A recent survey has found that almost half of Kiwi girls age 10-17 are using filters and retouching apps to ‘enhance’ their appearance. How can we help our young Kiwis grow up with confidence in who they are in a world of social media? We talk to broadcaster Toni Street about how she’s talking to her children about self-esteem and what it felt like for her growing up in the diet culture of the 1980s.
Like most parents with children on the cusp of the social media age, Toni Street is extremely aware of the kind of conversations that are coming her way.
“It’s something I have been fearing, to be honest, with my eldest daughter. She’ll be 10 this year and she’s not on social as such – yet – but the statistics around 10 year-olds-using social media apps are already scary.”
Toni is referring to a series of stats that have come out as part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, an online tool kit to help build up the confidence of young people feeling the pressures of social media. The stats are… not good.
- Almost half of Kiwi girls age 10-17 are using filters and retouching apps by as young as age 10.
- Kiwi girls are spending a significant 101 minutes a day on social media (vs 88 minutes by their Australian cousins).
- The top 3 body parts or features that New Zealand girls try to hide, or change are their hair, their face, their lips.
- 41% of New Zealand girls feel less beautiful after seeing photos of their friends on social media.
“I just that just it really saddens me, because I look at my nine-year-old and I feel like she’s so oblivious to all of that at the moment,” Toni says. “So it clearly changes very quickly when they get into social media and I just want to be forearmed, before it gets to the stage where they’re hating on themselves for what they look like.”
For those of us who grew up before social media and are now in our 30s, it’s not like many of us would describe our teenage self-esteem as through the roof, and it’s a whole other world of comparison now that young people have access to platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
“I remember when I was young, I didn’t care what I looked like in photos because, for a start, photos had to be printed when we were young and then half of them were duds anyway so they got thrown out,” Toni says. “But I don’t remember caring about that sort of thing until I was well into my teens, so it’s clearly got much younger and I do think social media is responsible for that. But I also don’t want to ban her from social media, because it can be a great tool and it’s what all of her friends will be using.”
That’s why Toni is so keen to be involved with the Dove project, to help the whole family be prepared for what is potentially coming.
“What scares me is that kids start going on social media and they feel like they have to look a certain way – and that certain way is like everyone else,” Toni says. “So the big thing that I want to push is ‘Why do you want to look like every single other person?’. I’m hoping that if you make sure that your child has enough confidence that they can go on social media and actually look exactly how they are, then that’s a great start.”
It’s something Toni herself is very big on – as one of NZ’s most popular broadcasters, she’s had a big social media following for over a decade and is aware of being – literally – a public face.
“I will post myself without makeup. I’ll post myself looking sweaty-as after going for a run with my husband, I’m not afraid to do that. But I think 10 years ago, when I was in my late 20s or even early 30s, I would have been too afraid to do that for fear of being judged. And I certainly have been; I’ve had trolls my whole time have been on TV and that’s unavoidable. But as you get older, you learn to deal with it better.”
Preparing kids for negative comments they might face on social media is one (horrible) thing, but the research is also very clear that a lot of comments that can affect kids’ confidence are coming from inside the house. “It’s actually quite shocking when you look at the research about how much they pick up on,” Toni says. And being part of this Dove project has helped Toni reckon with a lot of the body influences she grew up with.
“My mum will admit, when we were growing up she was on all sorts of diets – Jenny Craig one week, Weight Watchers the next. I feel like in the 80s, there was a quite a push for that diet culture and I definitely grew up around that. And it impacts on you. I was never a skinny kid; I was always on the side of about my right weight to slightly overweight and I did a lot of sports, so I was getting a lot of exercise. But I definitely remember in my later teens being very conscious of my weight and thinking, ‘how do I get on top of this?’ and the first things that pop into your head are the things that you grew up around – ‘Do I need to go on a diet?’”
So when it comes to both her kids and the group of 10-year-olds that Toni coaches in netball, she’s very keen to focus on the benefits of exercise for health and wellbeing, as well as making it a regular habit. “That consistency message is what I’m trying to impart on my girls, that we just move every day. It doesn’t have to be a hard out session, we can just walk to the beach with the dog. I’m trying to create habits for them so that, inevitably when they get to their teen years and they start to think about the way that they look, it’s not going to be such a major, because they’ll already be active and they’ll already be eating healthily.”
And they’ll have a mum who’s very keen to be seen both in glam work attire but also, in her natural state. “I’m so not opposed to posting a photo of myself looking glammed up for an event because I love make-up and getting in a glam dress, but I also think we have to show ourselves in our natural state, as well, so that people realise there’s a hell of a lot of make-up and tools and tricks and work that goes into looking pristine – and that most of us can look pretty average on a daily basis,” she laughs. “But I would like to see it become more celebrated – and maybe even become a cool thing, to see more natural-ness online. Because that can only help the next generation.”