Thank God you didn’t exist on my prom
I used to love putting on make-up and posing sexy in the mirror as a teenage girl in high school. It made me feel so much better about myself, and I thought that maybe if men were friendlier to me as a result of any increased sexiness I learned, then just maybe I could feel better about my inherent value and just maybe someday I might even be worthy of loving by an actual man.
Pretty screwed-up thinking, I now realize, as a 36-year-old woman who’s had shit-tons of therapy.
But, holy crap. If the “Most Beautiful Teen” contest were around when I was in high school?
Oh my God, would I have been fucked. In multiple ways.
I can almost guarantee that I would have participated and felt like such a rebel for doing what I knew I probably wasn’t supposed to: eagerly uploading my pic, hoping that if some men thought I was the most beautiful or “liked” my provocative picture, then maybe I was worth something.
Folks: Never, ever underestimate the potential for low self-esteem in teenage girls (and don’t forget all those boys, either). It’s spectacular, really.
Years later, when I read the book “The Road Less Traveled” I learned that one of the most important things you can tell to a child to help them realize that they have an immutable sense of worth (not contingent upon beauty or grades or boyfriends or cliques) is to say: “You are so valuable.” If that happens and the message is really received, the child or teen learns that their time is valuable, their ideas and opinions and thoughts are valuable, and, here’s the kicker: Their bodies are valuable, too.
So upon discovering by accident yesterday that the notoriously creepy unofficial pedophilia meet-up known as the Most Beautiful Teen contest on Facebook that sparked an online outcry back in March was not only once again active, but insanely active (with hundreds of shares and hundred of thousands of likes), I emailed Facebook PR to see what the deal was. Why had they reversed their policy and decided that this site, clearly targeted by pedophiles and trolls and bullies and insecure fucked-up kids, was now suddenly OK again? I emailed Facebook at 2:32 p.m.
By 4:16 pm, they had shut the page down again. So, yeah: Holy shit, right? “xoJANE.com gets action!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist. The New York Post always uses a similar headline whenever, like, a cat is adopted after an article runs on cat adoption or something.)
The Facebook rep emailed me to say, “The Page is actually down if you try to access it, but let me know if you need anything else.”
Nice one, Facebook. Also: “actually” is the best word ever, isn’t it? Actually, you took it down after I emailed you yesterday about it, but thank you, actually.
Of course, if right now you search for “Most Beautiful Teen” on Facebook you will find over 100 similar pages that have popped up (a la the queen-bee rulers in “Heathers”), but most of the new ones have sparse followers and votes in the tens, not the thousands.
The one that Facebook shut down yesterday was the main monster, with stomach-turning “shares” in the hundreds going out to fellow creeper male hobbyists’ personal pages to ogle, community-style, at all the young girls trying to vamp and work the angles just right.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: You’re welcome.
Psych. Mostly, the point of me writing this is in the spirit of that terrifically overused, and often to justify anything, categorical word of: “awareness.”
It definitely has nothing to do with shaming young women about their beautiful young bodies they’re developing as teenage girls. I think developing sexuality is a beautiful thing. I really do. It’s rather (actually!) to point out the monster the Internet absolutely can be and to think about it for a hot second.
It’s like: When people tell me my “face is ugly as sin” (thanks, xoJane troller!), or whatever the slam might be, I can handle it (barely, but I can). Teenage girls often cannot. Teenage girls often want to sexually act out and feel they are still pretty and desirable and worth something to prove all those nasty commenters wrong who might be commenting publicly about how they’re ugly or too fat or their nose is wrong or their face is not quite right or they’re not as cute as the next contender.
So, I suppose if you are a teenager reading this, or if you have a kid, maybe take a minute to talk to your kid about this stuff. Or don’t. What do I know? Trust yourself, for sure.
But I will tell you that single kind and loving and thoughtful lines people have said to me in a moment of human connection have continued to impact me for the very rest of my life.
When I was getting divorced and was blacking out from drinking too much and sleeping with strangers and thought I was completely worthless except for my crazy stories in 2006, a comedy writer who I had never even met in person, Evan Gore, emailed me one day and said, “Keep going. You’re doing everything right.”
I think of that email to this day. (Happily, Evan and I did finally meet and he even helped me load up my U-Haul from LA to San Diego a month ago. Thanks, Evan!)
His two-sentence note was another version of telling me, “You are valuable, Mandy.” It was telling me that unconditional love was possible outside of the often brutal, many times crushing and reactionary world of conditional Internet attention followed all so often by the swift “you-should-die-and-are-worthless-and-ugly” backlash of modern-day Internet communication.
So, hey, man. You are valuable. Even all the bullies and the creepers, too. Also, here’s a cool resource for talking to kids about this stuff run by the UN’s Child Online Protection agency (I looked around and ACTUALLY like this one the most)
Oh, and PS.
You’re doing everything right.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.