Social media may be the worst best thing that we have ever invented. Scrolling down your feed on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter can be an extremely entertaining and fun way to waste time, and take your mind off the chaos of life (and school). But while it may be true that social media can greatly impact your academic career (for better or for worse), they also have a huge effect on your mind, and how you view the world and yourself. And the younger you are, the more vulnerable you are to the dark side of social media.
TikTok in particular is one of the hottest platforms at the moment, both figuratively and literally. The app is massively popular around the globe, amounting to over 1B active users as of the beginning of 2021, and its rise in fame doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. But as I mentioned before – TikTok isn’t just ‘hot’ metaphorically. The app is crawling with videos of attractive people dancing in revealing clothing, doing workouts, or simply showing their impressive visuals to the camera and to their audience. These kinds of videos are made by creators of all ages – from children to grown adults, who upload their videos for all to see.
And when I say ‘children’, I mean children. The app requires users to be at least 13 to be able to register, but there is no actual age verification – elementary school kids are free to lie and roam around without anyone knowing. And the age of a user is tricky to tell based on looks alone. In fact, it is nearly impossible to tell whether someone is of-age just based on their appearance, because most of today’s 12-year-olds look (and pose) as if they were 20, especially girls. And that is exactly the problem.
Kids then vs. now
Nowadays, young girls are pressured into acting “grown” more than ever before. From very early on, they are expected to put on a full-face of makeup, high heels, and revealing clothing that just do not suit their age. You may be asking yourself, ‘But what is the difference between now and ten years ago? Haven’t kids always had the desire to look grown up?’. Well, yes – that is actually true! But children these days have a myriad of online tools and resources on how to look older, which we didn’t have back then. With just one click, anyone can learn how to do makeup like a pro or dress from a 20-something YouTuber, whose content is being consumed by children despite being tailored for adults. So, we end up with kids looking as if they were in their 20s before even hitting puberty, completely skipping the awkward pre-teen phase that we all have gone through.
Being ‘hot’ and sexually desirable is the new normal, but the question is – is it really normal?
Not to sound like an old-fashioned grandma who’s reminiscing of greener pastures – the main culprits of this aged-up generation are social media. Being ‘hot’ and sexually desirable is the new normal, but the question is – is it really normal? On every social media platform, the more provocative the content, the more traction it gets – after all, sex sells! Sadly, it appears to be selling for children too. For instance, dancing TikToks draw the most attention when the girls are wearing more revealing clothing, so they naturally feel more inclined to provide such content, as it brings more acclaim and validation. They are unknowingly being manipulated into wanting to exude sex appeal by an audience that is often much older than them, and the longer they continue with this behavior the more normalized it is perceived.
TikTok stars are the celebrities of tomorrow, and the majority of the younger generation looks up to them, and wants to copy their appearance and behavior. So, if these influencers show their audience that acting provocative at such a ripe age is the norm, the young girls who watch them will consider it as acceptable. They will brainwash themselves into thinking that objectification is the end goal, and in order to achieve that, they need to self-exploit and hyper-sexualize their bodies.
The real culprit?
But let’s get one thing clear – any girl who behaves like that is actually a victim, and the ones to blame for creating this narrative are (surprise surprise) men. Adult men, to be more precise, who have a very specific and extremely disturbing agenda, so that when they’re called out, they defend themselves by saying, ‘I didn’t know how young she was, she looked older!’.
They may dress up like adults, but they do not have the maturity to think like an adult.
But here’s the problem – they don’t look that young, but they have brains that young. They may dress up like adults, but they do not have the maturity to think like an adult. They are more gullible and impressionable, and are being groomed before our very eyes because they do not yet have the ability to screen reality through mature lenses.
TikTok is one of the main perpetrators of this brainwash, as the plethora of explicit videos that are constantly promoted on the Explore page of the app, is a hunting-ground for older men with malicious intentions. There are so many sexualized songs on the platform which are used for dance challenges, usually with overly explicit moves, and that are popular amongst young girls, commonly underage. Alas, that is the crème de la crème for predators.
For instance, there’s a feature on TikTok called ‘Duet’ where a user can react to and repost a video uploaded by somebody else. The White Hatter, an organization devoted to social media safety, found that deep on the web (on platforms like Reddit) the so-called “TikTok porn groups” use the duet feature to film obscenities using videos by minors. This depraved content might not be posted on TikTok directly, but since the app allows users to download and freely share others’ videos, the platform can surely be considered an enabler.
The real problem is how internalization of this narrative affects the mind of these vulnerable girls. Their grown-up looks obviously attract the attention of an older crowd – when you’re young and you don’t know better, that can feel real good. Being complimented by an adult can make you feel special, so you don’t see anything wrong with that because, after all, adults are always right! It takes a higher level of maturity that only comes with age to realize how fucked up that is. These girls do not have that yet, so they can’t tell apart good intentions from nasty ones. This confusion can lead them towards being taken advantage of and entering abusive relationships more easily, since pedo behavior and age/power imbalances are normalized in their eyes.
Sex positivity vs. sexualization
The question is – does maturity come upon turning 18? Young people seem to think so and idolize turning 18, as if that magic number will make them omniscient overnight. And plenty of adults seem to think that too: the moment the clock strikes midnight and the teen becomes 18, they’re suddenly ‘fuckable’ without risking jail time. This is a very dangerous mindset on both sides because… Well, let’s face it – 18-year-olds are still children! So, we end up with a generation at an extremely high risk of being preyed on, as in their eyes that’s normal.
This can be seen for instance by looking at adult websites, such as OnlyFans, a content subscription service mainly used for sex work. The platform allegedly allows only users who are at least 18 to register and share content. However, it’s been reported that many of its creators are underage, or just turned 18. Bhad Bhabie recently set a record on the platform, as she was able to amass over $1M in her first 6 hours on the website after turning 18 a few days earlier. In this pornified world, childhood and adolescence are erased and turned into sexual exploitation for adult consumption.
Because of this, the line between sex positivity and sexualization is getting increasingly blurred in the minds of these young girls. Sex positivity refers to the idea that sexual desire is natural, and it’s okay to act upon it (within the bounds of ethics and law). On the other hand, sexualization occurs when the individual is being valued for their sexual appeal and their body is being objectified. Today’s approach towards sexual behavior falls more within the latter category, as more and more people appear to think that sexual liberation equals sexual self-exploitation.
This can clearly be seen on social media such as TikTok, where young (underage) girls show off their bodies to the camera in skimpy attire, claiming that they “feel confident”. Yet, the girls are not at fault. The ones to blame are the adults who either feed into this phenomenon for their depraved desires or simply do nothing about it. But if you purposefully choose to remain a bystander, be aware that you are adding fuel to the fire. TikTok has been criticized on various instances for failing to protect its underage users since the actions the platform took to ensure the creators’ safety are slim to none. That’s not how it should be! Today’s adults are supposed to look after tomorrow’s adults and make sure they have it better and do better.
While the Internet and social media such as TikTok can be a great way to entertain yourself and waste time by mindlessly scrolling on your phone, it is undeniable that they all have a dark side. The rampant hyper-sexualization and the pressure to self-objectify have made online platforms a beacon for ill-intended individuals, and unsafe for their target audience – young girls. Maybe it’s time we start teaching this new generation that they don’t need to exploit their own bodies and be in such a rush to grow up. They can take their time and actually experience every ounce of life the world gives them, no matter what their peers do. That’s the kind of renegade I would like to see.
Edited by: Andreea Rebegea