It’s like second nature: phone in hand, she snaps about 2,000 selfies, then posts the best one using the cutest, silliest, or most flattering filter or photo-editing app.
Whether you think this routine is a waste of time or totally harmless fun, there’s no question that your girl is growing up in an age in which girls have more control than ever over how they present themselves to the world—and there’s real power in that. But the thing pretty much every superhero movie and fairy tale has taught us about power? It can both help and hurt those who wield it.
“Trying on different looks and experimenting with self-image, be it through clothing, a new hairstyle, or even one of these selfie filters, is absolutely normal and a healthy and fun part of growing up. This process may seem superficial to some, but it helps girls figure out who they are and who they want to be,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald.
So what’s the downside? Filters that erase perceived “flaws” often thin and elongate facial features, widen eyes, and lighten skin tones. This can feed your girl’s insecurities and, ultimately, limit and damage her sense of self.
“Some filters, like the puppy one with the funny nose, are just good fun,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “But the filters and photo-editing apps that claim to improve her looks are essentially telling her there’s something about her appearance that isn’t good enough, something that’s wrong and needs fixing.” And if her filtered selfies get more likes and positive feedback on her social networks than her unedited photos—which is often the case—that can reinforce the idea that this other “fantasy” version of herself is better.
It’s not just a theory that these distorted images are causing people to feel insecure. A recent report said that in the last year alone, 55 percent of plastic surgeons have seen patients seeking surgery or other procedures that could help them “look better in their selfies” or who wanted to look more like they do on their phone’s screen in real life. Scary stuff.
So should you forbid your daughter from taking selfies or using filters? In short, no.
“Flat-out forbidding your girl to use selfie filters isn’t going to make her feel better about herself or boost her self-esteem; in fact, it could lead to her feeling left out and ostracized from her friend group,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. Selfie culture tends to center around girls more than boys, so use of these social tools and apps may well be social currency among her friend group. “Plus, as a parent, you’re going to have bigger fish to fry when it comes to keeping her safe, and it’s sometimes best to pick your battles so she really listens and follows your recommendations when you do have to draw a line to keep her out of harm’s way.”
That said, having meaningful conversations about social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, and discussing the filters and apps she and her friends use on their photos can go a long way. Here are some ways to tackle the subject (without making her roll her eyes and tune out!).
Let Her Speak for Her Selfie
The easiest way to get her to open up about her selfie habits is by letting her be the expert. Have her grab her phone, then try out some of her favorite filters and photo-editing apps together. Chances are, you’ll have some laughs, but you’ll also see your faces morph before your eyes like in a funhouse mirror.
Ask her how many of her friends use these filters and why she thinks they’re so popular. Really take a step back and let her teach you and lead the conversation.
Get a Feeling for What’s Out of Focus
Many of these selfie-editing apps claim to erase perceived “imperfections,” but what are they really erasing? Talk with her about what’s missing when she uses these filters and apps.
She might be happy about any blemishes or acne that have been deleted, but what else has changed? Did the selfie-improvement apps or filters also delete the freckles that dapple her cheeks? Has her cute nose—the one that looks just like her beloved grandmother’s—been thinned and minimized to the point that she doesn’t even look like her own family? Have her rosy cheeks or glowing skin been lightened or whitewashed? Is the shape of her face even the same?
When she realizes what’s changed about her appearance, ask her how she feels, then encourage her to discuss those emotions. “Your daughter should never be ashamed of the realities of her own appearance, but she may very well say she likes seeing her face thinner or her eyes wider,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “That can be heartbreaking to hear, and of course you’d never in a million years agree with her, but stick around and try to listen without judgment. It’s important that she feels comfortable talking to you about these things.”
Transform Her from Model to Role Model
Ask your girl who she follows on social media and which influencers she thinks are cool. When she shows you their accounts, ask whether she likes them because of how they look or because of what they do. Then talk about the difference between being a model (someone who fits society’s standards of looking good) and being a role model (someone who spends their time actually doing good).
Scrolling through perfect selfies on social media can make girls feel as though their looks are their most valuable asset. It’s important to remind your girl of the qualities and talents that you value most in her. And it may be easier for her to start loving those things about herself when she sees them mirrored in other inspiring women and girls.
Luckily, there are plenty of awesome and diverse role models on social media who can be a great influence on your daughter. Help identify a few role models who also share some of your girl’s physical attributes. Seeing people who look like her achieving great things (and getting positive attention for it!) might help her embrace—and even learn to celebrate—her own natural appearance.
It might also help her to see that there’s more to life than that flower-crown photo filter she loves so much. Spoiler alert? The social media accounts of the most powerful, creative, and interesting people in the world aren’t exactly filled with selfies!
Need help finding cool role models for your girl? Look to organizations like Girl Scouts and others that support girls and women for inspiration.
Take a Look in the Mirror
Beyond having conversations with her about selfies, it’s also important to try to model self-love. Girls take a lot of cues from the adults in their lives, so it’s best not to complain about your own appearance or make critical comments about how other women and girls look. Not only is it not cool to tear yourself or anyone else down based on looks, but it also sets a dangerous example for your girl and makes her more likely to look for and find fault with her own features.
These kinds of conversations aren’t always easy, but think of them as special opportunities for you and your girl to get to understand each other better. She may not always seem to be listening, but the more time you spend with her, the more you try to learn from her, and the more you take her thoughts and concerns seriously, the closer you will become—and the more she’ll trust you when it comes to the truly important things in life.
As your girl grows older, you'll likely have way bigger battles to face.
Between selfies and Snapchat filters, how much is your girl's privacy at risk?