NOTICE: You are not sexually liberated, you are 13 years old

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As I complete my freshman year of college, I find the feeling of longing to be one of the most growing presences both among my peers and in my life as a young adult. Oddly enough, we experience much of this nostalgia through social media, especially TikTok.

We skim through and are greeted with college decision videos, “prepare with me” homecomings, and braces being taken away. We love these videos; they reenact special moments in our lives that we can, in a way, relive through social media. The only problem is that an increasing number of these videos don’t seem at all familiar to us, and it’s not just because we’re out of high school anymore.

My TikTok scroll was interrupted the other day by a video that I first thought was of one of my peers celebrating her birthday. She was wearing a shirt which I also have and jeans which I would wear. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her at a frat party. Upon closer inspection, I became incredibly uncomfortable. The balls in the back didn’t say 19 or 20 – they said 13.

Seeing this, I thought back to my 13th birthday. I was covered in acne, my mouth was full of metal, and I was nowhere near as beautiful or grown-up as this 13-year-old girl. Many comments on this video read that she was dressed and looked like a 20 year old. She responded to those comments by saying it’s her body and they should stop “sexualizing her.”

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In the age of Facetune and Instagram, it’s nearly impossible for these younger generations of girls not to feel the pressure to skip the awkward phase and head straight for the sexiness of femininity. An excerpt from a 2019 New Yorker article talks about the age of the “Instagram face”: cat eyes, small nose and plump lips. The face is gorgeous and Facetuned to perfection within our favorite models, influencers and TikTokers (filtered or not). It’s a pressure our generation, only a few years older, never felt – at least not when we were 13. We watched every bit our age.

So what has changed?

Jolie Orban, a freshman at the University of Arizona, has 81,000 followers on TikTok — and she had some thoughts on the matter.

“When I was getting popular on the app, I felt a lot of pressure to change the way I dressed and to have more interaction with my content,” Orban said. “It had an impact on how I perceived myself, because I personally like to avoid sexualizing myself on the internet.”

Jolie is certainly not alone in this feeling, as this pressure is only growing, especially for younger generations of girls. They scroll through their TikTok or Instagram feed and are greeted by women over five years older than them – often with faces or photos that are incredibly altered or augmented. Naturally, these young girls create the expectation that they should look like them. So they buy the same clothes and post the same revealing photos. Most of the time, the only difference between them and real adult women is that most of them haven’t even graduated from high school.

As expected, this jump from the embarrassing phase is not nearly as prevalent among young boys as it is among girls. According to a 2021 BBC Article, the mental well-being of boys and girls is quite similar at primary school age. However, after about 14 years, girls’ self-esteem drops significantly below that of boys. In fact, the research study discussed in the article showed that one in three girls were unhappy with their appearance upon graduation from middle school. It’s no secret that the pressure is on young girls and the effects are troublesome.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to understand the worrying implications of such a mature online presentation, and can we blame them? The problem is not them, it is the inability of today’s society to let children be children.

My hope is that the toxicity of social media can subside and that these young girls realize that they don’t need to be sexy, desirable or sexually liberated – they just need to be 13.


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Olivia Krupp

Olivia is a freshman who has yet to declare her major. She enjoys reading, foreign films and poetry in her spare time.

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