Her little doe eyes stare back at me from the picture Grandma sent and I'm shocked by her beauty. Of course I always think she's beautiful— she's my daughter — but there's something about this picture that's unusually captivating.
I literally can't take my eyes off of her.
Then it hits me: It's a Snapchat filter. DUH. Yes, she's gorgeous, but not in this alien, surreal kind of way. And that worries me.
She's only three years old and she's already learning to look at herself through filters. Sure, the animal ears and animations are fun, but they aren't what she really looks like.
The rest of us didn't grow up this way. At least not during our most formative first five years. A whopping ninety percent of our brain development happens during this period and, honestly, it's frightening to imagine what this kind of image manipulation may do to our children's sense of self as they mature.
I'm reminded of my time as a teacher, when I saw fourth grade female students beginning to skip their lunches. One girl in particular, her body more developed than her peers, refused to touch a single ounce of food and made self-deprecating remarks about her body to anyone who would listen. From the outside, she was as perfect as any ten-year-old girl could hope to be, but it was obvious she didn't feel that way. And, sadly, I know she's not alone.
I just don't remember it starting so early when we were kids. I do remember my teenage sister, however, and the fascination she had with the women in those glossy magazine spreads. Her disappointment over her less willowy frame was both palpable and heartbreaking. After all, the rest of us couldn't deny her beauty, but thanks to the messages she received from society, she could.
It's worse than that now. It's not just magazines and television, it's the pernicious reach of social media. It's the self-made "celebrities" faking pictures. Almost everything our daughters see is carefully staged, even the pictures of people they know. Even the pictures of their own mothers.
I'm as guilty as the next mom. I generally hide from cameras, but when I do allow a picture to be taken, I'm extremely picky about my hair, my makeup, the angles, the lighting... everything. I don't consider myself especially insecure, but I still have that urge to make sure the representation of myself online is the polished version.
Selfies are the most blatant pursuits of this type of vanity – you've no doubt been sucked into the worm hole of getting the right light and perfect smile etc. etc. – but I'm starting to realize even avoiding pictures can be an act of vanity, too. Part of the reason I've always hated selfies is because of how critical of myself they make me feel.
But finally it hit me: If I want my daughters to be comfortable in their own skin, I need to show them what real people look like, including myself. Instead of striving for perfection, I'm now working towards capturing happiness. If I'm happy, nothing else in the picture matters and I know there's beauty in that. After all, I don't want to lose moments that matter just because I didn't take the time to put on makeup or blow dry my hair.
Because, honestly, I know social media makes me harder on myself than I would be otherwise. I think back to the days of our parents and while on some level I know it's idealized, the lack of technology seems pretty darn liberating. The only way they saw pictures of their friends was in a tangible photograph, not a digitally manipulated and filtered portrait. Sure media still influenced their sense of beauty, but not in an all-invasive 24/7 in-the-palm-of-your-hand kind of way.
As for those images staring back at me and my daughters from my phone, they aren’t what real people look like. It’s time for this to change—time for us to celebrate true beauty with no filter. We owe it to our daughters and ourselves.