorite one. I took a couple and found a “favorite” as well. One where my eye wrinkles weren’t so prevalent, my eyes were large and youthful and my skin was porcelain smooth. I was thinking how pretty some of these would be for my profile picture on Instagram and how I could replace our family picture with this current beauty!! Oooo, girl! Who’s this?

I started picking apart my face and finding remedies offered everywhere. I leapt into the rabbit hole and completely missed all the signs. I just started…..

According to JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery Journal:

It’s being called “Snapchat dysmorphia,” and some say it can lead to body dysmorphic disorder, which is an “excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in our appearance.”

Plastic surgeons have seen a sharp incline in the amount of patients bringing in filtered photos of themselves as the surgeon’s template.
So, if I am in my late thirties and I can get sucked into a beauty standards vortex then how can I expect my 10 year old’s experience to differ? Why wouldn’t she be sucked into seeing herself being “perfected?” Shamefully, I did! So, how do we handle a trap that so cunningly collects us all?

I decided a honest conversation had to happen. One of those where you expose your “I don’t know what I’m doing but, damn, I’m trying to teach y’all!” versions of yourself. I explained that sometimes I don’t love all the pictures I am in. Sometimes I cringe at smile wrinkles or sun spots. But, I also remember all the good times I had that lent me those wrinkles and spots.

While some may find them unattractive, I love that I smiled so much during my life that it left a mark on my face. And, that, as a free spirited child, I spent days upon days with the sunlight cast upon my face. Often with friends while laughing until we cried. Yes, I have the evidence of that on my face and , no, it isn’t all the time in check with society’s beauty standards. But, exchanging experiences for youth? I wouldn’t in real life so why would I online? I wove through insecurity and unsure footing to explain that we look how we look because that is what makes us unique. Changing your face on a picture to mimic others or to be more pleasing doesn’t promise to take away insecurities or make you happy but it does promise that when people see you, they may do a double take. Which is more harmful?

Time Magazine trail-blazed in advocacy naming Instagram as “the worst social media platform for mental health” citing filters as their main opponent. Dr. Woolfson, Child Psychologist states, “As social media has removed the barriers between a young person’s public and private self, children can become vulnerable, and compulsive online sharing can lead to danger. As this study shows, children are gaining access to social media sites at a younger age, which could expose them to content, people or situations that are out of their depth and which they’re not emotionally prepared for”.

They’re not emotionally prepared for? While not discounting that, how about reaching for 40 and seeing 40 year olds that have zero wrinkles, laugh lines, high cheek bones and other desirable things? It makes the prospect of 40 an ominous cloud that threatens to envelop me into “undesirable-hood”. It tempts me with procedures, targets me with ads and chases me down with the same blaring message of “ fixing” what life has done to you. I’m not even prepared for that most of the time and I’m 28 years older!

Lastly, I can’t give in. Lord! It’s hard. That app that’ll take 10 pounds off my face, give me the eyes of my 20 year old self ( and make them lighter!) and smooth my crinkles.  It’s tempting to put “my” best face forward but what of my daughter? I can talk the talk to her but if she sees my heavily edited face everywhere then what will she take away from me? She will pick up my insecurities about aging, weight fluctuations, and wanting to look like whatever is trending at the moment and add them to her life. Another generation going forth in search of perfection at any cost.

I want to set these down!!! I do! I don’t want her to pick these up from me.

And, I think one of aging’s graces is that you do set them down. Eventually. The looks, the weight of other’s opinions and many more things just seem to dissipate. They dissolve over time into appreciation for the life well lived and the truthful, beautiful and sometimes reckless experiences that thread throughout our lives and attach these things to our face are far more important than editing them out. Show your wild youth about your face, bless the body that bore you children or helped care for aging  parents and enjoy the tastes of the experiences around you. That is the lesson I want her to feel from me. The whispers in her heart that come in the form of my voice. I don’t want any part of societal expectations or social media to taint that. It’s so personal, your life’s work and lessons. Protect it with raging love and honesty. And, go forth.

Social media has been a blessing and a curse. The ultimate paradox. If you don’t participate, your kids will run into it somewhere else. If you do then it’s a maneuver of bobbing, weaving and wrapping as much protection as you can around them to gently unwrap as you go. But, the very best thing I want to tell my friends, other women, our children and the rest is that, “ It is as it should be.”

Walk by aging and pick it up, put it in your basket. Walk by  the temptation to change to be something you don’t want to be or aren’t, step over it. Don’t even bother kicking it out of your path. Don’t even touch it. Just walk by. Bigger lips, bigger eyes, bigger butt and bigger thighs; walk by those and leave them. Unless it is everything you dreamed, then by all means, place it in your basket of things. No judgement here.

The bottom line is there is only your one life, go forth in truth and empowerment. Each stage loves your bits just a little more than the last. Your family and friends adore the stories of you that you may not even know formed a memory for them and your kids love you in every way.You don’t have to change a thing.

And, that is the most beautiful legacy to leave, don’t you think?


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