Teenage girls are kind of a mess, according to the Telegraph. In Britain more than one in three girls aged 14 to 15 suffers from anxiety or depression. Of the girls surveyed, 37 per cent had three or more symptoms of psychological distress.
Nick Harrop, of YoungMinds, says: “Stress at school, body image worries, early sexualisation, bullying on and offline and uncertainty about the future after school are all piling on the stress … Social media also puts pressure on girls to live their lives in the public domain, to present a personal ‘brand’ from a young age, and to seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares.”
Girls are taught to see each other as competitors, and boys are taught to stroll in and pick up the pieces. Just as self-doubt is peaking, kids are pushed to literally rate each other on how sexy and confident they appear. They have no support, only impossible goals and hypercritical peers. Craving affirmation, more and more girls dish themselves up as free porn to any stranger who asks.
Depressed and anxious? Is that all? It’s a wonder they haven’t all thrown themselves into the river like so many spray-tanned Ophelias.
Catholic parents may feel a panicked urge to swaddle their daughters in floor-length purity uniforms, walling them up in social quarantine until they’re safely married. It seems the only sane response to a world that’s in sexual, psychological crisis. But if it’s perverse and dehumanising when children treat each other as objects to consume, it’s equally perverse and dehumanising when they treat each other as objects to fear. Kids who are quashed and segregated grow from stunted teenagers to stunted married adults. One variety of dysfunction replaces the other, and the anxiety, depression and alienation flourish. “There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me.” Maybe Ophelia had it right.
Or maybe there’s still some hope. Maybe we can help girls learn to relax, to worry less about their consumability, to remember their own dignity, and to extend respect to others.
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