Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: The toxicity of social media’s ideal Barbie image during COVID-19

Ugly. Fat. Curvy. Skinny. Boxy. The labels are endless.

Among teenage girls in the 21st century, the ideal yet unrealistic body type is toned, skinny, a bit curvy, tall and white. A vague, racecentric body type that has been placed on a pedestal by society to gaze at in awe.

For decades, girls have idolized this perfect Barbie figure and taken any means to get there. Whether that means eating disordered behaviors, compulsive exercising or more, she is a spoonful away and at the end of the race comes… well… what comes next? Happiness, a detox of problems, clarity and, of course, admiration. 

Social media and television have relentlessly placed a lens over impressionable girls and taught us that physical demeanor is worth more than our mental health. We’re shamed for being underweight and overweight. If we never have society’s perfect body, we’re put down.

Technology makes it so simple to fix “imperfections” and share a flawless version of ourselves online. As a result, girls are taught that an edited, perfect version of themselves is attainable and realistic. That aside from reconfiguration and cosmetic refining, their photoshopped, facetuned body is normal; they believe that body is the only body that is socially admirable.

But, who would I be if I tried to type here and say I’m not a victim of society’s influence? I’ll admit firsthand that the ideal body has dictated many decisions in my life as it has millions of other impressionable girls.

It pains me to know that thousands of bright young women who are the strong, fearless leaders of tomorrow are searching desperately to find their self-worth.

It hurts me every time I remember a friend that has fallen too deep in the quicksand of desiring to be thin because oftentimes, they’ve been shattered by the perfect Barbie doll and the young woman who she has imprisoned as messengers. 

And it’s no wonder we all feel the heat of the pressure to look a certain way when even the models and Barbie’s we grew up with continued to remind us of imperfections.

Though now that the world has stopped in its tracks, teenage girls have found an outlet to reach the never-ending goal of the perfect body type. Girls around the world feel they have a new opportunity to reach the perfect body without any excuses. As there isn’t much else to do, it is being seen as a time to over-exercise, diet, skip meals and completely reinvent who they are.

Online workout videos across YouTube have received millions of views. They are crowded with dozens upon dozens of comments saying, “Who’s here for a quarantine glow-up?” and “When quarantine ends everyone’s either going to be really fit or really fat.”

It amazes me how many teen girls want to change who they are during this pandemic because I understand how simple it is to fall in the rabbit hole of toxic body standards.

Personally, I’ve found myself exercising much more than usual as a means to let out energy and feel mentally whole afterward. Though, at times a part of me is wondering, “Is this truly for me, or is this to impress everyone but me?” Because in the end, eating foods and exercising in moderation should be done for the right reasons. They shouldn’t take a toll on your well-being; they should contribute to it. 

With the expectation that we will reach bliss if we are thin, we are socially reinstalling the idea that skinny means happy; that skinny leads to a world of admiration and power. However, that is far from the case, as we all hold power within ourselves and our kindness.

According to the University of Washington, a study found by the time girls are 17, “78% are unhappy with their bodies.” It is easy for many teen girls to confuse a skinny, white model as a caring, kind and authentic girl whose body makes her happier as a result.

We find ourselves correlating happiness with that certain body type. Because we’re taught that physical appearance holds greater value then personality. So as a result, we push our bodies over the edge in efforts to replicate the models we see on our phones. 

I feel that if anything, during these confusing times, we should be thanking our bodies more than ever for getting us through a global pandemic. Our bodies are genuinely beautiful the way they were made; beauty marks, curves, scars and all. Furthermore, they are here for us even when we break down and wish we had anything else as our bodies.

Our society makes it so easy to appreciate one body type when every single one is equally valuable. WOC for example tends to have wider hips, rib cages and broader features than other ethnicities. No one is able to change their genetics. Therefore, those young women should also be appreciated, not frowned upon. 

No two girls are identical and as the next generation, we should make it our responsibility to redefine how we view ourselves as it often affects how others perceive themselves. Raising each other up feels much better than tearing each other down. Because, in the end, we are worth so much more than society has let us believe.