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Book Review: "American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers"

Zero Gravity LA | Book Review

"American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers” by Nancy Jo Sales

Review by: Lauren Beale

Tell me this isn’t true, was my reaction less than 75 pages into “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.”

Witnessing the sexualization of teen girls and even children in our society, I have often wondered how our younger sisters are faring in the face of the double standard. So I turned to this recently published book by Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales when I wanted to get inside the mind of a teenage girl for a novel I am writing. Warning: once read cannot be unread.

That said, tackle this important work anyway – especially if girls or teens are in your life.

Having not been around many teenagers for a decade, I was shocked at what the book revealed to me from Sales’ interviews with teens from across the nation. Snapchat. Yik Yak. Kik. Ask.fm. Tinder. These are the social media sites that inform teen’s existences. These are the places where they strive for “likes” (translation: acceptance), establish status among their peers, endure slut shaming, view porn, are cyberbullied and become prey to sexual predators. These are the sites they let control their self-esteem.

Anonymity fuels much of the activity, but even in text messages girls are being asked by classmates to “send nudes” or are receiving unsolicited “dick pics.” Really?

The unfortunate answer is yes. Unlike my work-related cyberspace, their social media is full of nude photos.

The options girls face for not going along with this status quo include being labeled a prude, a slut, shamed or ostracized. And this social structure continues into the college years for many.

What fresh hell is this?

Girl, put down the phone, block that number and listen up.

That dopamine jolt from receiving dozen of likes from your kissy-face photo is fleeting. Don’t let social media control how you feel about yourself. Don’t settle for this.i

This is not your fault. The world is a mess, and you’ve inherited this particular ghastly outgrowth of sexism. Don’t let this surface chatter inform who you are becoming. True self-esteem has to come from within. Learn to be assertive. Lean on your friends and the trusted adults in your lives. Things won’t always be like this.

Reading this book made me feel as though we’ve failed the current generation of young women. We as a society and me, personally, as someone who remained ignorantly clueless of their very real suffering.

Some may say ignorance is bliss, but I believe it’s dangerous. And that motivated me to write this review – to help shine a light on a situation that needs to change.

The well-researched book was too long by half. I literally got a stomach ache reading tales of sexism, misogyny, suicide attempts, cutting and double standards over and over again. Many girls couldn’t identify sexual harassment when they encountered the behavior. Some didn’t think intercourse was rape if they were blacked out from booze or drugs at the time.

Sale’s conclusion was far too brief. What’s the solution, the next step?

There don’t seem to be any easy or sure-cure answers. Here, however, the author and I seem to be thinking along the same lines. She writes: “Now more than ever, I believe, girls need feminism. They’re deeply in need of a set of critical tools with which to evaluate their experiences as girls and young women in the digital age.”

No matter how much they “may feel that this world of social media is real … it’s ‘a second world.’ The real world we inhabit together is the one that matters; we need to find a way of navigating ourselves and our children back there, to the world of true and lasting connection.”

Lauren Beale is a lifelong journalist.

For more Beale musings visit the Blog section at Zero Gravity LA.

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  • LAuren BEale on

    I didn’t even get into how the Disney princess culture played into the state of affairs. Starts from very young age.

  • Toni Graeber on

    Like you, I am very concerned about the influence of social media supplanting real human relationships. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Lauren.

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